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Should You Fear Your USB Cable? (5)
Jun 22, 2018

The invisible hand

Unless you trust HP and Dell -- and own their computers -- we're no closer to knowing whether a bad cable could fry your PC. And it's worrying that the only sure way to avoid a bad cable is to read one Google engineer's reviews. I've always found it infuriating that the industry groups that create standards like USB have no power to keep companies from producing bad products and selling them as good ones -- though the scope of such an industry-wide quality assurance infrastructure is hard to imagine, financially or logistically.

Indeed, the USB-IF only has legal control over its logo and certification marks, which unscrupulous companies out of legal reach are using anyhow.

But that doesn't mean you're likely to encounter a USB cable that can damage your laptop. In fact, it's less and less likely every day.

We're already seeing the initial wave of fear inspire a pushback against bad cables at Amazon. Even if Amazon does nothing to weed out the bad apples in its vast marketplace, Leung and those he's inspired are voting down the ones that don't meet the spec. I've seen cable manufacturers and resellers chat with Leung on his Google+ page about how they can make sure they adhere to the requirements. I've seen bad cables get pulled from Amazon and get replaced with new ones that clearly advertise the 56k ohm resistor.

These companies want to sell cables. They don't want customers to return them, or gain a bad reputation for frying laptops. Same goes for the retailers that carry them, too. While Amazon wouldn't respond to repeated requests for comment, Target and Monoprice tell me they only carry cables that have been certified by the USB-IF.

With any luck, it'll be pretty hard for anyone to damage their computer with a bad cable before long. And if you're in the market for a USB-C to USB-A cable yourself, I happen to know someone who's made a pretty good list.

Thanks, Benson Leung.


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