The USB Type-C cable you’re using with your smartphone or laptop could just fry it

USB has perhaps been one of the most useful things to have happened to consumers electronics. With its ubiquitous availability, low cost, and ability for cables to be used across devices, we’ve stopped bothering about what chargers to use for our phones or tablets.

The newest version of this standard, USB Type-C, takes this a step further. With the unique advantages of having a plug that is reversible, the ability to support faster transfer speeds and developments such as quick charging, it is quickly becoming the data transfer and wired charging standard of choice for the multitude of today’s portable electronics.

However it is these unique abilities that are throwing up a new set of challenges, especially given the increased power delivery: USB can now deliver power ranging from 2.5 Watts for low-powered portable electronics all the way up to 100 Watts for really power-hungry peripherals. Compared to earlier standards where maximum power delivery was capped to about 4.5 watts, this increased power envelope can wreak significant damage if used with the wrong kind of cable–both for the device as well as the source computer or adapter.
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As reported earlier, Google Engineer Benson Leung exposed generic and commercially available USB Type-C cables that actually destroyed his Chromebook Pixel. He delved into the matter to find that the actual construction of the cables and the components used in them actually differs across products, meaning that in many cases they cannot be used across devices.

From a time when we now rampantly use USB cables interchangeably across devices in our home and office, it stands that particular care needs to be taken in the USB Type-C world.
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There is a group called the USB Implementers Forum that is responsible for maintaining and propagating the USB standard. The bad news is there still isn’t really any failsafe way to know what USB Type-C cables are compatible across different types of equipment.

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With dozens of companies offering all manners of USB cables–many available online and in local electronics stores–it is recommended to use only recommended cables with USB Type-C cables with your equipment and steer clear of swapping them.