USB C cable recommendations; aka do not destroy your phone or laptop

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Ok there are real problems with after market cables particular with USB C.

TL;dr

USB C, unlike other USB cables, are not created equal. Some only have six wires in them, some have 24, some have the right passive electronics (pull up resistors) and some have the right active electronics (e-mark), so you need to read reviews careful and grade cables by:

  1. USB IF certified. Ignore the Amazon reviews, search for this or search for Bensen Leung’s list.
  2. Power carrying. Cables carry a limited set of power, the most of 100 Watts, the least is 15 watts, mark this on your cable.
  3. Data carrying. Cables vary from 480Mbps to 40GBps
  4. Length. The longer the cable, the less data they carry

Decoder Ring

It used to be pretty easy. A cable had a set protocol and speed. However with USB C it support multiple and very different protocols over the same connector. USB really seven separate factors you need to consider:

  1. Connector type.The connectors on each end which typically use letters to identify themselves.  In the beginning there was USB A (the familiar rectangular thingy) and less common USB B (big and square) and then a host of smaller ones. Mini-USB and micro-USB.
  2. Connector genders. USB has traditionally been asymmetric and non-reversible. So the most common cable would be a male USB A with a female micro-USB for most cell phones. With USB C for the first time the two ends are asymmetric and reversible.
  3. Protocol and speeds. Over the wires there have been a host of speeds with really confusing names. So there is USB 2.0 or 480MBps, USB Superspeed aka USB 3.0 or 5Gbps. USB Superspeed+ aka USB 3.1 Gen 2 or 10GBps. And with USB C there is something called alternate mode so you can put other protocols through. Notably for video you can feed it HDMI 1.4 or 10Gbps or HDMI 2.0 or 20Gbps. You need 2.0 to get 60 hertz 4k. And also now Thunderbolt 2 at 20Gbps or 3 at 40Gbps. Confused yet?
  4. Length. In general the faster the protocol the shorter the length. It’s easy to get 4 meter USB 2.0 cables but USB 3.1 10Gbps is limited to 1 meter and Thunderbolt 3 to 0.5m. So one size cable does not fit all
  5. Power carrying for phone. The original USB 2 was limited to 250mA at 5V. Then this was bumped to 500mA then 2A and finally to 2.4A and there is a proprietary Qualcomm 3A specifications called quick charge. So this is how you 10 watt chargers (5V x 2A) or 15 watt (5V x 3A). For these 5V systems, the big problem is that cables need a 56 Kohm resister to signal what they can carry and many off brands do not.
  6. Power for laptops. With USB 3 the voltages are also negotiated from 5V to 20V. Not all cables can carry the full 100 watts per the specification (20V x 5 amps), some are limited to 60 watts so beware of that as well. The MacBook Pro 15″ late 2016 needs 87 watts for instance.
  7. Certification USB IF and emark. This means it has been tested. If it is has an emark chip then it is active and works longer.

Follow Benson Leung to get the scoop but basically bad power can destroy electronics. And you also to really understand how much data you want to push though.

  1. USB C to USB A. These connect your old USB charger the problem is that the cheap ones do not use 56K pull-up resistors, so can draw too much power and burn out your phone.
  2. USB c to USB c and USB c chargers . The new standard has variable voltage. So for phones it can be 5V by 2-3 amps but for laptops it can negotiate to 10V, 15V or even 20v at 5 amps. However some cables and chargers do not correctly set the voltage and will destroy your electronics.
  3. Full featured USB C vs USB 2.0 There seem to be differences in USB c cables because they support are USB 2, 3 and 3.1 Gen 2 in transfer speeds. That is 480Mbps, 5Gbps and 10Gbps (highspeed, Superspeed, Superspeed+). And of course now there is thunderbolt using the same connector at 40Gb. So net net u want USB c with USB 3.1 and all those extra wires. Because this thing is high data rate it is hard to get cables longer than 1M in full featured. Full featured also allows some wires to be used in alternate mode so it can drive a display.
  4. USB c For thunderbolt 2 and 3. These are even faster at 20Gbps and 40Gbps so u again need special cables. Even Apple doesn’t have a TB3 cable but startech makes a 0.5m cable which is the max length for 40Gbps. Or you need an cable active electronics to go farther. And for displays you have 10Gbps for DP 1.4 and HDMI 1.x but need 20GBps for DP 2 and HDMI 2 and 4kp60. And this alternate mode is so new that some cables do not work with certain laptops. Ao make sure your model has been verified to work.

Net, net here are some cables that you can try.

  1. For phones: USB C for USB 2 at 480Mbps and 15 watts. Use cables and chargers from Apple or Google. Note that the apple cable is only rated at Highspeed USB 3 or 480mbps. These are $19 from Apple or just $5 from VCE.  Troll Benson’s links to see what works but his list of recommended phone cables is on an Amazon wish list that works for mobile phones.
  2. For laptops 1 meter at 100 watts and full 10GBps: USB C for USB 3.1 Gen 2 at 10Gbps and 100 watts. And Startech JUX01 which is 10Gbps with 100 watts charging which Nathan likes (a trusted reviewer) at $24.
  3. For laptops 2 meters at 100 watt only: I’m having trouble finding anything but the $20 cables from Apple which supply the full 100 watts at 2 meters.
  4. For laptops at 2 meters that need only 60 watts. Choetech for $15 which has only 60 watts for $15.
  5. For SSD to a laptop. USB C for USB 3.1 Gen 2 at 10Gbps and 15 watts. There is also Amazon has the Belkin as highly rated example for $13-15 in 2 meter length but only support 15 watt sharing, so best for connecting a peripheral like an SSD for instance to a laptop and getting power from the laptop.
  6. For disk array to a laptop. USB C for TB3 for 40Gbps and 60 watts. I haven’t found testing for it but u will need a different cable set for TB3. StarTech cost $20 for 0.5m and a terminated with USB C on both sides and supports 60 watts for laptops (so not quite enough for a 15″ MBP 2016) and 150  watts for phones (e.g. 5V only). It is not e-marked though.USB
  7. For UHD 4K display at 60 hertz to a laptop. The main issue here is making sure it supports 5K or 4K displays at 60 hertz. So for a USB C for DP 2  for 18Gbps, the Cable Matters seems to work with a full DisplayPort. Then Pluggable has a USB C to HDMI 2.0 for 18Gbps that also supports 4kp60 but it is not MBP 2016 compatible. Note that Apple’s own adapter does not support 4Kp60.
  8. For ethernet to a laptop. Cable Matters makes a 1Gbps Ethernet that seems pretty decent.
  9. As a one connection docking station with HDMI at 30 hertz for UHD. The right one hasn’t seem to have been invented yet but I would say a single connection that is 40GBps USB C that breaks out Ethernet (1Gbps), 4Kp60 video (18Gbps), SD card reader (5Gbps) and some passthrough USB A and C Ports would be great. There is enough bandwidth at 40Gbps to do this, but most do not support 4Kp60 yet or the full 100 watt passthrough. Satechi or Juiced Systems at $75 is the closest with 4kp30 and about 60 watts passed through..

The confusing thing for consumers is that all look the same so get your label makers out and mark the cables with the power they can carry for phones (15W), for laptops (100W) and data rates (480, 5Gb or 10Gb). Wow that is going to confuse lots of people.

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