The Hell that is USB C Cables
I can’t believe we ever managed to make such a hash of cables, but to refresh everyone, back three years ago, I wrote 2018 The State of USB C Charging and then again back in 2017 USB C Cable Recommendations, so time now for another review of USB C and how to get cables and chargers.
Well the biggest and nicest thing is that prices have really come down on lots of these things. But, the big problem is that identical looking cables can be really different, so here is what you need to know because you need to know the power rating and speed rating for cables and you really need to label make to remember what is what:
- Chipped cables. The first thing is that you want a cable which is actually USB IF blessed. This will have a chip inside of it (and not surprisingly, these are the expensive ones). If you buy a cheap clone, you can actually one that has passed some certification and has a legit control chip.
- What data capacity. The lowest is 480Mbps (USB 2.0), the USB 3 Gen 1 (5Gbps), USB 3 Gen 2 (10Gbps) and finally Thunderbolt 3 (20Gbps). Right now the sweet spot in pricing is USB 3 Gen 2. A two meter cable costs about $16 for that but $35 for a Thunderbold 3 cable. The most common “no name cable” is USB 2.0 which is mainly used for powering Android phones. Personally, I would just get the $16 and try to get a uniform fleet.
- What power capacity. Yes, this is a thing, you really want a cable that is marked as able to handle the full 100W specification. There is another problem that not all chargers put out all voltage and amperage combinations. 100W is 20W at 5A as an aside, so you have to read the side of the chargers to get the right one. It is pretty common for cheap cables to only support 60W.
Net, net, how can you tell what is what, well with the Mac it is pretty easy, connect the device and then go to About > System Preferences > System Report and go to the section called Power and see what the Power rating is, it should say 87W if you have a 100W Power Delivery (PD) cable and that is the maximum that a Mac can call on. Similarly go to the USB section and connect a device and see how it connects. You need to make sure it is a USB device that supports up to USB Gen 2 and then you can tell if it supports Gen 1 or USB 2.
And then label your stuff! So some good recomemdnations for 2 meter cables (I like to get these and they are just out for Thunderbolt are):
- Plugable Thunderbolt 3, 100W, 2m. This is $35 and if you don’t need something light and small, it is fully future proof. Call it the Cadillac of cables.
- NIMASO 6g USB C 3.1 Gen 2 10Gbps, 100W PD. This is a no name brand and is right now a super cheap $14.
- Anker 6 foot USB C to Lightning Powerline II. This is a specialty cable, but it supports the iPhone X and above with higher power charging up to 15W and 480Mbps USB 2. It’s half the price of the Apple cable which is a pretty delicate beast and breaks alot.