Google's USB-C Crusader Takes One For The Team, Fries His Chromebook Pixel With Shoddy Cable

Surjtech cable 3
It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it! Such is the case with the emerging USB Type-C (USB-C) standard that is finding its way into notebooks, tablets, and smartphones. In addition to compliant cables supporting USB 3.1 speeds, the big usability benefit is that the cables are reversible, similar in concept to Apple’s Lightning standard.

Often when a new cabling standard emerges, there’s a quick race to the bottom with regards to pricing. Many players from all over the globe often cut as many corners as possible to deliver cheap (but hopefully functional) products to consumers. In the case of USB-C, Google engineer Benson Leung has been purchasing cables via third-party vendors on Amazon and leaving detailed reviews about cables that pass muster for compliance (and those that are woefully inadequate).

While Leung had a long run in keeping us informed on the hazards of buying USB-C cables from companies that cut corners, it looks as though his own luck has run out. Leung came up against a tough adversary in the form of Surjtech's 3M USB A-to-C cable. He first plugged the cable into a Twinkie USB PD analyser, which promptly caused the Twinkie to stop functioning.

google chomebook pixel

"This is permanent damage. I tried resetting the Twinkie analyzer and having the firmware reflashed, but it continues to exhibit this failure," said Leung. That’s definitely a bummer, but the worst was yet to come -- the cable actually fried the USB-C ports on his Chromebook Pixel.

On my Pixel, both USB Type-C ports stopped responding immediately. Neither would charge or act as a host when I plugged in a USB device such as an ethernet adapter. Upon rebooting my Pixel, the system came up in recovery mode because it could not verify the Embedded Controller on the system. No amount of software recovery could revive the EC. Upon closer analysis, serious damage has been done to components related to charging and managing the USB Type-C port's capabilities.

So what the heck happened? Well, Surjtech, in its infinite wisdom, miswired the cable, with Leung writing, “Vbus and Gnd are switched. Red wire goes to G on the Type-C's PCB, Black wire goes to V.” To add insult to injury, a number of other issues were found including the use of a 10 kΩ resistor instead of 56 kΩ resistor, a complete lack of SuperSpeed wires (which means that it is not even USB 3.1 compliant) and a resistor that was “hooked up as a pull-down instead of a pull-up.”

Needless to say, the Amazon product listing for the Surjtech cables has been yanked as to save future customers from experiencing a similar fate for their hardware.