Review: generic USB-C power-through adapter


#1

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2015/10/26/review-generic-usb-c-power-th.html


#2

A very large number of off-brand adapters and chargers are garbage generally. I’ve bought plenty of cheap wall and car chargers that fail to add charge faster than my phone is using it. I spent more money on (supposedly) brand chargers, and there was a noticeable difference. I’m surprised no-one has come into the market advertising non-cut-rate-zero-quality-assembled-by-slave-labor-in-china-that-actually-works charger, or at least created a site for assessing and rating the flood of these crap electronics.


#3

I’m a bit confused by this post. Are the apple ones useless too or just expensive?


#4

The Apple ones are good, but expensive, only have one port other than the power-passthrough, and bulky, and obviously more about monitor adapter use than the required purpose (add USB ports, charge up!)


#5

I’ve had the same results. Ended up biting the bullet and buying one of the Apple adapters off eBay.


#6

Wow, what a piece of crap this Macbook is! Is Apple breaking all of their machines this way now?


#7

My GF just got one…having to buy adapters is annoying, but not too ridiculous considering what the device is: it’s something like 2 pounds, but has a larger, better screen than the Air line (which I assume they’re going to phase out in favor of these). You wouldn’t want it as your only computer in the house, but it gives you the portability of a tablet without the sacrifices. I also just helped my father pick out a MacBook Pro, probably they’re vision of the future of real computers, and that thing is awash in ports…almost like they’re trying to make up for it somehow.


#8

I can’t wait for a power brick, not much larger than normal size, that includes a USB hub. No need for a huge mess of cables.


#9

Ah, we thought we’d banished them with the advent of USB, but the little dongly things are back.

Other than that, I must admit that I’m a little disappointed with the introduction of USB-C, as I’m sure the old USB connectors were the only physical object with spin 1/2 geometry.


#10

Have Apple (and others) overshot a bit in terms of connectivity of these small notebooks? When one has to schlep adaptors for absolutely everything, it gets to the point where the bigger machine might have been a better option. Even my not-even-small Dell work machine needs adaptors for HDMI (has a mini display port, but no-one ever has cables) and Ethernet. Power is separate and plenty of USB, though.


#11

Worse than 1/2 spin symmetry for my Mac mini where the sockets are on their edge (so no top-bottom convention), and out-of sight behind on a narrow shelf where it can’t be spun around so the sockets are visible. Here’s how it goes…

Try once - fail. Spin 180 and try again - fail. Spin 180 and try again - fail. Spin once more, knowing that you’re just not trying hard enough - fail. Spin one last time and try even harder - fail. Repeat last two steps indefinitely until grabbing reading glasses, carefully extracting an adjacent existing plug, and whilst preserving orientation closely inspect this plug to see which side has barely discernable the open holes. Align new plug accordingly and plug successfully. Then repeat from beginning to re-insert the plug I just removed to check orientation.

Brilliant design where something that looks like it would fit either way, doesn’t.


#12

I love my 12" Retina MacBook (using it now to type this).

Sure wish there were halfway decent third-party USB-C devices available.

Something roughly the size of a charging brick, but with very useful hub built in, would be swell.

Double points if it doubles as a USB lithium-ion battery.


#13

USB-C is still very young, so this situation will get better eventually. I’d give the market a year to figure out how to make something that works right.

By the way, I got curious about how they get 100W through a USB-C port, so I downloaded the specification PDF file. it’s over 500 pages long! Just for the power management section! No wonder the Chinese makers have a hard time making a good product. It’s a lot of work just to understand what it has to do.


#14

I suspect that USB chargers and their ilk are a classic ‘Lemon Market’ situation: There are wide variations in quality(and, since some of these plug into mains current, that can include electrocution, product destruction, and fire); but the user without access to test equipment is only able to detect the most ghastly failures(and even then, only in use, and the return policies on cheap electronic crap are often structured to make returning cost as much or more as just eating the loss).

The only real deviation from a fully ‘classic’ lemon market is that customers can judge products by brand(unless competently counterfeited, which isn’t uncommon); and, as the Lemon Market hypothesis would suggest, name-brand chargers do tend to be markedly better than no-name or anonymous ones. Apple tends to lead the pack on small-for-its-own-sake; but fall short on strain relief; but the chargers associated with companies that have something to lose from bad PR do seem to be genuinely better as a class.

As for reviews, I suspect that the sheer volume(along with the…downright protean…nature of the products, which can change internals without changing packaging or identifying markings at any time, as well as entering and leaving the market) makes this a formidable challenge. One fine soul put a dozen on the bench for our enlightenment; and his comparisons provide a pretty good understanding of where the pennies actually get pinched; but such an article was probably obsolete before it was uploaded in terms of a hypothetical naive customer just trying to find a charger.

Plus, it’s hard to justify too much effort dedicated to finding ‘under-appreciated bargains’ when that task is fraught with uncertainty, while anyone who doesn’t want to worry about it can just stump up the $20-$30 that Apple wants, or use the USB ports on just about any PC(there are some truly dire hubs loose in the world; but since the cheapest way to implement USB is to use Intel or AMD’s chipset implementation, it’s hard to buy a computer so shit that its USB ports don’t work properly, unless the system’s power supply situation is so dire that it also bluescreens regularly and is otherwise unfit for purpose. Using an entire computer to provide +5v is not terribly elegant; but the fact that you can do it does take some of the urgency away from the quest.

Unfortunately, USB ‘type C’ appears poised to lead us into a new era of utter confusion. Truly, a “standard” that is capable of anything and promises almost nothing…


#15

The thing that makes me very, very, nervous about USB-C ever being non-confusing is that it’s a standard that is very, very, very, long on ‘MAY do’; but quite limited on ‘MUST do’.

It is totally legitimate(and some products have shipped this way) for a ‘USB-C’ port to be backed by nothing but a USB2 chipset(I think that it needs to have USB-OTG capabilities, to behave properly as either a power source or power sink; but neither USB3 nor 3.1 are required; nor are any of the higher power modes or the ‘alternate mode’ capabilities). At the other extreme, you could have a USB-C port that defaults to USB3.1 performance; but can also provide 100watts and Thunderbolt.

The high power modes are nice for killing off proprietary laptop charger ports and replacing them with something both standard and useful when not plugged in; but it’s pretty obvious that it won’t be possible to promise nearly as much power as is theoretically possible(most laptops have more than one USB port, and come with an adapter good for less than 100watts, desktops tend to have at least six, sometimes substantially more; and we can’t expect kilowatt+ PSUs and motherboard bus bars just in case somebody might want to draw peak power on all ports). The ‘alternate mode’ scheme is also useful for allowing what would otherwise be a mostly-idle video-out port to be an extra USB port in a pinch; but ‘alternate mode’ functions are not implemented in the USB silicon(except the basic capabilities for passing the alternate signal through), so it will inevitably be prohibitively expensive to make all the USB ports on a device capable of what one of them is; or even allow the user to choose any single USB port as the ‘alternate mode’ port(since this would require adding on-motherboard capability for routing the alternate mode signal to any USB port, which will be a challenge for some of the more demanding busses).

USB 1 and 2 had their own teething problems(USB 1 was so bad that ‘USB1’ actually means ‘USB1.1, let us never speak of this again’); but they didn’t make any promises that are fundamentally hard to deliver on, or confusing when implemented, so once the initial bugs were beaten out; they mostly worked. I’m just not sure how USB-C can do this; unless it retreats into a severely limited(but determined to be non-confusing) subset of what it is theoretically capable of. And let’s not even start on the USB-IF’s absurd plans for how labelling will clarify port capabilities. It shows disturbing signs of mutating into a horrible little hieroglyphic alphabet.


#16

I’m not sure if Apple(with their imitators right behind them) are having another “3rd-gen ipod shuffle” moment(the version where they made it OMG small! by removing all the controls and making them mandatory in the headphones) and are arrogantly doing sub-optimal things; or whether this is more of a ‘imacs dropping floppy drives’ thing, and they know full well that filthy users are dongle-chaining to connect to the VGA projector in the conference room; but they view that suffering as a valuable incentive for a world where everyone is either using ‘airplay’/‘miracast’ or a pro user who needs thunderbolt and 10GbE and whatnot.


#17

It’s an intentional design flaw by Apple. The 3rd party peripheral market is a big one and any obstacle they can introduce to it they will. It reminds me of CompuGlobalHyperMegaNet.

Bill Gates: Your Internet ad was brought to my attention, but I can’t figure out what, if anything, CompuGlobalHyperMegaNet does, so rather than risk competing with you, I’ve decided simply to buy you out.

Homer: I reluctantly accept your proposal!

Gates: Well everyone always does. Buy 'em out, boys!

Homer: Hey, what the hell’s going on?!

Gates: Oh, I didn’t get rich by writing a lot of checks!


#18

You’re forgetting the three attempts at blindly plugging the USB cable into the similarly sized Firewire socket.


#19

Followed by Thunderbolt, HDMI and the gap for sticking a flash card in.


#20

Also let’s not forget that Thunderbolt 3 is going to be using the USB-C connector, and that future USB-C ports will essentially be a combination of:

• Power
• DisplayPort
• USB
• Thunderbolt

Which is pretty cool but, yes, will inevitably lead to confusion.