No Cheap Cables

high-quality-braided-usb-cable-image
High-quality braided USB cables

No Cheap Cables: a reader asks…

Hi Chris, I’ve got an external USB 3.0 storage drive that I use to backup my Macbook. I plug it in about once a week and run Time Machine to backup, then unplug it and put it away. It’s been working fine for over a year, but over the last week it’s started acting funny. Sometimes when I plug it in, my Mac doesn’t see it, and sometimes it does for awhile, but if I move the storage drive even an inch it disconnects. Any tips for me here?

It sounds like you’ve got a cable (or cable connection) going bad on you. Take a look at the cable connection on the storage drive. Does it wiggle any? If you examine the end of the cable, does there appear to be any wear at the point where the cable connects to the jack end of the cable? Or does the cable end actually have wiggle room inside the jack? It might be time to replace that cable.

The cable that came with your storage drive is probably decent quality, but not the best. Since you’re plugging and unplugging weekly, you’re probably stressing the cable jack a bit more than folks who don’t do that as often. So your first fix is to replace that cable. But you need to beware of the cheap cables you can get online. But don’t go overboard, getting a top-of-the line cable with gold jacks is often a waste of money. Your best bet is to get a good quality cable from a known supplier. Having said that, of course you don’t buy cables very often, so may not know a good supplier or cable brand. Here’s some help:

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  • usb-3point0-cable-endsThe USB 3.0 cable end is different than USB2.0 – one end is the same rectangular plug as before, but the insert inside it is blue-colored to signify a 3.0 cable. The other end (which plugs into your storage drive) has thinner blades and is shaped in two sections.
  • The point where the cable connects to the jack should be heavily reinforced. There shouldn’t be a lot of flex at that point, if there is, you should avoid buying or using that cable. Nowadays the best quality cables have braided covers along the length of the cable, and a beefy connection between the cable and the end. Braided cables have more flexibility (except at that beefy joint), so they’ll work well in tight places.
  • Some good places to buy cables online include http://www.monoprice.com/, http://www.showmecables.com/ and http://www.cablestogo.com/ (although their site was down last time I checked). You could also search at Amazon.com, their AmazonBasics cables are low-priced but good quality.

The problem with buying cheap cables is that they break often, and a faulty or broken cable (such as what you’re probably experiencing) doesn’t easily reveal itself. You might be tempted to replace the external storage drive itself, which is most likely NOT the problem. So please avoid buying the cheapest cable you can find. This goes for pretty much any cable type you might use.

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Let me leave you with one more bit of advice: Under no circumstances should you attempt to bend the ends of the USB cables, right where the cable joins to the jack. This is the most common point of failure, and that sort of action also puts pressure on the jack and port (where the cable plugs into), which could also cause a break in the hardware port of the storage drive. The new USB 3.0 cables with their thinner components are potentially more likely to break than the older connectors.

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