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Alexander Wolfe
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The termination, not the connector
Alexander Wolfe   1/20/2012 12:52:11 PM
The fragility is not at the connector itself. Indeed, USB is fairly robust in terms of lifespan (number of plugs/unplugs) for what at first glance is a flimsy, bent metal connector. Where the failure comes in, as it does for most patch cables (my terminology from the old, precomputer days when audio ruled) is where the wire is attached to connector (i.e., the non-business end where the cabling is). Often this is just press-fit, so repeated flexings will cause some of the connections at that end to open. Hence the failure. I believe this is the primary failure of many cables. One outlier is USB3, where you can actually mangle your device, because there's no clear way to tell top from bottom, and it's a tight fit in any case.

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npitech   1/20/2012 12:08:38 PM
1 saves
USB has a hot-swap connector and as such, really is a very good design. I asked the folks on the production line if they had any issues. Our equipment has from three to nine USB ports and every one has to be manually plugged into to verify functionality before shipping. They said that they have been using the same test cables or thumb drives for years and don't have any issues with breaking. This testing is done by many different operators.

 If you have broken so many, maybe you should slow down when you are plugging them in.


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USB connector Top vs. Bottom
BrainiacV   1/20/2012 11:53:59 AM
Whenever I get a new USB device or cable, I paint the "top" of the connector.


If the plastic is white or gray, I use the edge of a black Sharpie permanent marker to color the USB symbol.


If the plastic is black, I use a silver Sharpie.


For the "micro" variations, I just paint the entire top side.


Cuts down on insertion mistakes 50% :-)

Ken Herrick
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USB connectors
Ken Herrick   1/20/2012 11:40:40 AM
I'll add my bit:  I've not yet had a failure but I agree it's a flawed design.  Without fail I have trouble inserting the connector into the front of my Dell computer, with the computer's connector oriented horizontally, frontally and clearly visible altho not right in front of me.  Invariably I have to jiggle it this way & that, whether it's upside down or no, to get it to go in.  Unacceptable; altho it must be accepted, of course, since its design must by now be set in stone.

"Set in stone..."?  What op-system of yore comes to mind??

Ken Herrick

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USB is great
John   1/20/2012 11:34:29 AM
I think the author is a bit hard on equipment or using too heavy of a cord to be breaking USB ports.  There isn't much to a USB terminal.  At first I didn't like the USB design, but it is way better than D-sub terminals.  I don't think those things like being plugged in too many times.  The pins seems to be the pain culprit and they had to be fastened down to stay pluged.  Firewire terminal might have actually been better, but they shot themselves in the foot by not being on flash memory sticks and sticking to the higher end electronics.  USB should have had a better indicator of plug orientation.  maybe embossed words of "TOP" in the shielding as part of the standard or done what HDMI did and put a step down to a smaller size in the shielding on one side.

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It's a bad design
phi520   1/20/2012 10:18:26 AM
I have had a number of USB conntectors fail.  I have a hub where 3 of the 8 are no longer working.  I have not seen as much of a problem on PCs and laptops, but I have seen it.  As to the cue to plug it in correctly.  When the connetor is vertical (which it is on many PCs) which side is top.  When crawling behing a PC to plug in a USB cord the embossed symbol is not visible.  Most do not have a contrasting color symbol, they are molded in.  I have found that the split in the metal shell is on the bottom.  That is more visible than the symbol on the top. The symbol may be obvious to you, but not to the general public.  A mechanical visual cue would be better

Car Analogy
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agree with author, to a point
Car Analogy   1/20/2012 10:14:31 AM
Surprised at home many are defending the USB design. Yes, there is a little icon on one side that can assist with 'which end up'. But often there is another logo on the other side. So its not always a 'quick look' to tell up from down.

What about when the connection is sideways? Which end is 'up' then? Plus the connection is often on the back of the machine. I often find myself trying in vain to plug the connector in, only to be forced to dig the machine out of its often crammed location, so I can flip it around to see what I'm doing, only then achieving success. It doesn't help that there is nothing to 'guide' the connection into place, as the author mentioned.

I do admit I haven't had trouble with these connectors being damaged. Also, the author mentions the durability of serial 'D' shell type connectors. Mentioning how desk drops that put severe strain on the connector resulted in no damage. that probably has more to do with these connectors 'screw-down' design than the connector itself. That wouldn't be suitable for a connector such as USB that, as the author admits, is designed for frequent connection/disconnection. Not to mention, while I've never damaged a USB connector, I've damaged (and had to repair when others damaged) MANY D shell connectors. Its very easy for one of the pins to become folded over. Sometimes they can be straitened, other times they break, and the cable ruined.

Connector selection is critical to durability and reliability, yet designs chosen to become the standard are often unsuitable for the task. Why is this so difficult to get right?

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Re: Never a problem with USB connectors
Gusman   1/20/2012 9:16:26 AM
From Wikipedia (alive again today)

"The USB specification states that the required USB Icon is to be "embossed" on the "topside" of the USB plug, which "provides easy user recognition and facilitates alignment during the mating process". The specification also shows that the "recommended" (optional) "Manufacturer's logo" ("engraved" on the diagram but not specified in the text) is on the opposite side of the USB Icon. The specification further states "the USB Icon is also located adjacent to each receptacle. Receptacles should be oriented to allow the icon on the plug to be visible during the mating process".


Knowing this has simplified USB usage for me...all my PC's and Flash Drives, USB cables, etc adhere to this standard.

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USB cables are marked
PCguy   1/20/2012 9:15:57 AM
USB cables have the USB symbol on the top of the connector. This tells you which side is the top one. And it is easy to then know which way the cable is to be inserted. I double checked all the periherals and cables I have in the lab and all are marked this way.

I have plugged in a huge number of USB cables in using various laptops, testing systems or using development boards. I have never had a cable break. Any failure has been where the cable goes into the housing and this is because the cable is being pulled at a 90 degree angle to connect to where the peripheral or mouse must be.

Charles Murray
User Rank
Re: Never a problem with USB connectors
Charles Murray   1/19/2012 6:56:35 PM
I haven't had a problem with USB either, Rob. My laptop was purchased in 2005 and it's used the same mouse and same printer during that time. None of the USB connectors ever gave me a problem.

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