Do all “normal” USB cables suck?

I’ve had a lot of trouble with external hard drives in the past. Sometimes the things just broke, sometimes they seemed to break and behaved wildly irregular — working one time, then nothing the next moment, or working with one machine and not with the other. A symptom I’ve observed several times with drives that were “not working” is that there’s a regular “clicking” noise coming from the drive when plugged in, as if it’s trying to get the mechanics working without success.

One of the things I’ve tried before when these issues struck is to use different cables. Recently I believe I may have found the actual issue: almost all USB cables I have suck. I’m talking about the standard big plug to little plug things that you get with every stupid USB device you buy. They all look pretty much the same, with the exception that some have ferrite beads on them. Some of them claim (in the small printed text on the cable itself) to be shielded, but then of course they all claim to be USB 2.0 compatible and none carry a note “please don’t expect me to work with your hard drive though”.

Now I’ve found one cable that I can use pretty reliably with external hds, which is fine. But the whole issue makes me wonder if all these are known facts. I tried searching Google, and of course, as is always the case with cables, there are enough companies who offer cables that work with voodoo and similar techniques to offer much better quality. In the digital world I don’t hold much belief in voodoo though, and there’s a peculiar absence of hard information. Guess I’ll grab a bunch of good looking cables somewhere and see if they support my theory.

6 Comments on Do all “normal” USB cables suck?

  1. Oliver,

    I have found the same thing, I have found that some cables you have to almost dance with the bloody thing to try and get it in the right position for things to work. However I found the other way, I found that the female connector is also a large contributing factor. I have 3x 2.5″ HDD enclosures 2 of them a western digital and nearly every cable I plug in seems quite firm and works fine, however I have another “Laser” HDD enclosure which the connector is alot more “sloppier” this one has issues with 50% of cables I try. Which runs with your theory of what’s the bloody difference between the cables. But at the end of the day the device itself is also a contributor to the problem 🙂 just my two cents

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  2. Interesting. Had the mechanical clicking noise with an external drive just a couple of weeks ago – assumed it was dead, even though it used to work just fine. Luckily I’ve not yet binned it, so I’ll try some different cables to see if it springs to life.

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  3. I always assumed the ‘duff’ leads that didn’t work with my external notebook drives had some issue with power. This explains the clicking noise, in that the drive tries to get up to speed, but the power draw (always higher on startup) was too high and the drive turns itself off. These leads generally get binned, or placed on less essential phone sync duty.

    I found the leads that have come with my Akasa P2 series external drive enclosures are 100% reliable with every PC I throw at them, and they work in some no-name external drives I have too.

    No lead can power my external drive units from my elderly Shuttle XPC though, I get the clicking sound every time. External drives need a separate power supply, so it can also depend on amount of USB power draw that the system allows as well.

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  4. Damn, you’re right! Found a lead with a ferrite block on it, and my “dead” HD is happily spinning. so glad I hadn’t dumped it already!

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  5. So, I guess I’m not on my own… odd that there’s so little info about this anywhere. Or perhaps it’s hidden between all the voodoo cable entries in my Google search result. Next time I’m somewhere I can see and touch some different leads, I’ll pick some up and test things a bit.

    Liam – I can’t be entirely sure, but I always found the power idea somewhat unlikely. It crossed my mind right away, but then these drives are all made to run from USB power, they are attached to my (Mac) laptop with only two USB ports, the other one being unused, etc… same situation all the time, and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. I actually tried attaching a drive to a USB hub with its own power supply this morning, using a cable that doesn’t work when attached directly to the laptop, and it didn’t work from the hub either. With my One Good Cable, that same drive is working perfectly fine right now, attached directly to the laptop. So yeah, likely idea with the power, but if that’s really it, then I don’t understand it.

    Hm right, one other thing that just comes to my mind is that I’ve always wondered why I keep having these problems with the small portable USD drives, but rarely or never with the large 1/2 terabyte things that sit on the desk. I don’t know my physics well enough perhaps, but maybe it could be related both to a power issue and to the lead? Not enough power to the drive due to bad lead? Hm.

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  6. i found that the USB 2.0 cable that came with my SonyEricsson X1 works like a charm for all HD requirements. especially after the ones that came with all my enclosures started making my HDs click and knock

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