USB cable reliability, and how to extend cable lifetime

You may have noticed that USB cables sometimes have problems. Sometimes they dont work properly, sometimes the connection between devices is unstable.

Whats the cause?

Usually, this is due to “cable aging”. Cables get old. The metal strands inside the cable break.

Over time, as the cable gets repeatedly bent and twisted, the metal strands in the cable get fractures. The smaller the radius of the bend, the more damage it does. All cables require metal to conduct electricity, and almost always, copper is used. Copper cant handle a lot of bending. It breaks pretty easily. Yet copper is used because it is one of the best conductors, with less power loss than most metals. Its a compromise. Wires have many small strands inside so that they can survive a lot more bending than a single strand – the strands still break, but finer strands take longer to break, and electricity can jump between strands to continue flowing.

For power delivery, this isnt a big deal, because electricity can jump across the tiny gaps as a spark. The ‘turbulence’ this adds to the flow of electrons doesnt affect the delivery of power.

But for data signals, its a really big problem, because the little sparks jumping across the fractures cause the signal to become corrupted. The chaotic turbulence from the spark interferes with the controlled variations in electron density that is the data signal. It addds “noise” to the signal.

once a cable gets too many internal fractures, the signal cannot travel through it cleanly and the quality of the signal may not be good enough for the receiving device to interpret.  kind of like noise in a radio broadcast signal. once the noise gets too much, the broadcast becomes too unclear.

What can you do?

The better you treat your cables (so they are bent as infrequently as possible) the longer they will be reliable. But, eventually, they will need to be replaced. You can replace the wires yourself, if the connectors are still ok, or just get a new cable.

To make your cables last, coil them up in a circle shape, so that the bend radius is as large as possible. store them in a small bag so they keep that round shape. putting loose cables in bags or pockets allows them to be squashed by other things, which creates bends with a small radius.

In the end, its a matter of convenience and cost. If you live in a place where cables are cheap, then its no problem to continue as you are and just buy cables sometimes. if you live in a country where cables are expensive, you may want to change the way you treat your cables, or even learn how to replace the wires yourself.

If you replace your own wires – even simply out of protest against ridiculous prices – keep in mind that better quality cables will have better quality connectors to reuse in this way. check out youtube videos to learn how to do it.

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USB cable reliability, and how to extend cable lifetime

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