GeekNights Monday - USB-C

Tonight on GeekNights, we consider the cable to rule them all: USB-C. Note that this is not the same as USB 3 (or even 3.1). In the news, Cloudflare de-platforms the hateful and vile 8chan, followed quickly by Voxility de-platforming the equally vile Epik and Bitmitigate, Amazon continues to support white supremacist hate sites, Apple iPhone rumors are probably close to the truth, and there might be an almost usable Android smartwatch.

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The highlight of the stream

I laugh a little every time I see or remember that image.

It also speaks truth.

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The Switch is actually pretty far out of spec for USB-C. It’ll just work assuming your stuff is all good, but cheap devices sometimes just do shit and expect the device on the other end to be exactly in spec to resolve it. This is becoming less of an issue over time because dedicated chips that do all the complicated stuff are easier to come by than they were 2 years ago.

Also the switch power brick is a combo 5V / 15V supply. So it’ll happily charge off of 5, but unless it can talk to the charger and get that 15V it won’t go into “docked” mode. The spec allows up to 20V so any in spec device should be fine to pass through.

Yes, this is the only weirdness I have experienced with the Switch.

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This Reddit post Is a pretty thorough explanation of the issues that can damage the Switch itself, but the TLDR is that the port on the Switch is slightly weird and there’s a sense pin that some knockoff docks were pumping too much power in to.
The newest Raspberry Pi was also slightly out of spec, which was just an oversight. All this stuff is working itself out and will become less and less of an issue over time.


The point is that even though the Switch USB-C port is quirky, it is shockingly open and standards-based for any video game console, let alone a Nintendo one. PS2 had USB, and IIRC you couldn’t plug much of shit for shit into those and get it to do anything.

It’s nice for them to use a standard but I don’t think it’s surprising at all. I think all home consoles since 2005 have basic USB HID support, though most won’t accept gamepads. Most modern consoles have used standard Bluetooth for wireless communication (though most have specialized data packets). The amount of proprietary connectors and protocols have been trending down because existing standards are more than good enough and it’s a waste of resources to design your own.

My concern with not quite to standard things is that it creates confusion and increases the chances of shit blowing up like that stupid display port problem.

Every time someone mentions InfoWars this plays in my head

I mean, really, Nintendo was the last one doing proprietary connectors; XB has used USB for their controllers and Bluetooth for the Wireless ones since the 360, the PS3 used MiniUSB for their controllers, the PS4 uses Micro USB…

EDIT: 8chan is gathering on Tor.

People were frying their Switches using cheap 3rd party docks, and there is a very silly reason for this. Nintendo uses a very nonstandard USB-C Male plug on its dock, because they wanted it to have zero grip on the port. That way, you can effortlessly life the Switch from it’s dock. So the plug is more narrow than a normal USB C. Problem is, you are dealing with incredibly tight clearances on these pins, and the 3rd party manufacturers decided to attempt a copy of this Nintendo-proprietary plug. You can imagine what happens next. Pins that shall never touch, do indeed touch.

I bought the original Pixel, which I think was the debut phone for USB C, back in 2015, and this shit was a fucking mess. The spec is much more complicated than it was in the past, so there was a huge glut of bad USB A-C cables. Specifically, they shipped without the proper resistance in the charging circuit that would inform the phone if it was plugged into older low-power USB ports, so it would always try to pull 3A. Often times, this would fry the old USB port, but could also fry either or both devices. This site tells you if cables are actually compliant:
As others have said, it’s less of a problem than in the past, but it still isn’t great.

Just to correct the record, the Nexus 5x was the first Nexus/Pixel series phone to do USB-C.

Really the big thing was that, for the longest time, you were lucky to find ANY USB-C cables in the wild, let alone good ones. The Switch, and the mainstream love for the Pixel and Macbooks, has rectified the situation a bit, but it’s still frustrating that in TYOOL 2019 pretty much every power delivery device still defaults to Lightening/Micro-A.

And for the most part, I’ve found what Matt said to be true: most people fucking up their switches are buying cheap, weird accessories and then clutching their pearls. I regularly charge my switch on an in-spec USB-C cable and it works just fine.

Out of spec USB-C fried my Pixel’s battery. I used my work tablet charger to charge my phone a couple of times one week I was away for a meeting and forgot my charger and ever since my battery life has been halved. I had even checked the spec on the charger versus my phone and according to everything I could find it should have been fine.

Now that cables are to spec and implementations have settled down, it’s nice that everything just works. I can trust my 5V/2A travel charger to work with anything I throw it at. I could get something fancy to fast charge the Switch or iPad, but for overnight recharging it’s perfect.