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Macbook Pro frying USB peripherals (discussions.apple.com)
478 points by United857 on May 1, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 239 comments

First thought is that probably a SMD component has shorted itself out. Unfortunately that's default behavior for many SMD components -- short circuit instead of an open circuit.

If the power adapter supplies 20V (which sounds like it might), then any components which might have shorted them selves out could be passing 20V to the other usb power line right next to it.

The other side of the machine probably has another USB controller, which likely explains why it's fine.

So, in short, I don't think this is a problem with USB-C, just a bad luck of the draw that you got a failed component along the way.

Edited to add:

Louis Rossmann's macbook repair Youtube channel is pretty good at discussing why things fail for a mac. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCl2mFZoRqjw_ELax4Yisf6w

Actually, it's not SMD components in particular. The failure mode for many MOSFETs and other semiconductor devices tends to be a short. They only tend to fail open if there was enough energy at hand to blow the short clear.

Ah yes, I remember from lab, you'd get a fail open right after you managed to manufacture a temporarily light emitting diode from things that are not normally light emitting diodes (or maybe not even diodes).

We call those "Light Emitting Resistors".

They result when you attempt to violate Ohm's Law.

You can generally diagnose those olfactorily as well as visually. :)

> You can generally diagnose those olfactorily as well as visually. :)

Indeed, my electronics engineering mentor described it as "letting the magic smoke escape". Once the smoke is gone, so is the magic.

Now if only you could capture the smoke and get it back inside the chip.

It would work again!

There was this guy called Edison who once made quite a healthy business out of selling LERs. They seem to have lost some of their sheen nowadays but I suspect they'll make a come-back one day in miniaturised form, something like 'nano-LERs'.

Or alternatively, SEDs (smoke emitting diodes).

> exercise Ohm's Law.

FTFY ;-)

Old bad electrolytic capacitors often smell like bad fish. Not sure why.

Everything's a fuse, it's just a question of how much current it takes to blow.

Indeed! Reminds me of this joke image https://i.imgur.com/TtFotWu.jpg

Unfortunately, in really old houses, I have seen pennies used. Shudder

I had a friend that would fix bad PCBs that had a short in a middle layer by hooking up a car battery and burning up the short. It actually worked.

It worked without unwanted side-effects? Wow.

These days I bet a thermal camera would be great for finding those.

Rossman (see link above) shows how to use 91% isopropyl alcohol to find these more effectively. It evaporates more rapidly at the heat source, so there's your short. I don't know how well this would work to find shorts in middle layers of circuit boards; I am still learning to identify the broken active components on the surface.

> The other side of the machine probably has another USB controller, which likely explains why it's fine.

Unfortunately (well, except in this case) that's true. On the 13inch MacBooks, the ports on the right side have less bandwidth and can struggle with multiple 4k displays

You need to remember what you are asking for here. Two 4k displays already require 30 Gbit/s of bandwidth.

Then they should be labeled appropriately, and preferably use different form factors. There's no excuse from having identical-looking ports that do different things.

That appears to be kind of the point of USB-C-- identical-looking ports which may or may not actually do the same thing. A given USB-C port might be a host port; might be a device port; might be capable of serving in both roles; might support video (over HDMI or DP or some combination of the two) or might not; might support Thunderbolt or might not; might support high-voltage/high-current power delivery or might not... and all on the same connector, so good luck trying to figure out what supports what without looking at manuals.

I see it as one of the big failings of USB standards in recent years.

USB used to be simple, and they worked so hard to make it so that whatever plug could be plugged into whatever compatible socket.

Then we had USB on-the-go, and issues with then a micro-A port isn't just a micro-A port.

And now we have USB-C and Thunderbolt. Ugh.

Same problem applies to USB-C cables. Understandable why (want to spend $100 for every cable you buy?) but intensely frustrating.

But that would spoil the symmetry!

No, seriously, that sort of thinking is baked into Apple's DNA. Jobs once tried to intervene in memory bus layout on aesthetic grounds.


"But look at the memory chips. That's ugly. The lines are too close together."

Surprised more haven't noticed how symmetry had become one of the guiding principles behind all Apple industrial design of recent years.

This ideology has damaged things that used to work fine like the keyboard arrow keys just for the hope of symmetry as visual harmony.

We’re well past that point. USB is explicitly designed to have ports with different capabilities, right from day one. Even with USB 1.1 you couldn’t treat all ports equally, since there’s no difference between a port that can give 100mA and one that can give 500mA.

The nice thing about universal things is that there's so many different kinds.

Don't worry! You'll be able to tell them apart by the slightly different logo embossed in black plastic on black plastic lettering on the back of the device.

And there's a black button with black lettering which lights up black if you press it which tells you not to press it again.

Videos like that and personal experience with MBP's since 2009 have seen my wallet go elsewhere.

What is SMD?

Surface Mount Device. The name given to components which are soldered directly to the surface of the PCB (printed circuit board). SMD devices are very common now and replace older components which had legs (or leads) which had to pass through holes in the circuit board, also known as "leaded components" or through-hole.

Adding to the other comments, this is in contrast to "through hole" components with leads that poke through holes and are soldered to pads on the reverse side of the board.

Surface Mount Device; sort of the opposite of through-hole, they're both soldering and electronics mounting methods.


He probably means SMT - surface mount technology.

SMT is the technology; individual devices are SMDs, or "surface-mounts" or "surface-mounted".

Beyond terminology, SMD are much harder for an individual hobbyist to desolder, replace and resolder than through-mount, but they are easier for pick-and-place machines to deal with.

If you're prototyping a simple device, you can start with a breadboard -- no soldering. Then you can get a circuit board printed to your spec and use the same components, for low-volume work. If you need high-precision placement, you will probably need to transition to surface-mount.

"Beyond terminology, SMD are much harder for an individual hobbyist to desolder, replace and resolder than through-mount, but they are easier for pick-and-place machines to deal with."

And SMD are smaller, allowing smaller circuit boards and smaller devices.

I thought it is worth pointing out, the newest rumours from Weibo, all latest iPhone and iPad in 2018 will ship with USB-C to Lightning cable. And all Charger will support USB-PD with 18W.

On some MacBooks it’s common for the CPU to get charger voltage (instead of the usual 1V or so) if the CPU power transistors are damaged (often due to liquid).

That's the thunderbolt port, which is designed to pass full current, that's why it's specific to that port.

From googling for a few minutes, I’d make a guess it’s the intel jhl6540 (thunderbolt/usb-c) that may need to be replaced

As an electrical engineer - I think incidents like these are a pretty solid argument for incorporating overvoltage protection into 5V USB peripherals.

Even something as simple as a zener clamp with a polyfuse to make a dead-simple crowbar circuit will save a device and won't contribute a whole lot to BOM cost.

It's a bit odd, most older Macbooks have current limiting ICs on the USB ports. I've found this out when tinkering with devboards and accidentally shorting things. In fact most motherboards have some kind of protection for overcurrent conditions.

But USB-C isn't limited to 5V, power delivery is at 20V. That might explain what's going on here (since the user reports 20V on the output) - it thinks that the peripheral is a power hungry device and it's trying to charge it. That's a problem, but it could be that the peripheral is poorly designed and is mistakenly asking for power that it can't actually handle.

Edit: in this case the peripheral seems to be the Macbook charger... and plugging it in causes 20V on all the other outputs with only a dongle plugged in. Oops. Yeah not good.

I wonder what happens if you actually load the port? Perhaps it'll drop down to 5V? Or maybe it'll fry things.

That said, my comment above still applies: USB-C relies on both devices to be compliant with the spec. Otherwise you can get into situations where one device fries the other, or tries to charge things it shouldn't, etc.

> most older Macbooks have current limiting ICs on the USB ports.

And thank goodness for this, early in engineering school I was doing a project on an arduino and because I was young and stupid I kept accidentally shorting power to ground. Killed at least 5 or 6 ATMega328's but the MacBook just helpfully chirped that I was drawing too much power and it was shutting off the port. Saved my ass at least a dozen times over.

This feature has been on motherboards going back to the 90s. I remember that some DSL modem was notorious for requiring a reboot of the computer because the USB ports stopped working.

The reality was that the modem was drawing too much power and the motherboard just disabled every port on the bus.

I accidentally shortened my USB port on a PC in a long chain of USB peripherals and only realized when I almost burned my finger on the most remote (wrongly connected) peripheral. I am really happy my mainboard didn't throw in the towel then.

> But USB-C isn't limited to 5V, power delivery is at 20V. That might explain what's going on here (since the user reports 20V on the output) - it thinks that the peripheral is a power hungry device and it's trying to charge it. That's a problem, but it could be that the peripheral is poorly designed and is mistakenly asking for power that it can't actually handle.

This was my interpretation, the host sets the output voltage to 20V incorrectly (due to a software bug or a hardware failure). Putting a crowbar circuit defensively on the peripheral side would save the peripheral.

Ah ok, I misunderstood - yeah it baffles me why manufacturers don't do this. I make it a point to fuse absolutely everything at work, it's a minor expense to save a ton of time later.

Last week I blew up a $100 CO2 sensor because I wired it in backwards. Entirely my fault for not checking the pinout, but a 10 cent diode or a fuse would have saved me.

This is the same issue with telescope controllers. Plenty are rated for 6V absolute maximum, whereas typical power supplies in astro, e.g. the power tanks, or LiPos are 9V or 12V. Boom. Another $100 when a zener would have saved the day.

A zener costs atleast 2 cents a piece when ordered in bulk. That's 2 ENTIRE CENTS LESS PROFIT!1!

You laugh, but that could be a significant part of the profit for some Chinese peripherals.

Hmm. Ever since I got the new macbook, my USB devices (especially my keyboard with built-in hub) often don't register properly when plugged into the Anker usb-c hub. I wonder if an overvoltage is happening and the keyboard has a polyfuse in it...

If you were a business major, you would instead put that circuitry in a USB surge protector and sell them for $4.99

this is Apple after all: you're missing a digit -- $34.99

Apple doesn't do cents!

It would be 49$.

> I think incidents like these are a pretty solid argument for incorporating overvoltage protection into 5V USB peripherals.

That isn't going to fly for product companies in general. The issue? Cost, as usual.

Adding 5 cents of cost to a $15 USD (retail price) mouse is a non-starter, because the actual production cost is closer to $3. So even 5 cents is a lot.

Between this and the Nintendo Switch fiasco, I'm worried about the future of USB-C. It sounds like trying to combine primary power supply and all data transfer into a single port is more dangerous than was anticipated.

Nintendo Switch isn't using USB-C, officially. They're implementation is not spec compliant unfortunately so the blame should be 100% on Nintendo in this case for using a universal port with proprietary implementation.

There was a submission earlier on HN about how the Switch is not USB-C compliant: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16706803

I wonder whether it would (would have been?) possible to trademark the USB-C shape to enforce compatibility.

Or, you know, in the future, vendors will be more demanding from USB-C components and parts.

One would hope, but these aren't shady Chinese knockoffs having these problems, these are Nintendo and Apple products. Part of the problem, though, is that the worst-case scenario is so much worse than before. If your regular USB accessory is shoddy, it just... doesn't work. But since USB-C has the capability to transfer tons of power, having something go wrong can have much bigger consequences. Also, as mentioned in another comment, you can't have things like a hardware fail-safe to prevent a certain amount of charge from going through a port, because they're intentionally left under the control of software, because sometimes maybe you'd want that much power going through there.

Doesn't the trade group that owns the USB trademark require certification or conformance testing?

Nope. Not officially, one reason why I am against iPhone dropping lighting for USB-C. That was few years ago when no one see or believe this mess is coming.

I wonder if that's something they can start requiring after-the-fact

"I think incidents like these are a pretty solid argument for incorporating overvoltage protection into 5V USB peripherals."

Agreed, though for some peripherals effective overvoltage protection that goes up to the maximum port output could cost more than the device itself. I would rather get the chance and redesign the connector so that there won't be any risks of exposing old devices to higher voltages, then introduce it slowly to new laptops (say one port this year, two the next two years, etc) and possibly provide small external adapters that fit on the new connector on one side and export the old one (maybe more if working as hubs) with adapted voltages for both signals and supply lines. To me having multiple voltages driven by software on the same connector where one could insert devices that can't protect themselves in case of failure is asking for troubles. One day someone will connect a cheap LiPo charger to one of these ports and if the port firmware flips nasty things can happen.

Yes! For example, Raspberry Pi have a resettable fuse on the USB power port.

But where do you stop? If a device supplies 20V instead of 5V, surely it might as well supply 230V.

That would require a catastrophic failure in the power brick which has significant separation designed in to the board layout to keep the primary line voltage side away from the secondary low voltage.

See this comparison teardown between a genuine Apple magsafe charger and a counterfeit, especially the "What's wrong with this charger" section: http://www.righto.com/2016/03/counterfeit-macbook-charger-te...

Related, Apple ran a discounted trade-in program where people could swap potentially dangerous phone chargers for safe ones after a counterfeit charger killed somebody: http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/apple-replacing-fake-iphon...

With DC current you want to stay below 48 volts. There's a dog leg in how much damage you can do to a human being with electricity.

Well, from experience you'll be mostly fine with 100 VDC too. 100VAC is a different story though. (AC flows better into the body while DC remains on the skin IIRC)

There are legal limits, I don't think you can supply over 48V without entering a whole different regulatory structure.

Oof. What a minefield USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 seem to be, still.

My coworkers had a situation where a certain combination of chargers and hubs plus bad luck (intermittent issue) fried some devices. That really shouldn't be possible. I'm quite happy to still have a mid-2015 MBP with its USB-A and MagSafe but it's only a matter of time before I get issued a machine without them (and probably no physical ESC key either)...

My experience with the new USB-C only macbook pro has been a complete and utter disaster.

I had one machine fail within the first month: all usb-c ports stopped responding. You can't charge it, you can't reset the SMC because it requires the charger to be plugged in (through a usb-c port... which isn't working! hurrah!), you can't dump anything from it to external media. Basically a paperweight. Returned to Apple.

The second machine is still up, but the "hub" that apple gives you the honor of paying 75 dollars for to get any subset of reasonable ports won't properly handle external displays and a usb-3.0 hub unless I plug them in in a very specific order.

I have to do that every time I unplug the machine to go somewhere else. It won't accept the charger through the hub anymore, so I have to plug in multiple cords anyways. It won't handle multiple displays through the hub, so I have to plug in 3 connections.

Not gonna lie, I was very excited by the usb-c push early on since it consolidates all my chargers to a single cable.

On my XPS it works fine. There's only one port, but everything works as expected, it charges, it handles thunderbolt.

Apple screwed the pooch in a huge way with their latest macbook models. shittiest computer I've used in a long time.

I genuinely believe that apple's implementation of USB-C in their products is just crappy, since I've used other machines and docks without issue.

Throw on top that the battery life while running a VM on the thing is literally 1% drain per minute (I wish I was joking...) and I'd recommend literally anything other than the new 15 inch touchbar macbooks.

They're shitty machines for developers. Honestly, they're shitty machines for anyone, but they're particularly painful for anyone trying to work on them.

> On my XPS it works fine. There's only one port, but everything works as expected, it charges, it handles thunderbolt.

Yes, I was disappointed by the fact my XPS only had one USB-C port, but on the other hand, it also has a standard charger port as well, which means I'm not bound by USB-C alone.

I recently bought the current generation XPS 13 (9370), and it now has 3 USB-C ports, two on one side and one on the other. You can charge on all 3 of them. Just being able to plug in the charging cord on either side of the device is immensely convenient, and reassuring because the single USB-C port was the first thing that failed on my last XPS 13 (9350).

Amazing how Dell is phasing in the new port, rather than just replacing all of the old ports with the new (immature) standard.

Yeah, I was disappointed about it at first, but now, I think Yeah, it's really good they decided to do what they did.

Most of my devices are still USB 3 standard, the only things I have which are usb-c are the phones.

> Throw on top that the battery life while running a VM on the thing is literally 1% drain per minute

I have not seen this behaviour. I recently picked up a new MBP with the touchbar and spend a lot of my time working in a VM, I haven't see the battery drain like this.

What hypervisor are you using? What guest OS are you running?

I bought a “side dock” from my 13” MBP, and it seems to work really well. It solves the issues with dongles hanging off the side and wearing out over time, and because it connects to both ports simultaneously it significantly reduces wear on the ports.

Granted it was $100, and sticks out from the side of the machine - but it’s a decent trade off so far for me. When I want to hook up to my 4K display and desktop peripherals, it’s just a matter of inserting the dock and it all works. When I go mobile, there’s only one thing to unplug and I’m on my way.

My previous (mid-2015) MBP wasn’t even that nice in this regard - I had to plug/unplug a Thunderbolt cable and a MagSafe cable to use it at a desk. This is much easier and faster.

I had a new macbook pro for a developer job and three weeks after I got it something on the motherboard shorted out and caused one speaker to make a loud popping noise and stop working. it crackled for months before we could get it looked at, and when they realized they needed to replace the whole motherboard the sent it back after certifying that the speakers now worked. Only the broken speaker still sounded noticeably different from the good speaker. I don't have that computer any more, and it still irks me that apple couldn't be bothered to replace all the broken parts.

Everything works great on my MacBook Pro. No issues with USB-C at all. Having used it for a bit, I'm not a fan of the keyboard, but I use an external ergonomic keyboard for my day-to-day usage so it doesn't bother me.

I never thought I would miss the ESC key so much. As a bonus I guess I learned how to remap keys in almost every tool I use.


You can globally remap Caps Lock to Escape by going to Preferences -> Keyboard -> Modifier Keys.

Warning: Once you remap this, you can never use vi on a non-remapped keyboard again (Source: me)

Can confirm. It's terrifying when muscle memory sends you half a dozen (or more) upper-case key strokes into the abyss because you hit capslock when you thought it would Esc, kept firing away keystrokes until you realized what had happened, and you have no idea what you just did, where you are, or how to get back.

If you're using a vi variant without undo capability, you've skipped right past hard mode to nightmare difficulty.

I'd argue that it's more akin to skipping to hardcore mode (i.e., permadeath).

If you didn't hit escape, wouldn't you be in insert mode and just need to backspace?

I recently changed my caps lock + hjkl to be the arrow keys system wide and act as command-option-shift-Ctrl+ whatever key you press. And finally f18 if pressed and released by itself(though you could map it to escape instead). In vim(well spacemacs) I have jk and kj set to escape so I can exit out of insert mode by just mashing those two keys on home row. This is the best setup I have ever used. To get caps locks on I have it set to toggle if I press right shift and caps locks.

I had a WASDKeyboard made with a Ctrl key in place of the capslock key and it has a switch to allow that mapping. I'm spoiled by not accidentally TYPING ALL IN CAPS!

I am almost certain all of the newer WASD products have a DIP switch on the bottom that has this feature. IIRC my CODE keyboard does too (because it’s manufactured by WASD).

Second this tip. For Emacs users, remapping Caps Lock to Control is a godsend.

It was a sad day (ok, sad years I suppose) when Sun and Apple gave up this battle to conform to the PC world. Control was already in that spot for real computers.

Why not both! I use xcape on linux, and karabiner on OSX to remap caps to control when chorded (ctrl+c) and escape when pressed alone. You'll never go back

As an emacs ex-user I could never live without Caps Lock being remapped to Ctrl, the advantages on Mac are tremendous, I use daily C-a, C-e, C-r, C-s, C-k, etc etc. This is one of the best features of Mac OS in my book, being able to use Cmd for operating system commands and Ctrl for typical UNIXy commands. Whenever I have to use a linux (usually Ubuntu) laptop I cringe at all the Ctrl-Shift-C/V.

FWIW I do the same on Windows. Not usable without that change.

> Ctrl-Shift-C/V

you should be highlight+middle clicking anyway, this is a PCism which was brought over to 'simplify things'

Caps Lock needs to be Ctrl.

Are you an Emacs user? I'm currently trying to undo two decades of Windows keyboards in order to use my MBP, and have had to switch up alt, command, etc. in iterm2 to get things as I'm used to, but I'm willing to force my brain into using Caps-lock as CTRL if this is something that works better in the long term.

Generally live in Vim; i've remapped Caps->Ctrl on win/OSX/Linux on every computer I've owned for well over a decade now.

When I do this, I also pry of and switch the key caps wherever possible.

You can also use an external keyboard to have a hardware escape key too.

That's not the point.

I am very hesitant to remap anything since it ruins me for other computers. So I just travel with a small mechanical keyboard instead. Has the added benefit of always having a USA keyboard with me when I am in europe.

<religion>Caps Lock should be remapped to Ctrl, as God intended.</religion>

An easier solution--in a terminal application, at least--to hitting Esc without that abomination of a touch bar is to use <Ctrl>-[. This works well for Vim/Emacs users, at least.

Or Ctrl-c, which vi traps and at least exists on non-US layout keyboards.

Even easier is to remap Caps to Esc when hit once and Ctrl when held.

I just threw up a little bit in my mouth this was so upsetting to read. Somehow I had forgotten about the escape key with the rest of the touchbar nonsense.

When you're using Xcode, the Touchbar is quite useful when you're debugging.

tried playing a game that uses fn keys on my friends new macbook and they just didn’t work lol. everyone i know seems to hate that bar thing for one reason or another

my next computer will not be a macbook

> and probably no physical ESC key either

Apple, doing their part in the Jihad. Eventually, the vi-using infidels will be no more...

I generally really enjoy my USB-C riddled MacBook Pro.

The one thing that kills me, though, is that Apple itself still hasn't bothered to ship a USB-C cable for the Apple Watch. I'm ready to eat the costs of an early adopter and upgrade most of my peripherals to be USB-C... but jeez, it's been one and a half years, and Apple still hasn't solved its own ecosystem problems. To make matters worse, Apple prevents others from making a USB-C Apple Watch cable, too, so I'm stuck carrying an adapter whenever I need to charge my watch.

Yeah, I find this quite bizarre. For the phones and iPads, this also goes. I assume that only a minority of iOS device buyers has a MBP, but it's quite strange to unpack your phone and realize you can't hook it up to your MBP.

Everyone keeps giving Microsoft crap for not putting USB-C+Thunderbolt on the Surface computers, but Panos Panay gave a pretty defensible explanation of it on a podcast (https://overcast.fm/+CFntmrqI/51:00), and I have to say, so far the real-world experience is mostly bearing him out.

One thing that I realized is that in the past whenever I've had to replace my power adapter for an Apple laptop, it's always been the small cord from the adapter to the laptop that gets damaged... which requires the entire power brick to be replaced (~$100). With the power brick + USB-C cable combo, the cord between the power brick and the laptop can be replaced for ~$25 from Apple while the power brick itself remains at the ~$100 price point. So now wear-and-tear damage, which mainly happens to the cord isn't such an expensive prospect to fix.

Just my 2¢...

ESC key is big downer. It isn't my laptop but I would not buy or suggest anyone buy one without said key :).

I didn't had problem with USB, so I see it as a win, when single charger can charge laptop and my phone.

I mapped Caps Lock to Escape and spent a few months retraining myself :-/

The only thing I use Escape for with any regularity is vim; I remapped it to `jj` years ago, so I don’t think I’d have an issue with the lack of a physical key.

I’m typing this now on a Bluetooth mechanical keyboard connected to an iPad. It has a physical escape key but I’ve remapped it in the firmware to send tilde by default and a backtick with shift. I have to press Fn+Shift+Esc to actually send Escape... I don’t think I’ve ever actually had to do that, despite working extensively in MOSH shells.

Eh, took a couple of weeks at max for me. Although my coworkers keep wondering why I keep toggling Caps Lock on their machines if I ever need to help out with something.

This happened to my work computer. Fortunately instead of frying the peripheral the port fried itself and now the furthermost port doesn't work.

I took it to my company's IT and they told me that apple laptops which around 20% of the workforce use, causes 80% of the problems.

He jokingly mentioned that if my company stops using apple computers he'd probably be out of a job.

I honestly believe you, but earlier this was posted: "IBM says it is 3X more expensive to manage PCs than Macs" ( https://www.computerworld.com/article/3131906/apple-mac/ibm-... )

(btw, I don't think it's true)

Maybe they shouldn't have sold off the Thinkpad line then. :-/

My work computer developed the same problem (MacBook Pro 15-inch, 2017). If the battery wasn't 100% charged and it was plugged into a charger, the mac reliably fried usb-c ethernet-dongles.

I took it to an Apple Authorized service provider and they called me, and said that the computer is just fine. To add insult to injury they even sent me a screenshot of a big green "passed" message.

This happened to my machine! It fried almost all my peripherals including causing my USB keyboard to spark and smoke (ruining a $300 HHKB). After a bunch of frustration and a long week, Apple just replaced the logic board, but I am afraid the problem will return. I recommend bringing your computer in on any sight of weird shocks or sounds before all your data is fried.

Did they pay for your HHKB?

(slightly off-topic) Am I the only one who notices the static(?) happening when Macbooks are plugged in? Symptom 1, brushing your hand against the aluminium feels weird, this doesn't happen when you remove the charging cable. Symptom 2, back when I used wired headphones I could clearly distinguish the static noise when the system was plugged in, it would go away if I touched the laptop or, again, remove the charging cable.

edit: I'm in Tunisia right now, and every socket here seems to have the 3rd prong thingie which I can only assume it's the ground connection. So I can confirm petronic's account, no symptoms here whatsoever.

You either have a bad supply or a floating earth, that is cuased by a bias between earth and tbe floating earth on the laptop. Put a multimeter between the earth pin on your supply and the body of the laptop and if you put it into ac volts mode you can see it. This is NOT static, its is A/C volts on your device.

It's apparently a known phenomenon called "electrovibration" - I wound up googling it the first time that it happened.


My old MacBook Air did this a lot! My 2017 13" MacBook Pro does it too, but it's intermittent and much less noticeable. In both cases it completely disappears if you unplug the AC.

Ditto. I had a late-2013 15” MBP that did it consistently, and it was worse when you touched the bottom of the chassis. My mid-2015 MBP did it slightly, and I’ve not detected it on my current-gen 13” MBP or any of my non-Apple hardware.

It's noticeable on my 13" 2017 non-touchbar MacBook Pro, but only when you run your fingers along the part of the case above the keyboard.

It was much more noticeable on the MacBook Air, with pretty much the entire aluminium surface of the case having the issue.

I didn't notice it when I had the 2017 Macbook, but both my Macbook Air and MBP 2015 has the same issue. Why hasnt Apple solve this after all these years?

Edit, I am using it with the UK plug, unsure how this is a grounding issue.

I'm pretty sure the UK MacBook charger plug is not grounded. It has the ground pin, of course (UK sockets won't accept a plug without it), but there's only the standard 2 wires going from the detachable plug to the main body of the charger.

You have grounding issues. Stop whatever you're doing and get an isolation transformer. On the off chance that that isn't clear: NOT a moving transformer or 'auto' transformer they have only one coil, you want one with a primary and a secondary winding that are galvanically isolated, but with an equal number of windings (so the voltage doesn't change).

And stay away from any metal and tubing in the place where you are (heating, concrete rebar, water lines).

I've noticed #1 when traveling with the ungrounded attachment for the power brick and a type-F power adapter. At home I still use the old 3-prong cable from my previous gen MBP or USB-C power from a dock's grounded power supply and don't get that weird sensation.

I have this problem often when I’m in Africa. Sometimes the case shocks me very lightly as well. I’ve always assumed it’s a problem with lack of grounding and/or dirty power. (Had it with non-macs as well)

Yes, I'm in South Africa right now and this issue is very frequent. It helps some to use the two-prong plug on the charger instead of the three-prong plug. (If anyone can explain why that works, I'd love to know.)

Holy shit, I completely forgot. But yes, I've had this happen to me as well. It's a bit... distressing to get (slightly) shocked by your laptop.

This is very common, it happens when the power connection isn't grounded. I've had it with all my aluminum macbooks going back to 2010, no damage so far.

Are you talking about one specific unit? That reads more like you have a insulation/isolation/grounding failure. Parts of the system and chassis are energized, where they should not be.

I'd look into this ASAP.

Nope, at least 3 different macbooks, different models/years. Check out the replies in the thread, especially the thread linked by et-al.

Have a business associate who was debating between a 2015 and a 2016 model, while both were being sold by Apple.

I've been meaning to tell him just how much he dodged a bullet, by going with the 2015.

P.S. I see now, this problem pre-dates the 2016 models.

Still think -- keyboard failures, etc. -- he dodged a bullet.

But this behavior -- well, it would freak me out a little.

I definitely notice (1) from time to time.

USB C PD is a negotiated protocol, the controlling chipset is not supposed to set VBUS to above 5V unless the sink explicitly asks for it. Unlike what people are saying here, it's not a matter of a simple component shorting out, the USB C controller must have a firmware error for this.

That's the theory. In practice, really, wtf is going on there, I have thought laptops didn't implement USB PD as a power source at all?? Why would the VBUS of different ports be connected together?

Can confirm this. The new MBP with TouchBar has fried my USB Type-A Yubikey. I was ignoring the signs that it was getting quite warm, then one day it completely died.

I've melted two minis! I now use the larger yubi and just plug it in EVERY TIME I need to use it.

Few days ago I've bought previous generation Retina 15,4 with funny faces from sellers at my local Apple store :)

Great keyboard, dependable battery, Magsafe, ESC and other goodies :)

And I couldn't be happier - no crappy keyboard, no donglemagendon and other crap :)

Same! It's a far superior piece of hardware. The prices they charge for dongles on top of the already-high price of the laptop are insane.

I just sold my mid-2015 rMBP on Craigslist, but I won’t be moving to the new one.

I tried the new ones, Windows 10 tablet hybrids, iPad, iPad Pro, and Android tablets. I settled on an iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard and LTE - I wouldn’t have been able to do that had I not discovered Blink Terminal (an iOS MOSH/SSH client) and do most of my “real” work in the shell. Otherwise, I’d probably have ended up with an X1 Carbon running ArchLinux. I may still end up with a Carbon, but so far I’ve not been able to rationalize the expense.

What did you sell it for?

I just bought a new 2015 rMBP (2.2 GHZ, 16GB, 256) for $1750 off Ebay in order to avoid the issues everyone else is having.

Yesterday it was on sale for about $1500 at BestBuy...doh

An office near me (we're moving into the same building) recently cleared out a lot of old hardware. I found 2 rMBPs among the 'broken' pile. One didn't boot, the other did boot but had a smashed screen. I took both, swapped the screens, and now have one perfectly working 2014 mid-range rMBP (2.5GHz, 16GB, 256GB, GT750) /for free/. Could not believe my luck! Easily fast enough to keep up with the current machines.

One man's trash ^_^


I had it listed on Facebook for two weeks at $1200 with no offers. I live in a fairly poor area though, so I ended up driving to the nearest city to deliver it too.

FWIW, it was the exact specs you listed. Here's the label from the box: https://photos.app.goo.gl/W2q9qrUQXtAxRuOp2

I bought a 2nd hand 2015 rMBP in mint condition with Applecare till 2019 October.

2.9Ghz, 8GB, 512SSD for $1100

I think i got a very good deal, I am hoping Apple would understand their mistake and at least make something decent by 2019.

This happened to my work machine too! The notebook is top of the line MacBook Pro 15, 2017. It fried at least four USB-C to ethernet adapters. It is not isolated accident, at least two other people on my team had the same problem. Our notebooks came from the same batch (MacBooks were issued at the same day).

Maybe Apple will offer a $29 bumper to install around the rim of your 2016/2017 MBP that just blocks the port since you are most likely using it "the wrong way" /s

I'm interested to see a few other people test this out though to see what happens. I'd test it myself but unfortunately I don't have access to a 2016/2017 MBP. Hopefully it isn't a widespread issue.

I would love to see the look on the face of the guy at the Apple Store when OP pulls out the multimeter. No disrespect, but in my experience they're good at handling common issues and terrible when you have something unique.

Yep, I laughed when the only response on that forum thread was “take it to the Apple Store”.

I doubt anyone in there would even know how much voltage should an USB port deliver.

I guess he can prove his point by asking the Apple people to plug their iPhone into the laptop and watch the thing catch fire.

Ouch! Pass through power mode for the lose. Next I would wonder if it were symmetric, which is to say if you plug the charger into the left furthermost plug, do any other plugs show up with 19V on them ?

I'm guessing someone "assumed" you would always plug the charger into the port closest to where the mag safe connector used to be.

I have the two port version for work and it has MELTED two yubi keys. Certain combinations of doc, hub and charger results in audio failures and video tearing/blinking on secondary screens.

It's a joke.

If it makes it any better, there's a comic about this from almost 10 years ago.


Oh wow, the Brads. I loved those! I think I am still subscribed to the RSS feed, but haven't seen new ones in a while :(

You need to buy an extra dongle to regulate the voltage properly. Apple sells one for $29.99

Without a monthly subscription? What a bargain!

By dongle, are you referring to a USB-C to USB adapter?

This explains why two of my keyboards were randomly fried using the new macbooks.

Between this and the keyboard, these machines are disasters.

My MacBook Air mid 2013 also fries peripherals via USB when idle or rebooting (even when unplugged from dc), happened twice.

That's a good warning, thank you.

This happened to me too, back in January. It managed to fry two different U2F devices as well as a cable, which were plugged into different ports. One of the devices got so hot before I noticed it that it actually melted the plastic on the U2F device itself.

Fortunately, it was my work laptop, and my company was able to replace it, but at best it's inconvenient to have to replace a machine, and it's kind of frightening to suddenly smell burning plastic in your home.

Is this an isolated failure, or something wrong with all MacBook Pros?

Given that this was posted back in January and nobody else has chimed in with a "my computer too" or "oh my goodness that's how my peripherals all died" post, I'm guessing it's an isolated failure.

This thread is filled with people complaining about the same thing

Yes, it is now. When I posted every single comment in this thread was FUD-dy, but it wasn't yet clear how common of a thing this was.

There's more evidence now, so I'm updating my prior.

Its rare but I know someone who fried at least 4 devices. We found this post when trying to figure it out, wish we had thought of putting it on HN!

Is it always that specific port that fries stuff? (I tend to use it for power out of habit, and can be careful not to use it for anything else going forward.)

> Given that this was posted back in January and nobody else has chimed in with a "my computer too" or "oh my goodness that's how my peripherals all died" post, I'm guessing it's an isolated failure.

Plenty of people have. My laptop did the same thing back in January, frying two separate U2F devices (at first, I thought the key was faulty, but it fried two different keys on different ports).

I replaced the laptop and haven't thought about it since, until two days ago, when my replacement laptop fried a display adapter.

There are at least 93 other people who clicked "I have this question too" on the post.

Yes, now there are. When I authored my post there were less than 20.


The Hacker News effect :)

I have a similar USB setup that was getting hot to the touch this weekend (sd card reader). I blamed the reader, but now I'm curious.

Just reading or were you writing to the SD card? Flash memory gets hot during write cycles.

Purely reading, and the device was hot when not even mounted sooo....

this happens to me too, thought it was normal... I'll have to avoid using it for now.

there is only one way to find out ;)


I actually noticed a popping sound recently when plugging in a USB receiver for my wireless mouse via a USB-C adapter. The adapter was already plugged in, and then I plugged the receiver into the adapter.

Since that happened, I've been putting the receiver into the adapter first, and then plugging in the USB-C adapter second, and haven't heard it happen since.

"I would definitely take this MacBook to an Apple Store as this problem doesn't seem to be user-fixable."

I'm surprised nobody trolled and said the classic "have you tried turning it on and off again?"

Tried to fix my printer. Each time error happens it shows this dialog


Oh, and make sure to reset the PRAM

And reset the SMC, too.

Don’t forget to fix permissions.

Guess I'll stick with 2015 macbook for as long as possible.

My experience with my 2016 MBP is great. But sticking with your 2015 model is a good idea regardless. CPU speeds haven't really advanced since 2015, the screen is basically the same, etc. The only thing is USB-C/Thunderbolt. I love it, but I probably wouldn't upgrade my laptop for that.

Really too bad we called another incident Donglegate already.

Had this same thing happen recently and came across this post. Wish I had thought of putting it on HN!

My MacBook Pro 2017 provided by work is doing the exact same thing.

I had issues connecting multiple displays which eventually led to not being able to get a third display working at all, and finally anything connected to two of the USB-C ports would start getting very hot and emitting a burning smell.

Combined with the problems I've had with the keyboard on this thing, and problems getting mice to work without hideous acceleration or sensitivity issues, this might possibly be the worst development machine I've ever used.

I had an issue with my Macbook Pro 2017 where they said there was a voltage issue. It made it so that the graphics card when being shut down would have artifacts.

I feel good about waiting through this generation of MBP.

I’ve just been forced by circumstance to get a new laptop at work and it’s a 13” MBP. Not happy.

This reminds me of an incident that was entirely my fault where I was using a USB dongle that allows you to use standard RC aircraft transmitters (joystick controllers) as input devices for software flight simulators and I somehow ended up sending a 3S RC battery (11 volts) through it to my computer monitor’s USB port, completely frying the monitor.

Something like that happened to me with my 17 inch Macbook Pro back in 2011 (?). I plugged in a USB stick there was a flash and then a big pop sound. The laptop went black and wouldn't power on for a few minutes. After a while it powered on and all seemed OK lasting until last fall when its video card died.

Haven't really found a solution here, mostly complaint.

The closest I found last night was

> You need to buy an extra dongle to regulate the voltage properly

But I'm not sure which dongle it's referring to.

So what is the solution if any?

* Bring the MBP to an Apple Store? * Buy a dongle? * Don't use the USB ports ever again?

I have a dongle for USB(-A) that provides only charging and no data transfers.

Is there a reverse option where you can buy a dongle that intercepts this madness with overvoltage protection or whatever?

The current MacBook Pro can't be scrapped soon enough. What a mess.

Frankly if Apple just updated the old trusty 2015 MacBook Pro model to have 32gb RAM and a faster CPU, I'd be thrilled.

Which they can't. Intel CPUs don't support 32 GB RAM yet.

False. If you check Intel ARK, you can see, for example, the i7-2860QM has a max RAM of 32 GB (and this is a processor from 2011). Heck, the i7-8809G supports 64 GB.

We're speaking of mobile CPUs and LPDDR4, here. In other words, viable designs for laptops with good battery life that don't weigh 8 pounds.

my thinkpad is running on 40GB RAM on an i7 just fine

Yep, because it doesn't use a mobile i7. So Lenovo made a different battery/RAM size tradeoff.

I have a 2017 non touch 13 and get a fuzzy pixelated screen for a few seconds after I open the lid after it’s been asleep all day/night. Don’t know if that’s common.

2017 13" with a touchbar, I get something similar under the same conditions. My guess is that the display is showing garbage that's in the framebuffer for a second before the OS can render the GUI.

I guessed something with FileVault causing a gpu issue when waking from sleep. Nothing else is wrong that I’m aware of. I couldn’t find any answers or even questions on forums (or search well enough).

I have the same and occasionally notice the same when lifting the lid along with the occasional millisecond screen tear when in use.

Can confirm, I fried an HP Omen Accelerator eGPU unit and the left port on my MBP. Luckily, HP repaired the eGPU and the warranty covered the MBP.

I had exactly this problem with my MBP, took it back to apple and they ended up replacing the whole logic board and 2 IO boards under warranty.

Have you tried an SMC reset? It isn’t impossible that this is a software or configuration bug.

Jonathan Ive: "We need 100% of MacBook users to use my beautiful butterfly keyboard, regardless of the dust that screws up the key mechanism."

Tim Cook: "That's not possible- they can always just plug in a USB keyboard."

Jonathan Ive: "Is there nothing we can do to stop them from doing that?"

Why is that such a problem with this keyboard anyway?

My B button is sticking after just 2 months! I've been using Macbook Airs and Pros for about 8 years and never once had any issue with any of them until this one.

Get a can of compressed air and follow this procedure: https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT205662

This helped my 2016 MBP, but also helped a friend with an older 2014 model.

That only makes sense if you have no memory... why would they have to post that unless the keyboard is crap? I use pre-emoji macbooks outdoors all the time and they keyboards are still fine.

Seems that when they get warm the problems get worse. Sometimes they'll work but not click so its a bit weird. Otherwise, like with the spacebar it just doesn't register at all. Really frustrating if you're doing heavy workloads

ouch, my wife has the non touch macbook pro 2016, I should warn her

ah well never mind, she doesnt really have any usb c peripherals.

The test setup shown uses a USB-C to USB adapter, so it would fry any non-USB-C device connected through an adapter.

My Macbook Pro fries itself.

we experienced this in our office as well.

I don't see this on mine. Something wrong with this dude's specific machine.

This is the nature with hardware failures: they don't happen to everyone. That doesn't mean it isn't an issue.

Well yeah. I don't think anyone is under the impression that Apple made a laptop that, by design, fries peripherals when it's charging.

It's #1 on the first page. It would be understandable if this was a widespread issue but it being a single case, someone must really hate Apple.

> it being a single case, someone must really hate Apple.

A question on Apple's own forum demonstrating a clearly dangerous hardware flaw is hating Apple? ..they really can do no wrong.

Also notice the "I have this question too" button which has been pressed 26 times.

I meant that more about pushing an unverified post on a user forum with no proof to #1 spot.

unverified? it's just voltage not intel ME.

Reading some other peoples comments it appears some peripherals manage the voltage somehow but get very hot... seems unlikely 20v though, perhaps the exact voltage varies by machine, only becoming obvious in extreme cases like this.

I recently purchased a macbook from apple. After one day I found out the mic did not work, when I received my first facetime call on the laptop. Since I was using the laptop for some projects I was not able to give it immediately back. I called apple support on chat, the person made me install update and restart mac, consuming 2 hours for no reason. Then I decided to goto the store. At the store they made me wait for 2 hours. Then I was able to present my new macbook without a functional mic. At the store I had the worst experience, the person basically took my laptop for 30 minutes, came back and said I spilled water, they did a test and handed me a 700$ bill to fix it! This was beyond me. I told the person, that I just bought it and it is hard for me to challenge a test that I don't know. It is possible I a drop spilled when I was drinking water/coffee on my laptop. I have a macbook pro, also it works great I have spilled some water on it, usual wear and tear, I don't have a problem with it. However the person was very adamant that I was lying and I better pay the fees or not waster their time.

Very confused about my situation, I contacted apple on chat again, and told them about my experience at the store. The chat person called their manager, who again threatened me saying that if I want to challenge their diagnostic test I can, otherwise I should stop contacting them. I have no knowledge about how to find out about this test, what it is, does it consider normal usage conditions of laptops or anything like that. If anyone has had similar experience or knows about this diagnostic test do share, I don't want to pay 700$ extra on a macbook

I had a similar experience with an authorised repair place - my keyboard went on the blink (as has been reportedly recently with all the touchbar MBPs. Upon opening it they found a coffee stain from where I had spilt coffee on it months before. Their response "we can't fix it sorry, Apple wouldn't allow it"...

same thing here for a MBA. Repair cost: at least 1000EUR assuming the display is not affected.

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