We have all seen one. A broken USB port on our expensive equipment. For many, this is an unexpected and unpleasant surprise. They are difficult to replace and of course, buying a new electronic anything is quite expensive.
The USB standard is used everywhere in components these days. That was the original intention of the standard was a single series of ports that could be used in a widespread number of applications. That objective has been for the most part, successful. However, there is one glaring flaw with the USB standard and that is still durability.
Tips for keeping your USB ports intact
While far from bulletproof, here are my recommendations as to what can be used to minimize the odds that you will break your USB ports.
- If you are moving a laptop or mobile device, disconnect the USB ports before moving the device (Ex: if you are moving a laptop with a wired mouse or USB flash sticks, disconnect those before moving). I have found that if you drop the mouse, the pressure on the cable will often break the USB port.
- Minimize the pressure that you apply onto USB cables when plugged into the port.
- Only gently plug USB cables into the ports. Do not force in. If the cable is not going in, look very carefully and see why it is not then re-align.
- Do not use the cheapest USB cable. Not only can they break easily, they often do not meet the minimum standards for the amount of current that they are supposed to carry. This could damage your electronics or your laptop. See: http://uk.businessinsider.com/google-engineer-benson-leung-reviewing-bad-usb-cables-on-amazon-until-he-forced-the-site-to-ban-them-2016-3
- Some people advise using 90 degree USB connectors, because the cable rather than the port will receive most of the stress and it is far easier to replace a cable than a port.
- I recommend that you carefully research what cables you buy before buying them. While Amazon and other retailers are cracking down on sub-par USB cables, there are no doubt cables still that are of substandard quality on the market. Here is an example of a guide: https://www.androidcentral.com/what-look-when-buying-usb-c-cables-and-adapters
There are a number of guides online about how to repair broken USB ports, in the event that the worst happens. Here is an example:
You will only want to do this though if you are proficient with soldering, as the risk of creating an electrical short is always a danger.
Advice for the next generation of USB standards
The big challenge with the USB standard is that it was designed to be cheap. It had to be, in order to allow for large scale adoption.
There have been a few revisions of the standard. The USB standard has seen several changes with the latest (circa 2018) USB 3.0 and USB 3.1 standards, most notably an increase in transfer speeds and maximum current for charging devices quickly. The USB-C standard also is reversible and somewhat more durable.
However, on more expensive devices (ex: you have a very expensive SSD, such as a 2 TB external USB SSD) or a very expensive computer, I think that there needs to be a very durable male and female end. Higher end cables would also feature a durable male or female end. This should be fully compatible with existing standards.
The design of the next standard of USB should be made with durability in mind, even if it does bring up the price. I think that in volume, when one factors in the costs of broken USB ports, doing so will be a cost savings to the customer in the long run, even if we all do pay more up front. This could also reduce the amount of E-waste as well. I think at some point, we need to come to terms with the fact that we are human. Accidents such as tripping on a plugged USB cable do happen. A more durable capable will greatly reduce the risks of damage to the ports and the loss of expensive electronics to the consumer.
The existing USB standard, while it has met its goal of being universal, has a few flaws. Perhaps one of the biggest flaws is that the ports themselves are vulnerable to physical damage. There are a number of tips that can be done to minimize the risk of damage to the ports, but the standard itself needs to change. There need to be more durable ports and cables that are reverse compatible, plus the basic design itself should be made as durable as realistically possible.