back to article Apple's latest macOS Big Sur update stops cheapo USB-C hubs bricking your machine

In addition to various minor bug fixes, Apple's 11.2.2 update to macOS Big Sur addresses an issue where newer MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models could be damaged by dodgy third-party USB-C accessories. Per the update notes: "macOS Big Sur 11.2.2 prevents MacBook Pro (2019 or later) and MacBook Air (2020 or later) models from …

  1. John Robson Silver badge

    bringing back magsafe...

    Excellent, I have no problem with USB-C charging being an option, but magsafe is one of those designs that is far too good to leave behind completely.

  2. bilston

    This is why I had to swap.

    Dont get me wrong Apple offers great products and excellent software , but, and yes iI find it a massive but after 7 years, my excellent Imac wont update to the latest operating system, Yes I get the technical patches but I cant use the latest versions of my programs and I have to suffer death by a thousand cuts as new programs are frozen out.

    I have also got fed up with pissing about with Apple only writing to its own disk system which wont be read by much else, perhaps it is the best disk op system but please let me get down and dirty with other systems.

    Then there is the ludicrous audio codec situation, if it aint Apple lossless you cant use the the most world popular loss loss system,

    Add to that the total lock down of accesories and spares and even programs, I baled out and switched Linux (Mint).

    (Mint) is flawless, happy to work with anything and adaptable.

    I am not short of cash I dont mind paying extra for a quality product which Apple is, but I am completely pissed off with being forced down a one way road that locks me into what it thinks is good for me, or what is clearly good for it.,

    Try Linux. It is no longer the prerogative of the technical wizard, it actually lets you do what you want, POWER TO THE PEOPLE !

    1. cookieMonster
      Thumb Up

      Re: This is why I had to swap.

      I did the same with my 2009 iMac last year, Mint runs flawlessly on it.

      1. jason_derp Bronze badge

        Re: This is why I had to swap.

        "I did the same with my 2009 iMac last year, Mint runs flawlessly on it."

        My eyes watered at the thought of spending that much money to run Mint, but then I realized it was "09" and not "19" and felt better.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is why I had to swap.

      I understand what you are saying, but you're purchasing a whole integrated product when you buy an Apple.

      What you're tryig to have is akin to you buying a high quality German car and then hoping to replace key components with something cheaper, just so that you can. You're trying to prise out the audio system and replace it with your own player.

      Plenty of other options out there to tinker around with, as you've already discovered.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: This is why I had to swap.

        You mean that when you buy a high quality German car, you use their integrated GPS that cost like 300€ per year to keep up to date, instead of free Google Maps on your phone?

        Good for you, good for you. Not everybody feels like it, mind. I know some who definitely don't.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: This is why I had to swap.

          "High quality German car" - Bwahahahahahahahah!

          No.

          German cars were high quality in in the '60s, '70s, and '80s. Things started going wrong in the '90s.

          They're hot garbage now. You want quality now, you buy Japanese, Korean, or American.

          1. MrReynolds2U
            Coffee/keyboard

            Re: This is why I had to swap.

            "You want quality now, you buy Japanese, Korean, or American."

            American? That's something I've never heard before. It made me laugh... a lot.

      2. Martin an gof Silver badge

        Re: This is why I had to swap.

        I have no direct experience but it seems more to me like buying an expensive German car and the thing spluttering and dying if you dare to fill up with Asda petrol rather than paying twice as much for fuel you can only get from the dealer.

        Or the car suddenly loses the anti-lock brakes if you fit brake pads made in the same factory to the same spec as the 'originals' but have the misfortune not to be stamped with the correct logo.

        The thing about the audio codec is odd though. What's going on there?

        I suspect the charger thing is more complex. USB power delivery is a standard and as far as I am aware, Apple has used the standard. Thus it /should/ be fine to use a charging hub which also sticks to the standard, no matter the logo printed on the case. Without knowing the details here, is it actually more likely that a cheap charger has cut some corners? Does it have a failure mode which shouldn't be possible? Is the CE mark fake?

        Is it the equivalent of fitting brake pads which have 50ps worth of sandpaper instead of a high tech friction material?

        M.

        1. katrinab Silver badge
          Mushroom

          Re: This is why I had to swap.

          If you've ever watched Big Clive's YouTube channel, you will know that there are lots of very dodgy USB chargers out there.

          While most of them won't brick your device, they will set it on fire, along with the rest of the building it is in.

          1. jason_derp Bronze badge

            Re: This is why I had to swap.

            Bless that man, he does reveal the shocking innards of many a charger. I still love the lamp with a chassis that references the mains when it plugs in.

    3. Mark 65

      Re: This is why I had to swap.

      Apple only writing to its own disk system

      Not entirely sure what you’re referring to here as I’ve been writing to a ZFS volume for years. System drive may be an issue but data drives aren’t.

    4. s2bu

      Re: This is why I had to swap.

      macOS can write to FAT32 and exFAT just fine, and there are third party modules to add support for just about anything else. I’m not sure where you think that it can only handle its own file systems?

  3. gnasher729 Silver badge

    Anyone else curious what they are actually doing? If I buy a device that supposedly has an 80 Watt USB-C charging port, but then it releases the power on the wrong pins, or doesn't stop when the Mac says "enough", or supplies 160 Watt, what is the OS going to do? The only thing they should be able to do is physically / electronically separate the Mac from the input, and I would think that is pure hardware, like a super fast fuse. Maybe they always had that kind of fuse, but it's software controlled? Very curious.

    1. katrinab Silver badge
      Meh

      And also, you can charge your laptop when it is switched off and the OS isn't running; or it is running in Bootcamp, and some other OS is running.

      What happens then? Is it a firmware update?

    2. A random security guy Bronze badge

      One can’t simply push 160 or any number of watts into a MacBook. The external power supply can set the voltage and the MacBook can draw the regulated current it needs and it is designed to regulate that current.

      What could be going wrong is that

      A. the wrong pins had the voltage set wrongly.

      B. Extremely high voltage

      C. Apple reading the voltage wrongly and set the current flow such that it overheated something internally.

    3. Anon

      Loius Rossmann, who repairs Macs and is a proponent of right-to-repair in the US on his YouTube channel, seems to find that the only thing that doesn't fail in Apple laptops is the fuses.

    4. Lee D Silver badge

      USB-C is a complex protocol.

      It's basically 5V USB, but if you ask for more it can give you 9, 12, even 20 volts.

      But that's not different to how USB always was - technically you only get 500mA on even the oldest USB but you're supposed to ask for it first. Most old USB chargers just push you 5V whether you ask for it or not (that way, they don't need a chip). If you want higher USB currently, you're *definitely* supposed to ask for it, but many USB chargers just shove 2A down the line and the electronics sorts itself out (you can't "give" something more current than it's asking for). This then leads to devices that want 2A but don't ask for it (because they're being cheap on the electronics) and then they fail when they only get a proper USB's 500mA only, etc.

      Enter USB-C and you can't just shove 5V down it and hope for the best... you need to negotiate as many devices take advantage of the 20V (which results in nearly 100W of power) and only use the 5V initialisation to negotiate and nothing else. Hence USB-C chargers can't avoid having to do the negotiation.

      But if you cheap out, or your cables aren't designed for it, then that negotiation doesn't take place and you're shoving 100W down a cable that's not certified for it, to a device that's only expecting 5V, and you have problems if they haven't taken account of it.

      Most cheap $1 USB-C negotiation chips just handle the situation - they negotiate, provide only the power asked for, and operate over whatever power comes in even if it's not what was asked for (e.g. if something just shoves 20V down the line, which is a dangerous assumption as classic USB devices will be blown to smithereens). For charging ports, especially, they should be able to handle whatever comes in on whatever voltage so long as it's within USB-C power limits, but obviously some don't. Like Apple. And chargers *should* negotiate all power above 2.5W @ 5V. But they don't seem to, or they seem to do it poorly and in a way that makes assumptions they shouldn't.

      It's a poor show on Apple to have a chip that can't safely handle 100W. It's a poor show on the charger's part to - say - only ever negotiate 100W @ 20V supply and ignore any possible refusal from the controller at the other end (USB-C is basically bidirectional, the same port can both receive and supply all voltages with the right negotiation).

      Rule: Don't buy cheap junk... whether it's an overpriced Apple or not.

  4. Jason Hindle Silver badge

    We’ve come a long way from the old USB hubs...

    And if I see the two magic letters, P & D, next to each other, respectively, I think I’d rather pay extra for something with a good reputation. At the same time, I’ve come to the conclusion that being able to hang power, external storage and 4K off a single USB-C port in no way absolves Apple of charging upwards of £1000 on laptops and skimping on ports.

    1. JassMan Silver badge

      Re: We’ve come a long way from the old USB hubs...

      OTOH if Apple have made it possible not to blow up the computer simply by making a software change, then there is always the possibility that it was the computer which was non-USB-C compliant all along. Anybody whose computer has died after plugging in a USB-C hub surely has a case for a replacement under warranty. It wouldn't be the first time that Apple had abused a spec to maintain the walled garden only to realise afterwards that it was costing loyalty.

      1. doublelayer Silver badge

        Re: We’ve come a long way from the old USB hubs...

        That is an excellent point. There are any number of terrible power devices out there, but all the typical ways you could mess up a USB PD system should result in nothing happening or a fried component on the board. If, for example, it didn't properly recognize what voltage to use, it could stay low and not charge it or theoretically supply too much and break something. If Apple can make it work in software, one has to wonder what exactly the supplies in question were doing. It can't have been destructive to the hardware since it will work now, so why did it ever make the computer brick itself?

        1. tip pc Silver badge

          Re: We’ve come a long way from the old USB hubs...

          I’d assume it’s a change to the underlying firmware on the uefi or whatever they are using. I’d further suspect that the change will identify the usb-c accessory and only accept power from specific models, thereby nullifying the issue but also reducing the usability of the accessory.

          Expect reports of people complaining their cheap no name usb-c pd accessories don’t work properly on Mac kit anymore.

          1. gnasher729 Silver badge

            Re: We’ve come a long way from the old USB hubs...

            That's of course a nice software only solution. "Product XYZ has killed 29 Macs in the last 14 days, so your Mac will lock down all the hatches when it detects an XYZ product."

            I remember in the distant past some USB music player claiming through device identification "I am an iPod, made by Apple", and MacOS said "No, you're not" and shut it down.

        2. gnasher729 Silver badge

          Re: We’ve come a long way from the old USB hubs...

          One possibility is that this is not a random failure, but reproducible, coming from a much copied design. Like there might be thousands of charges copying the same design that supply 117.5 Watt whenever they are asked to produce 17.5 Watt, so MacOS just never, ever asks for 17.5 Watt anymore.

      2. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Re: We’ve come a long way from the old USB hubs...

        I think it is obvious that if a device that claims to be USB compliant blows up a Mac that claims to be USB compliant then one of the two devices isn't.

        1. doublelayer Silver badge

          Re: We’ve come a long way from the old USB hubs...

          And likely it's the cheap chargers that are doing it wrong. I just want to know how. Lots of cheap chargers could be built so wrong that they're going to catch fire or overpower the device at the other end, but if it can be fixed in software, that can't be it. They could refuse to get power from anything untrusted, but that wouldn't help if the device is already sending too much power when it was asked. The intersection of sends the wrong power and complies when asked not to is probably quite small.

      3. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Re: We’ve come a long way from the old USB hubs...

        That obviously depends on the USB and whether it complied with the standards. If the Mac asks for 200 Watt and is killed by 200 Watt -> Apples fault. If the max asks for 20 Watt and is killed by 200 Watts -> devices fault.

        1. katrinab Silver badge
          Alert

          Re: We’ve come a long way from the old USB hubs...

          If a Mac asks for 200W and is killed by 200W, then both devices are to blame, because the USB PD standard specifies a maximum of 100W.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm really not clear how, if this is all caused by faulty 3rd party *hardware*, Apple can fix it with a mere *software* update.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      one reason

      is developing to an interface spec. Some people will be very, very strict and follow is exactly.

      Others will be a lot more tolerant w.r.t the spec.

      We see that in other charging systems. I'm talking about those used by Electric Cars and the CCS standard.

      Chargeplace Scotland installed a load of chargers that follow the spec but many cars simply won't connect to the charger and accept power. Those same cars can use other chargers without issue.

      Thankfully everyone seems to be erring on the side of safety. 400V DC @ 200A (or more) is not to be messed with.

    2. AndyMTB

      I wonder if it's to do with thermal monitoring. Do the Apple chargers slightly under-power compared to spec, so a true-to-spec 3rd party charger needs to be watched?

  6. LDS Silver badge

    "ZMUIPNG"

    This kind of random names selling stuff on Amazon are a clear warning...

  7. Real Ale is Best

    Repairs

    I'd just be happy if I could get my Big Sur bricked Macbook Pro back from the Apple store that repaired it.

    Due to covid, they've not been open since I took it in at the beginning of December.

    Posting it to me was beyond them.

  8. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    WTF?

    Something odd here

    The computer asks for the amount of power it wants. It either gets it or it doesn't. It can't be forced to take more than it wants. The only way to do that would be to raise the supply voltage to an unsafe level.

  9. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Surely this is a hardwaare issue for Apple?

    I have a large number of electrical devices in my house that will break ('be bricked') if they are fed too much power. Fires, kettle, toaster, microwave, lights - in all cases they are protected by inserting a clever little gadget into the circuit called a 'fuse'. If too much power is supplied then the 'fuse' goes pop, and prevents the device from 'being bricked'. All that is needed then is to find a better power supply, and replace the 'fuse' (at a cost of pennies).

    Can I patent this idea and sell it to Apple? I'm sure it wouldn't add more than $1000 to the price of a MacBook (or 50cents to the price of a PC)

    1. Tony W

      Re: Surely this is a hardwaare issue for Apple?

      Fuses are not so clever and universally protective as you think.

  10. A random security guy Bronze badge

    Apple M1 crashes all the time

    You may be lucky. M1 MacBooks have been crashing a lot. I get 2-3 crashes a day. No amount of reimaging, reformatting, calls to Apple support have helped. Apple support will make you do all sorts of crazy things to collect data and makes you feel like an idiot.

    The Apple forums are filled with people who are complaining about this system.

    Connecting devices on USBc can crash your laptop more quickly.

    One can get locked out of their accounts; macOS can refuse your password. macOS can also refuse to let you reinstall the OS. You then have to do strange things in the right sequence.

    The m1 going to sleep can crash your machine.

    Restore from time capsule can fail.

    The worst has been Apple Support. You end up spending hours with them and all you get is a reformat reinstall advice. This literally takes 3 hours for me every time.

  11. SImon Hobson Silver badge

    This smacks of failing the "be strict on what you send, be flexible on what you receive" mantra that everything should be designed to (it was coined for software and data transfers). My guess would bet that Apple designed on the assumption that all USB-PD devices behave properly - and when one of them doesn't then there's a protocol breakdown. For the PD device to damage the laptop, it would have to be sending too much voltage when it shouldn't be - and that could be causes if the two ends have failed to communicate properly.

    But then, I always thought some of the stuff behind this high power USB power delivery was just asking for trouble !

  12. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

    This is not even a new problem with Macs

    "Computer killing powered USB hub. (Mac murderer)"

  13. Annihilator Silver badge
    Flame

    USB-C and power

    I'm massively suspect of the approach to power transfer and USB-C. Frankly just getting a bog-standard USB-A charger seems fraught enough with problems judging by the Amazon reviews, but now we've got dynamic cables and ports which as far as I can tell will negotiate with each other as to what they can or can't do. We were issued with USB-C docks at work and they're the official HP docks:

    https://store.hp.com/UKStore/Merch/Product.aspx?id=1MK33ET

    Insane price, but although they claim to do power delivery through them, mine gets very very very hot when doing it to the point that I don't trust it to perform the job. Back when I was in an office, I was less bothered about the threat of fire. Now that the office is the room next to the one I sleep in, I'm suddenly a bit more aware of it.

    In the race to create one "do everything cable", we've actually ended up with a range of "do some things" cables and ports, but with nothing to visibly discern what they can actually do. Maybe I'm being a boring luddite, but USB-C is only a physical standard and from wikipedia "A device with a Type-C connector does not necessarily implement USB, USB Power Delivery, or any Alternate Mode". I used to take some comfort in the ability to identify what a port did broadly by looking at it, and knowing it was impossible (without a hammer and a saw) to accidentally plug in an 18V power cable to a 3.5mm audio jack.

  14. Juhani Vehvilainen
    Joke

    What a brand name

    A "ZMUIPNG" device causing problems! Who would've thunk?

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