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Immediate Q:

Is there a way to test for faults (power supply and/or data transfer) in a possibly failing USB-C cable, by plugging each end into different ports on the same machine (2018 MBP) and sending traffic from one port to the other?

More info :

This question is about charging problems on a 2018 MBP with these new two-part chargers (with a separable USB-C that plugs into the machine on one end and a port on the power adaptor on the other).

Charging on my macbook is getting spotty, with

  • Instances where I plug in and get the nice normal beep that indicates you're getting a charge,
  • instances where I don't get the beep (and I get an icon change in the menu bar to say I'm plugged in, but also a note saying that the battery is not charging), and
  • instances where that beep strangely happens every few seconds.

Suspects are going to be

  • the USB-C cable to the power adaptor,
  • the power adaptor itself,
  • the power cable,
  • the USB-C ports, and
  • the motherboard.

My money is on the USB-C cable. The geniuses don't have any diagnostics for cables or adaptors, just for the motherboard and USB-C plugs. We ran what diagnostics there were and although they weren't conclusive, they supported my prior that the problem is somewhere in the cables. USB-C is the flimsiest of the cables, and gets the most abuse, so it's the prime suspect.

I can isolate the old-fashioned way, by borrowing some other new mac owner's power supply and cables, but

  • The issue is pretty come-and-go, making it hard to reproduce
  • It would generally be neat if the symmetry and "universality" of USB-C made it possible to test cables through recurrent connections from one port on a machine to another on the same machine.
  • If this recurrent intra-machine solution existed, it would also accelerate troubleshooting a lot.

Distal Q:

Beyond the specific wonky q. of testing a cable through within-machine connections, any advice on this power supply issue generally? I'm still on warranty, and I was relieved to find that it will cover not just the machine and its adaptor, but the USB-C cables leading to the adaptor. But if I must go back to the Store or ship my machine, I want to go with confidence about what specifically is wrong.

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Is there a way to test for faults (power supply and/or data transfer) in a possibly failing USB-C cable, by plugging each end into different ports on the same machine (2018 MBP) and sending traffic from one port to the other?

Unfortunately, no. There is nothing that operates at the (using the OSI model as an analogy) application layer that will diagnose the physical layer connections. To properly diagnose a cable, you need to, at minimum, use a multimeter to check for continuity and resistance on each conductor in the cable. A better option would be to use an oscilloscope to check for noise and signal quality.

However, attempting to “break out” the individual conductors to get a probe tip in there (as well as the cost of the diagnostic equipment) far outstrips the idea of simply getting a known working cable and seeing if it solves your problem. This should’ve been your first action.

My money is on the USB-C cable.... USB-C is the flimsiest of the cables, and gets the most abuse, so it's the prime suspect.

Yes, I agree. The easiest (and most effective) solution is to replace it with a known working cable. I personally don’t use the cables included with my Apple devices because of their low quality. Instead I get high quality reinforced (usually braided) cables like Anker USB-C cables.

Could it be the ports and/or logic board? Possibly, but again, you can diagnose with items you probably have on hand.

  • Try a different port, especially on the opposite side. The 2018 MBP has 4 ports, meaning separate USB controllers and power rails for each side. If the results are the same, look to the charger/cable
  • Try a known working charger and cable. If the symptoms persist, it’s likely the computer
  • Try plugging in an accessory device like a flash disk. If it works, your port is physically good.
  • Try charging/powering a downstream device (like a phone or even another USB-C Mac). If it works, it tells you that the port is physically good and that the USB controller and power rail (for that side) are functioning. The port wouldn’t be able to negotiate and deliver power otherwise.

As for diagnosing your USB-C charger, this is even easier; it’s not limited to charging Macs or even solely Apple products in particular. Just try charging another device like a phone or tablet. It’s ideal if you can test with a known working cable, but you can narrow down the issue to “the charger and cable” with what you have in your possession by attempting to charge something different.

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  • So the short answer is "no". Thank you for the thoroughness. Your last rec. (charge downstream) is an especially good idea; will do. Also thanks for the cable rec. – enfascination Dec 29 '19 at 22:37
  • Thanks for the feedback. I’ll clarify in the first sentence. – Allan Dec 29 '19 at 22:45

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