Home Tech Apple USB-C Port Woes: Wobbling all the way to the Genius Bar

USB-C Port Woes: Wobbling all the way to the Genius Bar

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My 2018 15in MacBook Pro has four USB-C ports, but no other data connections. The trouble is that all four ports allow wobble and interrupt connections constantly. It’s frustrating and annoying. While I haven’t so far lost any data as a result of broken connections, it’s only a matter of time before I do.

My first experience with the now ubiquitous USB-C interface was five years ago when I bought one of the new lightweight MacBooks for travel purposes. That model had only one USB-C port but I can never remember having any connection difficulties. With the newer MacBook Pro things are different.

The editorial desk – MacBook Pro 15in with the one USB-C connection to the outside world. If only it didn’t wobble.

Lonesome cable

I have just the one cable plugged into the computer, feeding the LG monitor which also acts as a hub. From there the connection passes to an OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock which hooks up all my peripherals and Ethernet feed. Currently, there are six external discs and other bits and pieces connected to the OWC hub, but everything depends on the one USB-C port of the MacBook. All would work like a treat if that USB-C plug connecting to the computer wasn’t so wobblesome.

The slightest movement of the computer on the desk causes the data plug to wiggle. The monitor image blinks but, worse, all connected disks unmount, whether or not they are in the process of transferring data. They soon mount again, but the whole process is a nightmare which has been happening several times a day. And all because of that errant USB-C port.

Apple will not acknowledge that there is a problem. I’ve tried other contemporary MacBook Pros and found the same problem. I’ve changed cables, assuming that a cheaper cable and plug might not be the perfect fit. I even sent off to the USA for a genuine OWC connector cable that, I thought, would cure the problem.

With a sliver of card sitting on the bottom edge of the port, the plug can be plugged in an anchored securely. The plug no longer wobbles whenever the computer is moved.

Condescending

I made an appointment with the Apple Genius Bar at the Covent Garden store some months ago. Unusually, I encountered a very condescending “genius” who just wouldn’t accept there was a problem: “You can bring in some of your external disks so we can check them on the computer. It could be a disk problem.” Which, of course, it obviously wasn’t. I was able to demonstrate that any and all USB-C plugs wiggled from side to side.

After being treated like an errant child for ten minutes, I grabbed the computer and headed for home, thoroughly discouraged. That was my only bad Genius Bar experience in the past fifteen years but, of course, it is the one I will remember.

This problem, acknowledged by Apple or not, isn’t just a foible of my MacBook Pro. This is a typical comment from the net:

I had recurring issues like this on the newest Macbook, each time it was the USB-C daughterboard that was responsible for the issue, and each time it was replaced it slowly worsened over time, even with very careful usage.

Android, iPad

Loose USB-C connections appear to be a problem also for Android phone and Apple iPad users and, often, the cause is lint or fluff in the connector. This fluff issue also plagues Apple’s Lightning ports – although, in general, the Lightning interface is rock solid. With the MacBook Pro, which has been sitting on the desk throughout its life, debris cannot be the issue. All four ports (three of them have never been used except for trial purposes) exhibit the same degree of wobble and unreliability and have done from new.

Since getting such short shrift from the Genius Bar, I’ve tried various Heath-Robinsonian fixes, including wrapping the plug with black tape in an attempt to create a wobble-free shoulder to improve stability. That didn’t work. My latest effort is to insert a narrow piece of visiting card into the bottom of the socket and then push in the connector. It doesn’t wobble as much, glory be, but it remains to be seen if this is a permanent fix.

I don’t generally warm to jury-rigs of this nature but, after three days, I can confirm that there have been no inadvertent power outages. Just don’t tell Apple or I’ll be accused of damaging the port.

Universal Wobbly Bus

What is it with the USB-C connector? USB-A and various micro-USB sockets don’t have this problem. Nor did Apple’s now-discontinued Thunderbolt connector. It’s just the USB-C connector that wobbles and, it seems, the 2018 MacBook Pros have some of the loosest sockets out there.

In all other respects, I love the well-specced MacBook Pro, so it’s a pity about those loose ports. Admittedly, I don’t really need a laptop to sit on the desk – an iMac, Mac mini or MacPro would probably be a more sensible choice. But one thing I rely on totally is the MacBook Pro’s fingerprint authorisation key. Waking from sleep or authorising actions demand password input and it is so much less frustrating to be able to simply touch a key, iPhone style.

But with a price tag of over £3,000, this computer should not suffer from wobbly ports. Nor should Apple employees dismiss customers’ complaints with such disdain.

Do you have a similar-age MacBook Pro and have you experienced the dreaded port wobble?

26 COMMENTS

  1. Welcome to 1981’s Sinclair ZX81 ‘RAM Pack Wobble’! ..You’d plug it in (16k of additional memory, to supplement the internal 1k (!) memory), laboriously type in your 2 pages of A4 (or was it foolscap?) program, number-and-letter by number-and-letter, then minutely – and accidentally – nudge the small, plastic ZX81 ..and your last three-quarter-of-an-hour’s work gone: poof!

    (Here on my (old?) mid-2013 MacBook Air; everything’s built-in and as solid as the day I got it: charging port: solid; two USB ports: solid; headphone jack: solid; Thunderbolt port (for external drives, or Thunderbolt hub): solid; SD camera-card reader slot: solid.)

    But you have my deepest sympathies! (Oh ..possibly irrelevant: I bought a cheap, used basic-level ‘Trashcan’ MacPro – from Computer Exchange in Tottenham Ct Rd, at the end of last year, to run Topaz Labs’ really resource-demanding ‘AI Gigapixel’ picture-upscaling software – and tremblingly ripped out its insides, and replaced the CPU, the inbuilt storage, inbuilt memory ..just about every board and connection ..and it all works! Six times as fast! Ah, but it has no USB-C ports, only the ‘traditional’ USB and Thunderbolt. Rock solid!) ..So; commiserations!

    • I always knew you weren’t faint of heart, David. A MacPro from CEX! Where Angels fear to tread and all that… But then it all worked well. It wouldn’t have, for me.

    • David I have a cylindical MacPro too, but my only (so far) committment to modernity, though not yet fulfilled, will be the expansion of memory from 12gb perhaps to 32gb… But not yet. I am still finding that my photo editing softwares are keeping within acceptable parameters.

      When writing, even though my thoughts and emotions often run way ahead, is typically human paced.

      All of my music, apart from my truly analogue HMV 105 wind up gramaphone, is stored on my Mac, and replayed through my Linn amplifiers and speakers, and is pristine, without the pops and crackles, or the print through of mag tape used by cassette machines, or warps, scratches and cheap production of vinyl.

      I keep them my applications light, but I am considering installing Capture One, which may be a little heavier. The storage is plenty, since I have 2tb of LaCie rugged storage in peripheral form and my internal working storage is barely half used, and most of that is MacOS and the various applications that I use.

      I like to have as many open source or one man band applications, or use the built in MacOS versions, which are really quick, the things that one can do with TextPad and Preview (for instance) are surprising, even if itunes and its recent progeny are pigs.

      On the whole though I agree that (something I learned from 30 years in EDP (IT as it is now known), was that it is easier to add a peripheral than it is to throw the whole thing away and put everything new into one tiny little box, I am still running my backups to a 2006 MacPro for God’s sake!

      Although I am contemplating replacing it with a slew of Raspberry Pi’s, which are quicker and cheaper to buy and run, 15w power supplies :). Even though they are very capable of mutlitasking, they are cheap enough to run like the old Macintosh system 7 machines, permanently reunning one cad app, or one video task, etc..

      My latest purchase, for old times sake is a buckling spring keyboard, which is a nod to those thirty years with OneBum (IBM).

      I sympathise with your dilemma Mike, but I reckon that Apple are cheapening their products, I sort of remember trying to persuade you so, when you asked us readers before you “upgraded”.

      I have to say, I was surprised at the price that you have posted above, it would seem that they are charging ever spiraling prices merely through the trashing of their innovative and more specialist correct connections for just one.

      The connectors that David speaks of (USB 3 and Thunderbolt 2) are all very stable, and are still faster than the internal channel. After all, desktop computers may make good slaves, they can’t think like a human, they will never be able to out-think us ageing relics, they just run faster.

      I don’t think that Steve Jobs would have sanctioned USB-C and if he knew he would be spinning like a top, flailing his legendary sacking finger.

      He did visualise the concept of tailoring MacOS to the needs of the advertisers, but in my view, even so, he would be railing against the manner in which it (and Safari) now intrude into our personal spaces, nagging at us constantly, which is why I have been attempting (sometimes a bit too energetically) towards the open source and chiefly the products of “Proton” who encrypt everything and then trash it after WE have finished using it. They achieve this by basing their servers in Switzerland, where privacy still counts.

      I heartily approve of the idea, that I can still use the internet, in the same way that I can still use the Royal Mail, without my mail being opened a hundred times before it reaches its intended destination without being opened a hundred times to have “messages from our sponsor” inserted, just in case I wasn’t already aware of their trashy products.

      • “..All of my music, apart from my truly analogue HMV 105 wind up gramaphone, is stored on my Mac . . . without the pops and crackles, or the print through of mag tape used by cassette machines..”

        My music’s on a spinning-disc 160GB iPod, which I usually plonk onto an Apple HiFi (..that big white short-lived amp+speakers box which runs on mains or batteries ..I’ve never known anyone else use one..) in my workroom. It’s got my bouncy playlists on it for getting me up and organising my mess, and my contemplative ‘Love Theme from Blade Runner’ for everything else!

        I never really noticed much ‘print though’ from tape (..but I frequently wound and re-wound my tapes – audio and video – to avoid it..) except on that old record (vinyl) of Gerard Hoffnung telling his ‘Bricklayer’s Story’, during which you can hear a ‘pre-echo’ of “..I THEN..” before he actually says “I THEN..” ..a print-through from the overloaded original tape recording.

        I was given a Raspberry Pi (tiny, single-board computer) but thought “why should I go through all the bother of programming it?” ..so I’ve never actually used it.

        I can’t remember what the original spec of the ‘Late 2013’ Trashcan was ..oh; here it is online: 6-core (?) Intel Xeon E5 (?), 16GB memory, 256GB storage. But I thought – in Late 2013 – that I couldn’t justify buying, or needing, one of those ..and so many people complained that it had no internal expansion capacity.

        It was only in December last year that I thought I needed one – and buying 2nd hand it was about ⅓ the price – so I got one, swapped its innards to a 12-core processor, 64GB memory, and a terabyte of storage. And I find that I really LIKE its lack of internal expansion bays, because so much of my rubbish and dross (iPhoto Libraries, music, editable movies) is on external discs (..to carry around from place to place, or Mac to Mac..) which is far more convenient than having all that stored material locked away inside, on internal discs! ..So the ‘Trashcan’ – I found – could have been made for me, and the way that I store things!

  2. My now old and cast on the pile of duff tech Iphone 7 Plus had wobbly usb-c connector, famously once it failed to charge after I moved my phone a little bit after hooking it up. After that I just paid attention, and then didnt touch it until it was charged. But I get your pain.

    I am still using my ageing bespoke built 2012 macbook pro – the last with a DVD drive (remember them). One of the reasons for not upgrading is that my friends are routine visitors to the Genius bar for issues with their macbooks, macbook airs etc for a variety of issue, none of which have yet (touch wood) occurred on my machine. Yes in its 8 years of loyal service the Hardrive gave up, so I popped it open dropped an SSD in, booted back my time machines and carried on. The SSD gave up a year later, and I got a new one from Maplin (remember them) and this time it wont run right, so I whipped to a specialist laptop repairer who diagnosed a duffed disc drive cable. £26 pound later the SSD ran like a dream and my time machine recovered perfectly.

    Every time it gets the jips I start looking at Apples website, and then it recovers and goes on – I checked the battery health last year and it still has years worth of use left in it. So I will keep it going until it gives out – and then I will buy whatever is the newest Apple variation at the time and hope I get away without needing to visit the genius bar.

  3. Similar age MacBook? Not yet! And £3000 for a new machine?? My grandmother would have said, “Never did in all my life!” I recently upgraded my 2007 15″ Macbook Pro with a new battery, additional RAM and a new SSD and sold it to a very enthusiastic first time Mac user. And just about to upgrade my 2010 15″ Macbook Pro with a new SSD to give it a new lease of life. Maybe in a few years time I’ll upgrade to a s/h 2018 Macbook Pro … but only if by that time the USB-C wobble is remedied. More ancient Macbooks never wobble or die … they just need a new battery, a replacement SSD (or 2 SSDs if the optical drive is ditched) and the maximum RAM they deserve so as to run reasonably quickly. I never anticipated being a Mac technician but it’s surprising what can be achieved in the lockdown with a little help from DIY videos courtesy of You Tube. My friends continue to say, “I could never afford a Macbook Pro!” … but my secondhand Macs (including the mid-2009 iMac) probably cost less than their Windows devices … and will likely still be going strong when their cheapo build quality machines have fallen apart.

    • Yep I used youtube to switch the hardrive to my first SSD. Wasnt that hard, nervous yes, a bit weird looking inside, but it went well and worked well.

      Glad others are keeping their ageing kit going, Apple kit is like the Mercede’s/BMW’s of the motoring world.

  4. The Genius Bar conjures up all sorts of images, like Einstein, Freud, Da Vinci and Shakespeare all sitting up at the bar counter skulling pints. Who thinks up these titles? Where I live, if you say that somebody is a ‘quare genius’ it is actually a term of derision. Try explaining that to those young lads in tee shirts in Apple Stores. And you have guessed correctly. I would never be caught going up to a Genius Bar. The world might be one genius less after the encounter.

    William

    • Indeed William, I heve never consulted a “genius”, but I remember laughing at the somewhat depraved South Park spoof of their antics, and the manner in which they were portrayed during the “It won’t read” episode. S15E01 – HUMANCENTiPAD.

    • Thanks, Tom. I was in contact with OWC tech support about four months ago and they recommended the ClingOn. I looked at the price (I think around $25 for a pack) and factored in shipping and possible taxes and decided not to bother. However, since you’ve had a positive report from a friend I will take a fresh look and see if it is worth it. For the time being, though, my recent fix with the card insert seems to have done the trick.

      [UPDATE] I ordered a pack of 5 which costs $32.35, including slow-mo shipping. I realise I could have ordered just one but the shipping cost would have been much the same. I read that the use of the ClinOn with a PC or Mac depends on the spacing of the ports and, quite clearly, the device will cover the second of the pair of ports on the side of the computer. However, since I use only the one connection this should work. I will add a postscript to the article when I get the device and try it out. Thanks again for the heads up.

      • Hi Mike –

        I hope they help resolve the situation. As mentioned I have a ClingOn on the port of each OWC Elite Quad enclosure and they worked very well for me. I admit to being a bit chagrined that out of the box(bag) they are a bit too thick to use on the expansion card as I use all 4 ports of the card, but I did note you were only using one port on your MBP to direct data to your hub.

        Cheers and best of luck.

        • Many thanks, Tom. I will report further when I get them. Incidentally, what is your view on another commenter’s suggestion that OWC products are sh***y? And that spending €80 on a cable would solve all my problems?

          • If it’s of any use: I’ve had no problems with any OWC products ever, except their in-MacBook-Air storage SSD card, which doubles the original 500GB to 1TB. I bought two ..one for my and one for her MBA, installed them, and they ran well for several months, then seized up ..as (I later found) other buyers reported, too. So I took them out and reverted to 500GB.

            But other devices (Thunderbolt hub, external Blu-Ray player/recorder, spinning hard discs, cables, etc) have all worked fine. And their customer service – for me, anyway – is great.

          • Hi Mike –

            I haven’t had any issues with OWC products in the 15(?) years I’ve been using them. I currently have a pair of their 4 Bay Quad enclosures, a handful of their Pro6G SSDs, 5 or 6 of their 2.5″ enclosures and all sorts of cables in addition to using them as a vendor for HDDs, expansion cards, et al. They are close enough to be 1 day standard delivery in my area, also a plus. I admit that along the way I’ve encountered reports of issues with their products, but I’d be very hard pressed to think any product(s) that hasn’t received complaints. Knock on wood, my experience has been very good.

            TB

  5. I have had no problems so far, no loose contact and no broken connections. I would have had some if I had taken the shitty cables from OWC or some cheap provider from Amazon.

    I use the Elgato Thunderbolt 3 dock with the supplied cable. Perfect. If I need a longer cable, I use one from Caldigit. The cable is 2m long and with support of 100W charging current and full speed it costs 80 Euro.

    With cheap cables that don’t sit well in the socket there are always problems. I don’t buy an expensive MacBook and then save costs on the cable.

    • I will investigate this, although I wouldn’t describe OWC in quite such disparaging terms. I would put OWC in the same general category as Elgato. I agree, however, that it pays to get the best. But am not convinced that the connection issue would be solved. There is definitely a lot of lateral movement which, frankly, should not be there.

      • The only caveat I would put against this argument, is my Iphone 7 socket went wobbly with the Apple propriety cable that came with it.

  6. Regarding the photo of Dudley Froy and Bob Dicker, the lady on the right is my mother, Betty Froy, Dudleys’ wife. One of Dudley and Bettys’ two daughters, Sandi, is on the left.

  7. Sandi, I don’t think this comment is meant for this article. We’re you looking at another article? The name sounds familiar but I can’t place it.

    Mike

    • (Pardon the comedy reply above – couldn’t help myself! – but I think this comment is a response to the photo caption “Pre-War Bentley racer, Dudley Froy (centre left) with Bob Dicker and their respective daughters. It’s hard to think that this was taken nearly 50 years ago” in the topic ‘Brooklands 1973 and the last of the Bentley Boys’ by Don Morley – 24th August 2017. [..Amazing what the Macfilos ‘Search’ box can bring up, eh?])

      • Thanks David. I thought I recognised the name. It’s very strange that this appeared here. I will transfer it to its correct place!

  8. I am having the exact same issue with this 2017 MacBook Pro. I’ve purchased a few of those double USB C plug docks that plug into both ports and sit flush against the side of the MacBook Pro. Now this is fine if you only plug in a mouse dongle or memory card. The minute you attach anything that has a cord and could possibly move all connections are lost. If you do not completely unplug the dock and plug it back in none of the ports to the dock will function. I have tried velcro, duct tape, anything just to have a day go by where I am not angered by this ridiculous issue. I’m thinking of trying a hub with a light weight USB C connector where this would be the only cable plugged in. If that does not work I will sell this off and go back to my 2013 model with real ports.

    • I have made a bit of progress since writing the article. First, my kludge of inserting a Very thin piece of lightweight cardboard (business car type) into the port before pushing in the plug did work quite well. Then the ClingOns from OWC arrived. I have been using one on the single cable connection to the OWC hub and, so far, I am very happy. The incidence of broken connection is reduced by over 90%. The ClingOns are quite bulky and clearly intended for a device such as a hub where there is a firm shoulder. The unit comes with an adhesive pad, just remove the cover. It protrudes above the base of the MacBook Pro but this is no problem unless you often use the computer for travel. The ClingOns come with a screw which, I suppose, is intended to allow a completely secure connection with OWC devices. Anyway, that’s no use for me.

      So I am reasonably happy at the moment. But of course there is no excuse for this fault in the first place. I’ve used USB-C sockets on cameras and other devices (including iPads) and never had this problem. The MacBook Pro sockets just have too much leeway. I’m not surprised Apple won’t acknowledge the problem because it would potentially cost a fortune.

      I won’t have another laptop as my main desk computer. Instead, I’ll get a mini or, even, a MacPro for desk use. I’ve become more and more used to the iPad Pro for travelling and I’m now not even sure I really need a portable Mac.

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