Hans de Goede (hansdegoede) wrote,
Hans de Goede

Creating an USB3 OTG cable for the Thinkpad 8

The Lenovo Thinkpad 8 and also the Asus T100CHI both have an USB3 micro-B connector, but using a standard USB3 OTG (USB 3 micro-B to USB3-A receptacle) cable results in only USB2 devices working. USB3 devices are not recognized.

Searching the internet learns that many people have this problem and that the solution is to find a USB3 micro-A to USB3-A receptacle cable. This sounds like nonsense to me as micro-B really is micro-AB and is supposed to use the ID pin to automatically switch between modes dependent on the used cable.; and this does work for the USB-2 parts of the micro-B connector on the Thinkpad. Yet people do claim success with such cables (with a more square micro-A connector, instead of the trapezoid micro-B connector). The only problem is such cables are not for sale anywhere.

So I guessed that this means is that they have swapped the Rx and Tx superspeed pairs on the USB3 only part of the micro-B connector, and I decided to cut open one of my USB3 micro-A to USB3-A receptacle cables and swap the superspeed pairs. Here is what the cable looks like when it it cut open:

If you are going to make such a cable yourself, to get this picture I first removed the outer plastic isolation (part of it is still there on the right side in this picture). Then I folded away the shield wires till they are all on one side (wires at the top of the picture). After this I removed the metal foil underneath the shield wires.

Having removed the first 2 layers of shielding this reveals 4 wires in the standard USB2 colors: red, black, green and white. and 2 separately shielded cable pairs. On the picture above the separately shielded pairs have been cut, giving us 4 pairs, 2 on each end of cable; and the shielding has been removed from 3 of the 4 pairs, you can still see the shielding on the 4th pair.

A standard USB3 cable uses the following color codes:

  • Red: Vbus / 5 volt

  • White:  USB 2.0 Data -

  • Green: USB 2.0 Data +

  • Black: Ground

  • Purple: Superspeed RX -

  • Orange: Superspeed RX +

  • Blue: Superspeed TX -

  • Yellow: Superspeed TX -

So to swap RX and TX we need to connect purple to blue / blue to purple and orange to yellow / yellow to orange, resulting in:

Note the wires are just braided together here, not soldered yet. This is a good moment to carefully test the cable. Also note that the superspeed wire pairs must be length matched, so you need to cut and strip all 8 cables at the same length! If everything works you can put some solder on those braided together wires, re-test after soldering, and then cover them with some heat-shrink-tube:

And then cover the entire junction with a bigger heat-shrink-tube:

And you have a superspeed capable cable even though no one will sell you one.

Note that the Thinkpad 8 supports ACA mode so if you get an ACA capable "Y" cable or an ACA charging HUB then you can charge and use the Thinkpad 8 USB port at the same time. Typically ACA "Y" cables or hubs are USB2 only. So the superspeed mod from this blogpost will not help with those. The Asus T100CHI has a separate USB2 micro-B just for charging, so you do not need anything special there to charge + connect an USB device.
Tags: soldering
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