Lightning Cables are All the Same. Right?

qhphones iPhone Questions 2 Comments

So you’ve just shelled out $200-$1000 or more for an iPhone. Or your old one gave out, the dog chewed through it… or you just lost it. Apple wants $20 for one of their cables, and you’re not thrilled about paying that much for “just a cable”. What a ripoff!

Not so fast there. In reality, there’s quite a bit more to the expensive cables than meets the eye. That cheap cable you bought from the gas station or discount store will most likely work fine, for a while, but you’re taking a big risk of damaging your expensive phone just to save 10 or 15 bucks.

Inside the lightning plug at the end of the cable, there’s a tiny circuit board that tells your phone’s logic board that “everything’s good out here”. The chip on the logic board (called the Tristar) gets that signal and allows the power in from the cable. The problem comes when the cheap cables give the “ok”, Tristar says “bring it”, and the cheap cable gives a zap instead of a clean voltage. Bye-bye Tristar.


Here are some of the symptoms that can show up when Tristar gets zapped:

  • Phone won’t charge or fully charge
  • “Accessory Not Supported” message
  • The lightning bolt at the top right is showing, but the battery level doesn’t go up
  • Battery goes from an OK charge level to a low one suddenly, or dies/turns off
  • iTunes errors
  • Charger won’t charge a battery that’s “dead”, but will charge or partially charge a battery that isn’t “dead”. (A new battery will appear to have fixed the problem, but not for long.)

The good news is you don’t have to spend $20 on an original Apple cable; the not-so-good news is that those $5 cables are always junk. Apple has a certification program for third-party suppliers to manufacture cables that meet the original specifications, and a certified cable can be had in the $12-$15 range. So when you’re buying a cable, look for the MFi (Made for iPhone | iPad | iPod) label on the packaging:

If you’ve read this article because you fried your phone, it’s still ok, but it’s going to cost you $100 or more to have a skilled pro put in a new Tristar for you. And if you were just looking for information, well, good for you.

Either way, protect your investment and spend the few extra bucks keeping it charged safely.

Comments 2

  1. Hi,

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