Rumor: m505's USB Problems Explained
Recently, evidence began to surface that m505's have a USB-related problem. Many users have complained that their handheld has suddenly stopped HotSyncing with their USB cradle, though they can still use a serial one. Palm recently admitted to Cnet that this problem exists and said that the company will replace the defective units on a case-by-case basis.
A Level 2 Tech Support person for Palm was willing to give out more information on the condition that his name not be released. The following are his comments in his own words.
The m505 definitely has a manufacturing problem, though it is a subtle one that was easy to miss when it was first built.
Several months back all the level 2 tech support reps in our center got an email from someone who had just got back from visiting Palm headquarters and discussed the problem with a senior engineer there.
Turns out that the way the m505 is built, a static charge can build up over time and fry the USB chip on the inside. When the internal USB chip goes bad, it disrupts all native USB connections. Serial connections are not affected. Since the problem is internal to the Palm, Windows and Mac users both may run into problems.
Basically, USB native devices have a chip inside that identifies that component when it tries to communicate. Should that chip stop working, no USB ID can be transmitted. That's why serial communication is unaffected. Older units used a USB adapter on a serial cradle. Those were never truly a full USB native connection because they did not have a chip like this.
If some people are wondering why most m505 owners don't see a problem, and the ones who do may go for months without a problem, it all depends upon the amount of static charge in your location. Palm hadn't noticed this originally because they don't have much static where they build and test the devices but discovered it as soon as the first units came in for repair. I think this also explains why something that is normally rare can happen to someone multiple times: if the area the person is in has more of a static build up (which is also happening as the weather changes) they would run into this more often than other people would.
This might be more of an issue with m505 units than m500 or m125 units because the component in an m505 are packed tighter together to cram everything into such a small space. On the other hand, it could also be that we haven't heard about it on the m500 or m125 models as much because the former didn't sell very well and he latter has only been out for a month or so. It's also possible that Palm identified the specific problem and fixed it in the m125, considering that it had been known about for months before that unit was launched.
The person who sent out the email to level two agents got into trouble for letting the rest of us know. Palm management doesn't want anyone officially talking about a "static problem" considering the threatened lawsuit from the people who say that Palm is responsible for frying their computers (which, to the best of our knowledge anyway, is complete nonsense). We got the idea pretty quickly not to talk about the issue with callers in anything but the most vague ways and not to admit any "known issues" with anything. If someone calls up with the problem we are to treat it like any other unit that may have failed for an unknown reason.
This is not a conduit or software problem (though there certainly can be problems with those that appear to be the same problem but can be fixed with a clean reinstall), nor is it a cradle problem. People who have heard tech supports reps say this either misinterpreted what they heard, talked to reps in one of the centers that didn't get the email, or are dealing with someone who likes to lie to customers to try to make them feel more secure. I also think the rumor that Palm was going to recall the units is another case of an uninformed rep who likes to sound knowledgable but doesn't know his Palm from the back of his hand.
I can't see how an OS upgrade or anything like that could fix the problem, and I have not heard that Palm was looking into this as a solution. Any agent who says that a software fix is coming is either lying, horribly confused, or has way better information than I do (which is unlikely). I'd go for confused. They probably heard that OS 4.1 was coming out and assumed that'd do something to help.
I recommend people try to minimize the static build up near the cradle. If a problem does develop, demand a free serial cradle and that replacement units be sent ahead of time instead of sending their m505 in first and waiting possibly several weeks for a replacement to be available.
Keep in mind that several people jump to the conclusion that they have a problem like this without fully testing everything else first. Underpowered hubs could cause something like this, corrupted USB drivers would show similar symptoms and lots of other gremlins could pop up. I also suspect that the problem isn't as prevalent as some people think, because some agents wouldn't know how to fix all of these potential problems and others (the ones who got the email) just assume it must be this problem even if it's not.
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