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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Not to pick on Hal, BUT...

I.M. Anonymous @ 11/12/2001 8:32:07 AM #
didn't he say "I'm pretty much in the loop on this issue and if there was a replacement deal coming, I would have heard about it."???

Also, I wonder if this issue is indirectly related to my m505 "sudden battery death syndrome"???

RE: Not to pick on Hal, BUT...
I.M. Anonymous @ 11/12/2001 8:37:34 AM #
Hal from Palmstation has commented on this story, saying, "I've been well within the loop on matters like this with Palm, and if such a recall was in the works, I'm pretty sure I would have heard about it by now."

RE: Not to pick on Hal, BUT...
Ed @ 11/12/2001 8:42:17 AM #
I think Hal was referring to a full formal recall in which Palm would ask every m505 to be returned, whether it has shown the problem or not. Neither this leaked info nor Palm's comment to Cnet indicates that a recall in in the works. Instead, Palm is continuing to do what they have been doing for months; replacing handhelds that are broken on a case-by-case basis. And the ones that are being sent back are apparently the same design as the broken ones, without any change to prevent the USB failure from happening again.

News Editor

What if I get this problem...

I.M. Anonymous @ 11/12/2001 8:59:36 AM #
...later on, after my warranty is finished? Will Palm replace my m505 then?

RE: What if I get this problem...
I.M. Anonymous @ 11/12/2001 12:31:40 PM #
Everything in life is negotiable. They might replace it, and they might not. BUT - they can't replace it if they are no longer in business.

Can we put this information to productive use ?

I.M. Anonymous @ 11/12/2001 9:08:33 AM #
I notice that I get a shock every time I reach for my M505 in it's cradle. Fortuantely my device has not yet fried. The question I have is can anyone think of a way to solve this problem. Even low tech solutions may due. For example I used to work in a arcade and in the winter when static discharges increased we used to spray fabric softener on the carpet which prevented the static discharge. I might try this in my office.

Can the cradle be connected somehow to allow the static discharge to be prevented ?

static cling
I.M. Anonymous @ 11/12/2001 3:08:40 PM #
back when there was talk of Vx handhelds frying Dell motherboards, somebody suggested doing the same thing you would do if you were going to open your computer up and/or touch a memory chip -- discharge any static buildup you have on a doorknob, or anything else metal you have nearby. This way, you've removed the bulk of the static charge you have on yourself and can reach for you (metal-cased) palm without discharging the static onto that. I'm planning on getting an m505 within the next few weeks, despite all this (i don't mind serial hotsync, USB isn't a major factor in my decision to get a new palm) but i'll just keep in mind that i should discharge any static i have before i reach for it when it's in the cradle (or anywhere else, for that matter). especially since i seem to build up a lot of static at work. and i'm not sure why that is.
spraying your floor at home and at work with static guard or rubbing it with fabric softener sheets may work, but it'll be pretty temporary, and you should probably remember to discharge the static you've built up anyway, just in case.
just my $.50.

RE: Can we put this information to productive use ?
I.M. Anonymous @ 11/12/2001 5:06:39 PM #
I have one of those anti-static foam pads that PC cards sometimes come wrapped up in, connected to the grounded back of my computer with an alligator clip and wire. Touch it before touching the cradle and bobs your uncle.

So, is it my cradle????

dmunz @ 11/12/2001 9:24:13 AM #
I guess this means that my m505 is "ok" on the inside since I can sync with my Inno Pocket USB cable at home. But, when I put the Palm in the cradle at the office, nothing...

RE: So, is it my cradle????
Ia3n @ 11/12/2001 11:18:28 AM #
Try syncing with the cradle at home and with the innopocket at work. It could just be that your drivers or hub at work are screwed up, not the cradle.

Screw Palm

I.M. Anonymous @ 11/12/2001 9:47:55 AM #
This is another prime example of palm racing to the market with a piece of **** and waiting for the consumer to find the problems. Well mine did this about two months ago and luckely when I bought it from the local best buy I got there extended warenty and they just replaced it. I decided I didnt want the 505 anymore and there were more then glad to let me get the sony n760 and let me tell you it is a but load better then that piece I bought from if you have this problem just tell palm to kiss your ass and buty sony

RE: Screw Palm
I.M. Anonymous @ 11/13/2001 11:47:01 AM #

RE: Screw Palm
I.M. Anonymous @ 2/1/2002 7:11:17 PM #
Palm is only following another company by example. Mircosoft (alias Bill Gates) has been letting the customer trouble shoot their operating systems for years and show no signs of stopping. Anyone who buys the first release of one their programs deserves exactly what they get. Don't get me wrong. I use their products too since they have gone to so much trouble and greased so many judges palms to see to it that there are no viable alternatives. Bill gates is a lying thieving and backstabbing CROOK who, like all people who screw others over and make it big, now wants respectability. He has set the standards and lowered the pole so that others may follow and follow they do. Signed a disgruntled computer lover.

Sounds like BS

I.M. Anonymous @ 11/12/2001 10:36:24 AM #
"Static charge builds up over time"? Gimme a break. And where does it go? It sounds more like there's a static-sensitive device that's getting fried when the user accidentally touches the edge connector. I'll bet this happens a lot more in Phoenix than Seattle.

RE: Sounds like BS
I.M. Anonymous @ 11/12/2001 9:49:57 PM #
It's called "capacitance", my friend. Sounds like a design flaw in the chip or surrounding circuitry - it slowly builds up a charge, then discharges when it reaches a threshold (that overcomes some resistance in another part of the circuit). WHAM! No more USB ID. Glad I don't have an m505 now...

Still Sounds like BS
I.M. Anonymous @ 11/13/2001 12:04:49 AM #
And that's due to static? I don't think so. This sounds far more likely to be caused by a static build-up in the human or other foreign objects making contact with the I/O port (where the number of wayward electrons is likely to be far greater). That the USB chip is getting zapped only supports that.

RE: Sounds like BS
GKreamer @ 11/13/2001 10:17:28 AM #
I had a Palm III that got zapped by static electricity about a year ago (winter time, dry, etc.). After getting my house recarpeted, I walked thru a room and put my Palm on the cradle- when I did I heard a loud pop and felt a rather strong static shock. After that the SERIAL port on the Palm would no longer work- no hotsync or modem connections. I tried IR syncing but it was too slow, I had to pay $100.00 to get a refurb unit from Palm. Maybe Palm should have been more careful in their design, but I think that the conditions also play into the equation. Lesson: try to ground yourself before cradling your m505.

''Grounding before Cradling''
I.M. Anonymous @ 11/13/2001 11:04:32 AM #
I don't want to have to worry about doing this every time I friggin cradle my Palm!!! What the hell is this?? Are we still in the age of the vacuum tube???

RE: Sounds like BS
I.M. Anonymous @ 1/24/2002 2:52:10 PM #
I don't want to have to worry about doing this every time I friggin cradle my Palm!!! What the hell is this?? Are we still in the age of the vacuum tube???

I don't want to have to worry about taking a dump every morning. C'est la vie! Oh and those were the good old days the "Age of the Vacum tube". ESD, is very real, look it up.

"Some people just can't handle it, or they handle it to often."

RE: Sounds like BS
I.M. Anonymous @ 2/12/2002 12:58:45 AM #
I live in Seattle. I'm now awaiting the second refurbished unit in 3 months. It took the first one about 5 months to fail, this one about 3 months to fail. I work in a hospital, which may be a contributing factor. Fortunately, I have a serial cable on order also, so I won't lose everything. But i wouldn't recommend the m505 to ANYONE because of this (and I'm a long-time palm user).

Thanks for nothing, Palm.

I.M. Anonymous @ 11/12/2001 8:57:47 AM #
I'm one of the ones that has this problem. I have been using a serial cradle, that I bought myself, for over six months now. I'd like to thank the anonymous tech and Palm Infocenter for finally disclosing the source of the problem, no thanks to Palm, Inc.

One has to wonder why so many customers had to spend unnecessary time and effort trying to resolve a known problem when Palm could have just admitted the problem and sent customers a serial cable with an apology and/or refund offer. Instead, customers wasted time and effort and customer service wasted time and effort. I'm appalled.

It's clear from the message that Palm m505 users will not see a solution soon or, probably ever. If this is a design flaw, Palm will take a big financial hit if they have to replace a lot of these units.

Thanks for something, Palm
relyons @ 11/12/2001 2:47:37 PM #
I have lost a great deal of respect for the Palm, Inc. management responsible for hiding the true nature of the USB HotSync issue.

However, I am encouraged that a support engineer at Palm, Inc. believed enough in the company and its products to risk disciplinary action by providing this factual and detailed explanation of the problem.

If the HotSync operations suddenly fail for the Palm m505 and USB cradle I use for development purposes, I now know to find a serial cradle and test the HotSync operation to determine if that chip has gone bad.

I won't be pleased about the design flaw... but relieved to know how to resolve it. I'll also be much more willing to forgive the inconvenience.

Thanks for the explanation! Palm Management could learn a thing or two from you.

Is there an ELECTRICAL ENGINEER in the house?

I.M. Anonymous @ 11/12/2001 10:48:37 AM #
That is what we need to determine if there is some funny business going on here.

RE: Is there an ELECTRICAL ENGINEER in the house?
Coyote67 @ 11/12/2001 11:04:28 AM #
I'm not, but I play one on TV. I heard a few months ago, bob knows how many it was, about a guy who had a page about how this happened to his PalmVx, said he put it in his cradle, spark, his PC just died, and wouldn't come back to life. Called Palm Tech support and they refused to help him at all. Could this be a smiliar problem that effects the PalmV or 50x design?

When you find yourself in the company of a halfling and an ill-tempered Dragon, remember, you do not have to outrun the just have to outrun the halfling.

RE: Is there an ELECTRICAL ENGINEER in the house?
PFloyd @ 11/12/2001 11:09:55 AM #
You could ask Peter Strobel what he thinks. He's written extensively about the M505 and its construction, and the choice of components in the device, etc. A lot of folks respect his opinion.

RE: Is there an ELECTRICAL ENGINEER in the house?
PyroTom @ 11/12/2001 11:13:05 AM #
The Palm devices use the same USB interface chip we use in our mp3 players, the Philips PDIUSB12. This chip does not come with any built-in static protection like most RS232 (serial) interface chips now include.

In designing we could have added a dedicated USB static protection device for about 90 cents that would probably totally prevent this problem. To save some money we just added some resistors to ground which help prevent any charge build-up. This does not offer any real protection from the device get zapped from the outside.

I do not know if Palm added these resistors or exactly what they did. The data sheet for the part does not show or suggest any type of static protection, so it is up to the designer to think of this and include some type of protection.

RE: Is there an ELECTRICAL ENGINEER in the house?
I.M. Anonymous @ 11/12/2001 11:59:50 AM #
Great. Palm tried to save 90 cents per unit and it's going to cost them a lot more as a result.

Mine died today

I.M. Anonymous @ 11/12/2001 12:07:50 PM #
I reported last week in a comment to another article that I've had mine since June and not had this problem. However, I tried to sync at the office this morning via a USB cradle, and nothing. I brought the unit home and tried to sync with a different USB cradle. Same result. I'm a very frustrated user at this point.


I.M. Anonymous @ 11/12/2001 1:02:48 PM #
I called Tech Support, and the tech stated this is a known problem. The resulution was that my Palm would have to be shipped to a repair facility in Texas, and as soon as they receive my old unit, a new unit and cradle would be shipped back to me. He stated the new unit was a refurb., but that the unit was essentially a new unit with an old case on it. He stated the refurb. unit did not have this same defect.

Anybody want a refurbished m505? ;)


RE: Mine died today
I.M. Anonymous @ 11/12/2001 2:13:20 PM #
I went thru this last month and received a refurb unit, and guess what, after only FOUR hotsyncs it would not hotsync via USB!!! and a week after that I went to grab it out of its cradle and it shocked me (i have never been shocked by it before) and now it will not function at all. I tried a reset, then a hard reset and it will not work, so I am going to do the fun tech support thing again tomorrow morning.

So we pay NEW prices but get REFURBISHED products?
I.M. Anonymous @ 11/12/2001 2:23:11 PM #
This doesn't seem right.

RE: Mine died today
djg21 @ 1/18/2002 6:51:29 PM #
My refurbished and "enhanced" M505 died after 2 weeks. My original Palm lasted about 8 months.

I'm now waiting for replacement No. 2. Palm agreed to advance ship. If palm is listening, if there is no return shipping label in the package, you will get the defective Palm back either COD, or not at all. Damned if I'm paying another penny to anyone in order to get a functional Palm. I paid over $25 for shipping and insurance last time. Screw you.

RE: Mine died today
I.M. Anonymous @ 1/18/2002 7:15:57 PM #
What did your m505 die of? USB problem? Battery Problem? or Sudden Death Syndrome?

Hey Ed, please let us know ...

digilaw @ 11/12/2001 12:21:42 PM #
when Palm responds to your article. Assuming your source is good, which seems likely because who would imagine this up, Palm has been "outed". So they will have to come up with a response. For everyone who has said that they pressed the hotsync button and their computer died, well, time to get a new computer on Palm. I think this informaton needs to be put out to everyone who owns a palm m505 (or any palm). Anyone know of the mailing list for all the m505 owners who registered? I'd be willing to circulate this, I can't stand it when companies try to screw their customers.

And everyone was so quick to blame DELL!!!!!
I.M. Anonymous @ 11/12/2001 12:33:25 PM #
I remember all of the DELL bashers!!! Well, who ya bashing now!!!!

RE: Hey Ed, please let us know ...
nategall @ 11/12/2001 12:36:16 PM #
just because there is a problem within the palm, does NOT mean that there is not a problem within the PC. The cradle and usb does need to be grounded somewhere. If the cable cannot ground to the motherboard correctly, i don't know where it would be grounded to.

it looks like palm is having some serious issues with the design of the M50x handheld, but as long as they respond and fix the problem.

now my story. I had ordered my palm 3/19/01 when the first went on sale.
It died via this problem on 7/18/01, they did a advanced replacement, i got the replacement in a day or two and i went on.

then on 10/10/01 it died again. once again, advance replacement, i got the replacement in a day or two and i went on.

then on 10/19/01 the replacement died. UGH. once again, advance replacement, i got the replacement in a day or two and i went on.

however, they told me my "free support" runs out soon (oct 31, 2001), but if they have to replace the unit again, i will get a new one.

now my problem is that, obviously, i have a set-up which is prone to this behavior. They have offered me no solution to this problem.

Palm, if you are listening, i just want you to support your product. I'm not saying that you have to remove every bug from every product before shipping it, but... once a problem is evident, i expect it fixed. Especially, if the "bug" stops the unit from working.


The straw that broke the camel's back?

I.M. Anonymous @ 11/12/2001 12:44:05 PM #
I wonder if this was the last straw that broke the camel's back that got Yankowski fired?

where are the flamers?!?

GregGaub @ 11/12/2001 1:55:16 PM #
I was the one who posted an article about my Vx frying my computer that someone mentioned above. When I posted that article, I got so much hate mail from people I was about to go nuts. They all called me all kinds of names for not grounding myself before touching my Palm. Where are they now?!? Is this not virutally the SAME issue?!? Don't all these people KNOW about how static can damage computers?!? Don't they deserve the same punishment that was wrought upon me?!?
C'mon, all you jerks who flamed me! Flame every m505 user with a dead Palm out there for not grounding themselves! Where are your teeth now, huh? I guess maybe some of you have dead m505's, too, huh? Not so unheard of when the shoe's on the other foot, is it?

To all the people that flamed me...
Bite me.


RE: where are the flamers?!?
I.M. Anonymous @ 11/12/2001 2:04:08 PM #
get a grip

RE: where are the flamers?!?
I.M. Anonymous @ 11/12/2001 5:09:39 PM #
Here you go:


Nyah nyah nyah!

That better?

Actually, the ones who went on shocking themselves and are complaining now... gawd... that's like a guy I knew who had racing carbs on his Porsche, and because he didn't race it carbon deposits built up, so every now and then the engine caught fire. He kept an extinguisher in the car so he could put it out when that happened...

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