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Description: You've got the wrong USB cable. It doesn't matter which one you have, it's the wrong one. But what if you could have the right one? What if you could have the right one every time? Enter: The Cerberus.

The Cerberus is a three-headed cable-beast that will ensure that you're never stuck looking for a USB cable that fits your device. At one end of the Cerberus you have the standard A-type connector, which you can plug into your computer or USB power supply; At the other end are three common USB connectors: B, mini-B and micro-B.

The Cerberus can transfer both power and data just like any USB cable, but it's not a hub so don't try to connect three data devices at the same time! You may run into issues when transferring large amounts of data (hard drives, flash drives, etc), so it's best to just use it for low-speed applications like microcontrollers or charging devices.

If you're still trying to wrap your head around the world of USB cables, why not check out our USB Buying Guide?

Note: This idea originally came from our friend and favorite button maker in the Oakland area, CTP. If you see him, please give him a high-five for us.

Note: The only compatibility problem that we've found with these cables is with Android device and mass storage devices. You can charge an Android device using the Cerberus but it won't identify to the computer unless you're running Linux. The cable really wasn't designed for high speed data transmission, so using it with mass storage devices can be problematic.

Dimensions: 6' Long

Features:

  • Single USB-A Connector at Host End
  • USB-B, mini-B and micro-B Connectors at Device End

Comments 74 comments

  • What a whiny bunch of hackers! A couple of tips/requests: Please don’t run mission critical items (your cardiac monitors, bizarre nuke reactor controls, or viral synthesizing systems) off of hacked together kit and development tools (pretty much anything at SparkFun). When someone comes up with a neat idea, pushes the idea forward (in a cogent, easily understood format), take a look at it. If the idea is up your alley, give it a shot (Seriously, $6 for this cable… I’ll take it, even if I can only use it to power some boards). If it’s not up your alley, but you have some constructive ideas, definitely put them forward. But if all you’re going to do is decry the concept in the same way as three folks did before you… Well, you might as well be standing next to the Wright brothers and saying “Nice heap, Orville, but it will never fly”

    • Someone get this man a medal!

      • In many ways I feel the same, but consider this: There’s a higher density of relevant information and new learning opportunity here, then in many sites devoted to the subject. Engineering types employ nitpicking as a core mode of communication, and if we can’t be patient with each other, then who can we expect to tolerate us?

    • So I shouldn’t connect my CPAP machine to this? Damn…

  • To all the “this can’t possibly work” comments, the stub-reflection situation is not ideal, but remember that USB uses a packet structure in which each data packet has a CRC to detect corruption. If corruption is detected, the OS will throw a warning saying that there is a problem with the connection, but there should never be a situation in which data is silently corrupted. We have never seen such an error or any data problems in our testing of this cable. If anyone does have problems with it, we’d of course like to hear about it.

    • Yes, each packet has CRC, but in my experience, most drivers deal with CRC failure horribly. USB just isn’t designed to run over a lossy medium. There is no “automatic” downshifting to lower speeds if the connection is poor. It is a statistics game, as long as the vast majority of the packets are good, USB works great, but the overall bit error rate that USB is designed for is something like a single bit error in minutes of operation.

      Diagnosing USB cable problems is miserable- I had a bunch of USB 1.x cables that I ended up just cutting up and recycling because they kept getting into the mix and I’d spend a couple hours diagnosing what I thought was a USB driver problem, but turned out to be a non USB 2.0 cable. (It would connect and enumerate, but eventually fail, and the Windows error messages are particularly un-helpful.)

      The issue is not if the situation is ideal or not, it’s a matter of what kind of issues you may be buying yourself into. I’m sure it will work to move data most of the time, but Murphy’s law is even more reliable than Godwin’s law.

      When space is at a premium, this cable is awesome, and I really see how useful it could be, but USB cables are cheap and pretty small. This very well could find its way into my travel bag (for charging), but I will make it a point that a cable of this type should never be in my lab, except hooked up to a network analyzer as a demonstration of transmission line stub filters.

      • I did a quick back of the envelope calculation to see what kind of jitter could be introduced by a reflection from the 12" stubs. At low speed (1.5Mbps) it would be 0.4% (of the width of a single bit), at 12Mbps it would be 3%, and at 480Mbps it would be 130% (calculations done for 0.75C propagation in twisted-pair copper). So point taken that at 480Mbps you could conceivably run into weak false edges that depending on a lot of factors could be misinterpreted leading to a bad data packet. As you’ve experienced, the OS will fail the connection, which is better than data loss, but again, point taken on the inconvenience of the situation.

        Since you mentioned a network analyzer (a particularly expensive piece of equipment that SFE doesn’t currently own), we’d be delighted to send you one of our cables for free if you’d be willing to hook it up and send us back some EMI/EMC plots. =)

        • I’m not real worried about data quality, but as a mental exercise could terminating resistors fix the reflection issue, or would that impact the data too much to be usable? A set of female socket caps with the resistors would be neat.

          • You’re correct that passive or active termination would improve the situation, and we did consider various ways of incorporating this, but (A) electrically it’s a tricky thing to do without making things worse, especially in a multi-speed environment, and (B) it would have raised the price and reduced the convenience of the cable significantly. In the end we concluded that KISS was the best approach, but as you can see this wasn’t a popular decision.

            • For its intended purpose I think it’s a fantastic idea. I’ve done some wonky things with usb cables and they still worked.

  • How many threads like this have I seen? The prefectionists versus the it’s good enough to work for what I want to do folks.

    If you think this is crap then don’t buy it. If it works good enough for what you want it to do (thats me and it wont be just for powering something) then buy it. I don’t mind a word of caution but how much pissin' do you guys think you need to do?

    Sheesh…

  • The signal integrity guy in me shudders at this- while it may be awesome for supplying power, you’re breaking the transmission lines by adding some relatively significant stubs, and will very likely result in data corruption/loss.

  • Thank you Static, HonDon7, and anyone else who gets it and spoke up. I teach people how to use Arduinos in art. I was constantly having to find the right cable to connect to whichever board was in front of me, or try to keep track of little adapters, and it was becoming a nuisance. I took 3 USB cables, and soldered them up in this fashion (after consulting my USB learned friends)and made my own. It worked great for what I need it for. I’m very glad that there is now a better made one available, and that it works great for what it is meant for. To the rest of you…well…you act as though someone was going to force you to buy and use one of these. Or that its mere existence is somehow offensive. Not a cable you want? Awesome, you just saved $6. Personally, my workbench and I are happier now :)

  • Fine for charging but as hazmat stated, this is adding stubs to the transmission lines. I have a hard time believing signal integrity is preserved with this, especially with USB High Speed. :|

    • we’ve been testing this cable for months now and haven’t seen issues with it. A case might be made that it wouldn’t be the most ideal thing to run your USB hard drive from, but that’s not the purpose of it.

      • The issue with signal integrity is that this kind of thing isn’t a problem, until it is catastrophic. The data failure may not happen frequently, it could happen randomly (errors in data are inevitable- they will happen), and the OS may hide them- but it could also be data pattern dependent, as a transmission line stub can look like a very narrow filter, and for certain data patterns (difficult to predict and likely to be different cable-cable), it could fail every time.

        This is a great cable to have around for charging purposes or emergencies, but for every day use, USB cables are way too cheap to run the risk (for me).

  • What is the current limit on this cable. Does it only limit to 500ma, or does it have the internals to allow 1a of current to flow?

  • awesome to power an ftdi, UNO, and MICRO off the same USB Charge Adapter - (Now they make one that is a hub - three devices on one port - way to go)

  • I bought a few of these cables when they first came out was quite disappointed.The cables that I got do not handle normal USB power capacities (say 500mA) and devices I plug in using them freak out don’t get a charge. I only use one B end at a time of course. Is this normal? I got these cables only a few months after they came out and so would probably be out of any normal warranty period.

    I got a few of these cables because I think the idea behind them is awesome. Too bad the ones I got don’t seem to work properly.

  • USB drive cable is very important for every mobile and machinery things that have the power of data transfer technology. Data transferring is a important part where you need to think about the data storage and from where you want to bring data . In that concern you need to use a wire that called as USB wire or drive. USB Flash Drive

  • I think we need a USB 3.0 version now.

  • My laptop failed to recognize a Sony Xperia P and a Nexus 4 via Cerberus on Linux. I purchased a couple Cerberuses and I could reproduce this issue with different cables. Regular micro USB cables worked perfectly. Please ephasize that it doesn’t work with Android devices on any OSes and that it introduces heavy noise with high-speed devices.

  • I bought one these a little while back and just got around to trying it. I plugged a SanDisk Sansa Clip+ MP3 player into my 2008 Unibody MacBook Pro and it initially seemed like it was charging, but in fact the device never mounted as mass storage in the OS nor did it try to charge. I plugged the cable into a USB wall charger and the player seems to be charging now. I’d be happy to try any suggestions for making it work if possible, but I think I will just hold onto this for charging duties for now. I’m fine with that, but usually Sparkfun is really good about acknowledging the limitations of products they sell. Since Sparkfun just made a big post about moving to Github to manage projects not only internally but also with the community, maybe it might be possible to setup a compatibility database that might help track down the true source of the issue? Might be an interesting example of crowd sourcing a problem…

    • Sorry to hear you’re running into issues with this! Please contact techsupport@ and they should be able to assist you further. This isn’t an issue I recall hearing about with this cable. As far as the compatibility database, ideally we will eventually be able to get something like this set up.

      • I will send an email to tech support. Thanks for the prompt reply, and bonus points for having Rat from Pearls Before Swine as your Avatar :-)

  • I bought two… neither one works, out of the package, on the mini-usb port of my Canon 5D MK2 camera. A straight cable works fine.

    • Someone complains that it does not work here, and your communications person acknowledges it.

      https://twitter.com/uptownmaker/status/330768537348108288 Why sell it if it does not work? Sparkfun is excellent, so why water down your rep with known defective products?

  • I’ve had intermittent success programming Arduino Unos with this cable. Sometimes it works and sometime it just doesn’t.

    • Double check where the USB cables all meet at the central splitter. We have seen these tear a bit, so you might just have a loose connection in there somewhere.

  • I fixed your cable. Took about a half hour, some heatshrink, solder, and hot glue.

    http://i.imgur.com/At5xSvg.jpg

    Stub lengths are ~7cm, just a bit longer than 1/10th of a wavelength at 480 MHz. Android/high speed devices work just fine on it now, though I’m sure the waveforms are still less than ideal.

  • I just tried to use this to transfer data from my camera, but no luck. It’s been working fine with my Arduino though.

  • I’m not complaining as I’ve used this cable with numerous other hardware devices without any problems, but it does not work with the Honestech VIDBOX NW06 video capture device. Windows gets confused when attempting to decide what it is. Changing to the cable that came with the device allows Windows to find it without any problems. Like others have mentioned, it’s probably because this device communicates at high speeds.

  • Just learned the hard way about the issue with Android devices (Nexus 7) and Windows 7 through some trial-and-error troubleshooting (one of Pournelle’s laws - always check the cables). Came here to make a “heads up” post but see I was easily beaten to it. Mostly I use this for programming different Arduinos, and haven’t had an issue. Certainly more handy than constantly switching out USB cables. So it’s great for what it’s great for, and I’ll use a straight USB cable on those rare occasions where I want to move files to my Nexus and not just charge it. /K

  • So far, this has worked out really well for me. With three different ends, I’m sure there’s going to be some oddball signal reflections coming from the unused ends that could potentially cause issues with some high speed devices, but for what I use it for - communicating with and programming my Arduinos and Basic Stamps - it works just fine. I almost spent twice as much at a local store for a USB cable that had a micro B with a mini adapter that was on sale but I had to take a look here first and I’m glad I did.

  • Are they planning to produce other usb types?

  • I have been using this Cerberus cable with various devices without problems. But recently I’ve just tried an Arduino Due with the micro-B connector. It seems to work fine with the Due Programming port, but NOT with the Due Native port. Windows does not even recognize any device when plugged into the Due Native port. The Due Native port does work correctly with a regular USB Micro-B cable but not with this Cerberus cable. Has anyone else tried this?

  • It’s a shame this doesn’t work with some of my devices. Windows can’t identify them, any ideas on a fix?

  • Does not work with external HDD and Sony PRS505 e-reader (both mini-USB) Spakfun guys were kind enough to send me a replacement and I also get the money back, so it’s OK, but… - this cable does not do what it is supposed to.

  • Same here none o f my HDD’s work,android phoe deffinetely not works,arduino also not working. To sum it up total failure. I wish I can send it back and take my money back!!

    • you can. Stop whining and contact tech support

      • If an individual is not satisfied with any of our products, do not hesitate to contact technical support. We will try our best to set you straight.

  • FWIW, I’ve had many devices that will not operate with this cable. I’ve relegated it to charging duty only.

    • do you have an idea what the trend might be on the stuff that doesn’t work? I have yet to find something that it won’t work with.

      • No idea. I have noticed that in many cases when using this cable Windows (Vista) (re)installs the device driver before functioning.

        • that’s REALLY odd. contact customer service and have them send another one out to ya. maybe you had a bad cable. tell them Robert sent ya.

          • None of my external hard-drives work with this cable. Agreed for charging only.

            • correct. hard drives will want to max out the USB port, making this cable just a bad idea. it’s not for fast data transfer at ALL.

  • I bought two of these. I’d like to see a much shorter version that also includes the iPhone 5 “Lightning” connector.

  • Signal degradation shouldn’t be an issue as long as their is only one device connected as otherwise they would compete for data, but this is not the case as it would work fine without a switch. But since this does have all the data lines together you could use this as a power injector from the A end say to an arduino and android device as long as you only have a 5v source on the a end and not connected on the data lines say to a computer.

  • Oh my Lord … you just won’t stop surprising us

  • I’m almost 100% certain that in addition to the issues with signal integrity, etc. noted above (which I 100% agree with), you’re violating some pretty nasty IP laws putting the USB logo on this cable that clearly … isn’t. I shudder to think of the EMC implications of this as well.

    • that’s not a USB logo, it’s a USB trident, and it’s license free. FTDI explains in section 3 of this PDF http://www.ftdichip.com/Support/Documents/TechnicalNotes/TN_114_USB%20Device%20Testing%20and%20Marking.pdf

  • This cable has got to be a bad idea. Even if it “seems” to work, the EMI performance must be horrible. I would avoid it.

    • Horrible… yeah, but I’m still putting 3 of them my cart just the same. The horror! The horror!

    • Do you know how much power behind EMI needs to be used to change performance? Besides the cable being shield really well, the only inflection points are the end-points not used. You can avoid this by putting physical caps on those lines (to turn it into a faraday cage of sorts).

      In reality, the EMI that this cable will see is going to be extremely low, especially when users are not going to use anything over maybe 110k BAUD.

      By all means, hook them up to an Oscope to measure the “noise” they see during a transmission.

      • Caps over the unused ends of this cable (or shielding) would make virtually unmeasurable changes. The power in the cable in USB is always the same- it isn’t affected by speed. Also, the data rate on the cable is not a factor of the serial port speed you’re running. To really measure the EMI, you don’t really use a scope (you won’t see much at all)- you ought to use a spectrum analyzer.

        • A spectrum analyzer would be the best tool to use, but if noise is so little, and assuming gaussian additive noise, you wouldn’t see anything different measuring air.

          The BUAD of 110k is nearly USB 1.1 speeds. Now, if you have a direct EMI source and put it on the connector heads, there is a high possibility (gaussian distribution) that there will be noise on the data, and it has (at low possibility) of affecting the data.

          Overall, nothing to worry about. BUT! It is always good practice to protect from EMI.

    • I wouldn’t necessarily avoid it - I’d imagine it works just fine for most things.

      On the other hand, I don’t even understand why this exists. The new products video, and the description, asks the question “ever needed cable with X but all you had was cable with Y?”

      The answer is “yes, yes I have”. Except right after I simply got a USB extension cable, a USB male A -> USB male B adapter , a female B > male mini B adapter , and I still had a female mini B > male micro B adapter from a car charger kit. Tiny holes drilled into their plastics, some cord and some heatshrink to attach them to the main cable later, and I had a cable that is always the right cable (including extension, which the cerberus sadly doesn’t offer), without any of the concerns outlined above and a fair bit less bulky, and sets you back about the same, retail.

      It’s not nearly as well-polished, though - being a bunch of (design-wise) mis-matched adapters. I feel SFE could certainly do a better version. Perhaps after all 1,999 of the cerberus are out :)

  • scary, frankly it needs switches or the data line removed so you don’t mess yourself up. Unless someone has actually done the modeling so see that the filter potential of the stubs is not an issue at max speed. Things that mostly work are not worth ones time. Tracking down data corruption is something I avoid at high cost. I have lost too many years to bugs introduced by something that ought work, but occasionally scrambles data.

    • “At max speeds” is the operator here. These cables are largely intended to be an accessory to our development tools, most of which run at baud rates well below spec. I wouldn’t be concerned, however, at much higher rates.

      Granted, it’s far from ideal. But less errors will result from stub-reflection in this cable than from the rest of the development environment.

      • I’m not trying to be a whiner or mean- but you really need to read up more on USB. The speed on USB isn’t really variable- it runs at the maximum speed it is capable of at all time: USB low speed is 1.2Mbit/s (not much really uses this- keyboards and mice, maybe), USB full speed (12Mbit/s) and High speed (480 Mbit/s) (and ignoring USB 3). The rate that the individual packets move is always one of the above speeds. If you’re running a serial port at 110 baud over a converter that is connected at USB High speed- the data on the USB cable is running at 480 Mbit/s ALWAYS- there is just a lot of dead time.

        • oh, not at all :) I’m just trying to understand the worst case scenario here. See I was under the impression, which is probably wrong, that the “dead time” you’re talking about is actually time for the host controller to resend packets that fail CRC (i.e. no ACK from device transceiver) with the same toggle bit, correcting the odd error that might occur because of this cable. And because of the low baud rate on the device end, the host is more likely to get an ACK back before the whole things goes to hell. I wasn’t implying that the data rate across the cable actually “slows down” but only that there is more time to take advantage of the error detection built in to the USB standard.

          Again, I’m not an expert.

          • Depending on you you talk to, I could be an expert (or not :). Yes, it might fail CRC, but in my experience USB cable issues are absolutely a pain to identify- USB just isn’t designed to run over a lossy medium- I’ll think I’ll post a reply a little higher in the thread so people don’t miss this.

  • Agree with all the above comments on signal integrity. Unless there is a PCB with USB switches in that center molding, I would not buy this cable. I applaude SF for the ingenuity of this cable, but simply question the implementation.

    Could we get some clarification on the insides? Are there USB switches inside or are all the data lines simply tied together?

    • As stated in the description, it is not a USB hub. This means that the data lines are all tied together.

  • Now can you just make a USB A cable that fits both ways into the socket? :)

    • We’ll contact the major computer manufacturing companies and propose the change. It the meantime, try jamming it harder.

    • not without redesigning the socket too

      • Can you explain why?

        I have a microSD->USB adapter which is just the 4 contact strips, the rest of it is all plastic. It fits into a USB socket both ways around, but obviously it only works one way around. However, if those 4 strips were replicated on the other side, I can’t think of any reason it shouldn’t work short of the strips on the ‘wrong side’ coming into contact with the the shielding.

        Then, of course, there’s this concept: http://www.cracktwo.com/2011/06/usb-connector-that-works-both-ways.html

  • will you eventually have different lengths? 3' with 3" (or shorter) B leads would be far better for my travel bag.

  • Can I use the micro USB for power only and use the mini USB for power and data transfer at the same time? Power two things and data transfer at the same time?


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