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Apple Pro Mouse cable issues

Apple Pro Mouse cable issues

Yesterday we posted a report from MacFixIt reader Randy Smith, who has had problems with his Apple Pro Mouse -- specifically, the connection between the mouse and the USB cable "broke" under normal use, and the mouse had to be replaced through AppleCare.

Since posting that story, we've received a significant number of reports -- far more than we get for an average story -- from other users who have had similar problems. Likewise, the story itself received a good number of online comments. It appears that Randy isn't the only one experiencing a malfunctioning mouse.

In every case, the problem seems to be a lack of reinforcement or support where the USB cable enters the mouse, eventually resulting in a short or break in the cable connection. The most common symptoms are erratic mouse movement and random freezes. In some cases, the Mac to which the mouse is connected will not even start up, or will experience a kernel panic. Derek Ferrell's description is representative:

"We see it a lot: User complains that their computer "freezes" for a moment, then they regain control. We eventually tracked it to the mouse. Bending the cable a certain way breaks the USB connection and the light underneath goes out. Bending it back re-establishes connection and the light comes back on. Of course the Mac interprets that as the mouse being unplugged and re-plugged, so there is a delay each time while the mouse driver is reloaded."

Remy Leroy's report offers another description of the symptoms: "I bought my iMac G4 17"LCD in october 2002. A few months after (in march 2003), I began to encounter strange behavior of the mouse cursor... it jumped randomly on the screen, or it froze and I had to unplug and replug the mouse ti regain control on it. The culprit was a shortcut circuit between wires in the mouse cable at the very point where the cable exits the mouse."

Larger samples In addition to individual reports, we've also received a number of reports from larger installations of Macs, which offer a bit of insight into how common an issue may be. (Although, to be fair, computers and peripherals in larger installations also tend to experience heavier use than those belonging to the average home user.)

Kevin Wesel writes: "I run a few Mac Labs at the local university. One of the labs came with Apple pro mice (black with a silver translucent cable); out of all 50 of these computers that were purchased in 2001-2002 we have replaced 38." Likewise, Krishna Sadasivam reports "Our university has many, many Macs in use, and (under typical student use) we are noticing that many of the Apple mice cables tend to break internally within their sleeve. We have at least 50 Apple mice that we've collected as 'dead', due to this apparent design flaw." David Chartier estimates that "I think I have had about 10 or 12 failures, many in less than a year of use. This represents about a 30% failure rate."

Most of these reports echo the descriptions of the problem posted above; James Pope writes "The school system that I work for has a smattering of iMacs and the group of 120 500mhz, blue, slot loading all came with the Apple Pro Mouse, and about 20 of them have had the cable detach just inside the insulation and became useless." Greg Cameron has similar observations: "we provide Mac based Avid editing systems to a variety of T.V. and feature film customers. There have been many failures of the Pro Mouse cord right where it goes into the mouse. I've actually seen the sparks inside the wire right at the entry point, thanks to the clear jacketing. In the past 6 months, I would say we've tossed around 10 to 12 mice in the trash."

Finally, Apple Authorized Service Centers also provide unique perspectives on these issues. One employee of an ASC writes: "clients using this model of mouse maybe for 1 year, have to buy a new one. We have 2 to 5 Apple Pro mice [with this issue] every month. The cable that comes with this mouse seems to be very weak and no reinforcement for the strain and bending."

Apple's Responsiveness Most users whose mice are still under warranty/AppleCare report that Apple has been fairly responsive to these problems. Jay Christianson notes that "at the University I work at, we probably eat at least one mouse every two weeks (between 60 some lab computers). As soon as the first Apple optical mouse broke, we knew the problem was that there was no strain relief where the cable meets the mouse. So, we call in on Applecare and Apple ships out replacements."

However, many experience the same problem with the replacements. Lee Shephard's message is echoed by many others: "I work as part of a music production company, and we use only macs, which are in use about 14 hrs a day...every 2-3 months ALL fail with the same problem...cable wear at the mouse end of the cable! I normally get replacements free under warrenty from Apple, but it really is getting VERY boring now constantly having to ring apple and explain the problem, which could be easily fixed by a small strain relief."

Although Apple hasn't publicly acknowledged the issue, it does appear that Apple is aware of it. Ian Howarth notes that when he had his mouse replaced at an Apple Store, an employee commented that this is "not an unknown problem." Indeed, several users wrote in stating that their local Apple Store or Apple retailer has acknowledged replacing a good number of mice due to the same flaw.

Third-party replacements Rather than go through the trouble of getting Apple to replace their broken mouse (or, in some cases, because Apple has refused to replace it), many users are electing to simply replace their Pro mouse with a more reliable third-party mouse from Logitech, Kensington, Microsoft, etc. Reader Patrick Ellis writes:

"I am the tech support for the Macs at my place of work (college) and I can relate to problematic Apple mice. I had to replace 12 of them in one lab last year, all suffering from the same cable short at the mouse end. Suffice to say that - given the price and one button limit - all Apple Pro mice have been replaced with the more sturdy and 2 button, scroll wheel optical mice from Logitech (as well as a number of 3 button mice from Microsoft). They seem to have a stronger design and cost us, on average, CDN $60.00 less per mouse than the Apple offering."

This seems to be a common sentiment. Ray Tolman reports that "We have had to replace 8 Apple Pro Mice in a lab of 30 iMac and eMac computers [at our K-7 school] over the last 2 years... As the Pro Mice 'die,' we switch to Logitech or MicroSoft mice as they cost one third as much and are a much more robust product."

Self-repair options Some users have also elected to attempt to fix their problematic mice themselves. Dave Firman writes:

"We have eight Pro mice and three of them became progressively faulty (over a year or two) until they were unusable because of lack of strain relief. We pulled three of them apart (following instruction available on the web and in print - MacWorld) and successfully fixed them. We added some heat-shrink sleeving whilst reassembling to provide strain relief. I also used a hot glue gun to add a cone shaped strain relief to the as-yet un-failed mice. The mod doesn't look too bad (it's clear glue after all) and none of them have failed since! I'd recommend anyone with one of these mice get hot gluing before it's too late..."

In fact, one user has actually posted detailed instructions for repairing this problem. Although not for the faint of heart, if you're handy with tools, you may be able to salvage your Pro Mouse by fixing it yourself.

Instead of waiting for his mouse to break, MacFixIt reader James Brown has taken a proactive approach: "I had the same problem with two Apple Pro Mice. This goes all the way back to the first models introduced, I bought one from the Apple Store in Canada. Within 6 months the first mouse gave erratic behaviour and the cursor would disappear along with the red laser. If I manipulated the cord where it entered the mouse the laser would come back on and it would work. Since it was under warranty, I contacted Apple and they sent out a new one. As soon as the second one arrived I devised a strain relief out of a thick clear tape, taping the cable to the mouse chassis so it wouldn't bend."

Pro mouse issues? Drop us an email at Late-breakers@macfixit.com.

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