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Dangerous Apple Power Adapters? 240

An anonymous reader writes "Even with all these exploding Dell notebooks and other notebook safety problems, Apple has seemed relatively immune. Every once in a while, some odd thing came along, but it seemed like relatively calm waters. Not anymore — Apple's notebook power adapters appear to be the source of some serious safety concerns. Every iBook and PowerBook user should read this and keep a close eye on their adapter — the adapters suffer from very poor design including wires that seem prone to short out and burn and zero short circuit protection."
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Dangerous Apple Power Adapters?

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  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday August 13, 2006 @02:51PM (#15898983) Homepage

    Apple had a power adapter safety recall by the Consumer Product Safety Commission [] back in the G3 era, and a battery recall last year. Is this a new problem?

  • Not exactly new (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pvera ( 250260 ) <> on Sunday August 13, 2006 @02:55PM (#15899005) Homepage Journal
    Anyone that has owned powerbooks or ibooks knows about the crappy power adapters. I have personally lost three, of which only one was covered under warranty. The two biggest weak points:

    1. the connector that plugs into the laptop did not have enough ribbing material, so it frayed easily.
    2. the thin cable that runs from the laptop into the brick had zero ribbing, it just simply ran into a hole. Frayed easily, I even had one catch fire.

    After three Apple laptops I even started noticing how Apple tried to attack these problems. If you look at the last power supply shipped before the magnetic connectors came out, you will see that the "thin" cable is almost twice as thick as the one that shipped with iBook G3s and Titanium Powerbooks. You will also notice much thicker ribbing at both ends of that cable.

    The worst of this is that the apple branded adapters were $79 apiece, while a perfectly working replacement, with much sturdier cables, could be had for $35.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 13, 2006 @03:23PM (#15899104)
    The details you will need to know are: The gentleman, who complains about the problem, is a bubbeling idiot.

    The power rating of these power bricks is 45W (for my iBook). Fourtyfive watts. If you concentrate that amount of electricity in a small volume, it is quite sufficient to set most synthetic materials alight. The possible exception being Teflon.

    His comments (yes, I did RTFA) about the brick not having any kind of short circuit protection is groundless. He has experienced one type of SS protection, the type found in many large PC PSUs, which needs a power off to reset. Another type is the foldback, or current limiting SS protection circuit, which increases available power immediately after the short is removed. So it is no wonder that he could sense the power (by repeatedly shorting out the brick?! Asking for trouble, is he?) as soon as no short was present.

    He would have a solid argument if he was able to draw an excessive current through the short, larger than, say, the 1.875A (45W @ 24V) the brick is specified for.

    I just tried testing for this problem using the brick for my iBook, but failed miserably, since I don't have the proper connector to mate with the low voltage end: The thing won't even power on unless it is plugged into the iBook. This may be a design change since my brick is apparently of a more recent design as compared to the one shown in TFA.

    So in summary the actual news items here are:

    *) Frayed wire can short out.
    *) A short may not be sufficient low ohmic to trip the power limiter in the PSU, yet the power you can draw through it may be sufficient to cause fires. (This is no different than for any other electrical appliance. AKA: Badly maintained electrical installations can kill you.)
    *) Apple didn't employ sufficient strain relief at the point, where the power wire leaves the power brick.

    Move along, nothing to see here.
  • by mpcooke3 ( 306161 ) * on Sunday August 13, 2006 @03:25PM (#15899113) Homepage
    I have a HP omnibook 6000 and the connection near the laptop started to short. There is a lot of pressure on this part of the connector as you move about with your laptop. Probably the inner wires can rub bare before you notice any damage to the exterior.

    I was wearing boxers and the shorting wires were against my naked leg when i discovered the problem, so I have limited sympathy for this guy with his burnt paper.
  • by reporter ( 666905 ) on Sunday August 13, 2006 @03:30PM (#15899125) Homepage
    Power adapters are low-tech, commodity devices. Since their profit margins are very low, Apple management probably subcontracted their design and assembly to a generic company in mainland China.

    One thing that we know about China is that (1) it has few laws ensuring product safety and (2) that Beijing rarely enforces those laws. As a result, many products from China are just dangerous.

    Consider the recent case of lead contamination of children's toys []. The toys had 5x the amount of lead that is considered safe.

    Now, consider the case of a bracelet that was 99% lead []. A Chinese company made the bracelets for Reebok. A child who accidentally ingested the bracelet died.

    Now, consider Chinese honey that is contaminated with a dangerous antibiotic [].

    Here is the summary reduction. The price of a product imported from China is $X. The price of a product made in the USA is $Y. Generally, $X is much less than $Y. The difference in price represents the "cost" that you paying for tough, enforced regulations and for higher ethical standards. Most American consumers do not want to pay this cost directly, so Walmart (a.k.a. the clearinghouse for Chinese products) prospers. Still, most Americans do pay this cost indirectly via, e.g., higher medical bills.

  • Count me in, I'm one (Score:4, Interesting)

    by X43B ( 577258 ) on Sunday August 13, 2006 @03:38PM (#15899155) Journal
    Whoa, I thought my incidident was isolated. My power supply for my iBook shorted right where wire goes into the connector that plugs into the computer. Some magic smoke was released and the connector/power supply was inoperable. Apple sent me a new power supply under my AppleCare plan. I don't know if they would have charged me otherwise.

    About a month later my motherboard died. Again everything covered under AppleCare.
  • this is very true. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jeffehobbs ( 419930 ) on Sunday August 13, 2006 @03:40PM (#15899162) Homepage
    I'm on my second Aluminum PowerBook AC adapter after the first one crimped, then frayed, then went up in a literal puff of smoke. The worst part is I had to buy another of the clearly faulty adapters. You'd think they'd beef up the design a bit around the part that breaks for everyone, but no... Read the reviews on Apple's own page on for this adapter (average rating: 1.5 stars out of five), and it becomes clear that there's a very specific reason they redid the power connector ("MagSafe") for the new MacBook and MacBook Pro models.

    Shameful -- and doubly a shame because this PowerBook (one of the original Aluminum PowerBooks) has proven to be a champ for over two years.

  • Re:Not poor design (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Nicholas Evans ( 731773 ) <> on Sunday August 13, 2006 @03:41PM (#15899169) Homepage

    So then, as somebody named Whiney Mac Fanboy, I understand very well that you know who is a shill and who is not a shill. However, the author states:

    I spent time closely inspecting the original adapter that came with my PowerBook and caused the problem, comparing it to the model Apple sent me as a replacement and another Apple branded power adapter I purchased new from a local computer store. They were all identical. The reinforcing rubber "bootie" was the same. The cable appeared to be the exact same gauge. They even all exhibited the same lack of proper short protection and proved able to arc endlessly without tripping any breakers, fuses or GFCI outlets.

    I am definitely not a manufacturer or an engineer or any physical products, nor am I a Microsoft and/or Apple fanboy (but I did order a MacBook Pro on Friday, hooah!), but from the information available it would seem as if Apple does have a potential safety issue.

  • by 5plicer ( 886415 ) on Sunday August 13, 2006 @03:55PM (#15899223)
    Apple provides full detail on how to build your own power adapter in this tech note []. Guess what I'll be building over the next couple of weeks ;)
  • Re:Lots of FUD... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by v1 ( 525388 ) on Sunday August 13, 2006 @04:24PM (#15899320) Homepage Journal
    Apple Authorized Service Provider. hey, that's me :) Certified to work on everything apple sells, warranty repair.

    I have yet to see a single pack catch fire. And I've replaced quite a few of them. Damaged, yes. They definitely need to improve their strain reliefs, and magsafe is brilliant. But defective by design? Not from a safety perspective. They DO need to improve the strain reliefs though.

    If one tire in 20,000 started to bulge on the sidewall after 30,000 miles, and the owner didn't notice it until 2 months later the tire blew, you can't blame that entirely on Goodyear. All products break, and the consumer does have a reasonable responsibility to identify a product that has failed and may create a safety hazard.

    Now take the ibook g3 logic board recall. Now those I have seen maybe 4 dozen of. THOSE are defective. But THIS, this is just a blip.

    Actually now that we have magsafe, I don't expect this to even happen once in a blue moon. The power cords are 2x as thick, and if you are a total yutz trying to use your macbook 5.95 feet from the wall using a 6.00 foot power cord, POP and out releases the magsafe before you can jack up your cord. Something tells me OP will just glue it in, break another cord, and cry for us some more.
  • Fud (Score:5, Interesting)

    by John Nowak ( 872479 ) on Sunday August 13, 2006 @04:29PM (#15899336)
    I work in a lab where we have dozens of these bricks. We lend them out to students all the time, who do god knows what with them. Over the course of several years, we've not had one problem. No shorting out, no signs of wear, nothing. I personally have one as well, going on three years now. I take it with me every day, usually just throwing it in my bag. It looks the same as the day I got it and shows no signs of wear upon serious inspection. Mac users are a VERY VOCAL bunch. It is impossible to gauge the severity of a problem by listening to the Mac community.
  • by 5plicer ( 886415 ) on Sunday August 13, 2006 @04:58PM (#15899440)
    After a bit of searching, I found an alternative [] to Apple's power adapters. This one sells for $50 (much cheaper than Apple's). I'm sure there are other companies doing the same thing as NewerTechnologies. Of course, as I mentioned in a previous comment, you could built your own using this Apple tech note [].
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 13, 2006 @05:17PM (#15899506)
    They should change "correct" behavior to de facto behavior. !fud is hard to read, it's easy to miss the exclamation point--not so much in source code, but in a proportional font like used on Slashdot's home page, it becomes a problem. In short, the "correct" behavior is straight out of Microsoft's UI department. notfud is more intuitive, more useful, and less prone to error.
  • Re:Not poor design (Score:5, Interesting)

    by anagama ( 611277 ) <> on Sunday August 13, 2006 @05:25PM (#15899529) Homepage
    Maybe a problem, likely not. Mac users tend to go nuts about manufacturing errors more so than others. Anyway, I got a macbook a couple weeks ago -- has the magsafe connector. I recall not too long ago tons of news about the magsafe burning up at the computer side. I noticed that when I pull the connector straight out from the computer, it stresses the joint where the wire and plug meet. Thing about a magnetic connection is that it is hard to pull the two sides straight apart, but easy to break if attacked from an angle. So now I just push on one side of the connector and it breaks away without difficulty or wire stress.

    I know everyone always claims to be gentle on their machines, but when I look at other people's laptops -- I suspect the truth is much rougher. Anyway, don't yank the adapter around by its cord and I bet it'll fine.
  • by Coolnat2004 ( 830862 ) on Sunday August 13, 2006 @08:45PM (#15900144) Homepage
    The adapter that came with my PowerBook G4 one day sparked and burned some of its own insulation. The reason being, is I had put too much stress on that area of the cable (next to the plug that goes into the computer) over a year and it had become frayed. It was out of warranty so I bought an adapter off eBay and now I make sure to put no stress on the cable if I can avoid it.

    I'd say that this could happen to any electrical device.
  • by YesIAmAScript ( 886271 ) on Sunday August 13, 2006 @09:41PM (#15900315)
    This article makes some sense. But when he tries to explain that it should trigger an GFCI (or even AFCI), he gets way off track.

    It would never trigger an AFCI, because there's too much smoothing circuitry between the output and the wall plug. No matter, as an AFCI is designed to protect against arcs in the walls and frayed AC power cords. So the AFCI comment didn't make sense.

    Also, the GFCI comment doesn't make sense either. A GFCI is supposed to notice power being drawn and not returned on the neutral. The Apple power supplies are designed to be 2-prong devices, so they could never dump significant power on the ground pin and trigger a GFCI. The only way it could trigger a GFCI is if you shorted the live end of the cable to a separate return, like earth ground or a hot tub or whatever. Then the power would not come back on the neutral and would trigger the GFCI.

    Anyway, a GFCI is supposed to prevent against things like dropping a live appliance into a puddle of water or whatever, not shorts internal to low voltage cables.

    His spark test maybe means something, I see what he is talking about there. But I'm not sure about his testing methodology. Maybe he's testing a case expecting it to shut down and instead Apple just current limits, which is an acceptable alternative. I just can't tell with only the data on that page.

    The article summary is definitely full of unwarranted hyperbole. The article isn't even close to triggering a level of "source of some serious safety concerns".
  • by Macgrrl ( 762836 ) on Sunday August 13, 2006 @11:44PM (#15900691)

    By far the worst unit I encountered for AC adaptor failure was the original PB190/5300 AC Adaptor. It had two primary points of failure:

    • the first being the male connector which would 'snap' internally (most easily diagnosed either by the connector being at an angle from it's sheath, or being able to 'wiggle' the tip of the connector - a clicking noise could generally be heard where the ends of broken connector flicked across each other),
    • the second failure point was the grommet where the cable came out of the transformer (normally caused by people wrapping the cable around the adaptor too tightly and pulling it out of the casing - sometimes a inch or so of bare wire would be visible by the time it was brought in for replacement).

    The biggest problem with AC Adaptors is that to make them samll and light for easy transport they are somewhat fragile and not particularly durable - especially in relation to the cable being wrapped over ridged edges.

    The PB1x0 series adaptors were possibly the most durable adaptors I've ever seen, but there were total bricks and awkward to plug into power strips and low mounted wall points.

  • by Jason Argo ( 87552 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @03:37AM (#15901177) Homepage Journal

    I was just about to buy my wife 13 inches of flaming pleasure in the form of a new MacBook for her birthday. After reading this article, it looks like I'll have to give it to her the old fashioned way.

    One thing is fure sure, if I do end up getting a MacBook, I certainly won't be putting it on the Freedom Furniture Laptop Table: []

  • Dare I say "Me Too"? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by skingers6894 ( 816110 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @05:54AM (#15901456)
    We've had two of these go.

    I have a photo on our blog too: 274/index.html []

    About 4 headlines in.

    You'll notice from the blog I'm pretty much an Apple Fan Boi (tm) but even I in my Appleuphoria can see that this is a problem.

  • by hvnarsana ( 995157 ) on Monday August 14, 2006 @06:32AM (#15901524) Homepage
    .. that it was my mistake it burnt out! I was using a power regulator AND a spike buster to protect my powerbook and adapter.. and the result was the exact same burn out as described in the article (it's picture perfect for me).

    Apple, though the best in design, needs to do one better when it comes to their adapter! They refused to replace mine, so I am going to go back in with this article as a reference, and ask for a replacement.

    No matter how good they are, they do have their host of hardware issues (if not software ones, and thank GOD for that).
  • my $0.02 (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 14, 2006 @08:42AM (#15901853)
    Between my 12" Powerbook (3+ years old, new) and my wife's 14" iBook (2 years old, refurb), I had one power adapter die completely and the other has a bad connection where you have to smack it real hard a dozen times or so to get it to work (yeah, I get that one; wife gets the new aftermarket one). Interestingly enough, the one that died completely (iBook original) had a strain relief on the DC side coming out of the brick. My original one didn't, and it's the one still (sort of) working.

Air is water with holes in it.