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Portables Power Hardware

Working Toward a Universal Power Brick For Laptops 365

Posted by timothy
from the please-don't-base-it-on-micro-usb dept.
An anonymous reader links to PC Authority with some hopeful news about untangling a persistent annoyance for laptop users — namely, the myriad power supplies called for by laptop makers: "'On a PC, an ATX power supply for example will screw into certain mounting holes, have a maximum size and shape, and will take a standard 3-pin "kettle cord" for incoming power. If it complies with these standards, the PSU will be able to bolt into any manufacturer's ATX case.' Laptop design, on the other hand, involves cramming a PC into a tiny chassis, which usually has its own thermal design and power distribution requirements. This has led to the somewhat bizarre situation where every manufacturer has its own laptop power supply design. It now appears that some of the major players in laptops are getting together to work on a standardized laptop power supply design. Not only are big players involved, but the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) has created a team to work on the power supply standard."
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Working Toward a Universal Power Brick For Laptops

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  • by Pojut (1027544) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @11:32AM (#32811642) Homepage

    I want laptop internals to be standardized, which would help upgrades be much more bearable (and, in some cases, make them possible).

  • Magsafe (Score:5, Interesting)

    by TheKidWho (705796) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @11:32AM (#32811650)

    It would be nice if they all standardized on a magsafe interface. Although I doubt it would happen, too expensive.

    Regardless, this is great news. It would be very nice to have just 1 power brick for multiple devices.

  • About time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kent_eh (543303) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @11:33AM (#32811664)
    At work we have a fleet of assorted laptops, and regularly have to go on a scrounge to find a power brick for someone who is visiting from another location who either left their brick at the other office/hotel/home/car and is running low on power

    Or someone is issued a new laptop, and it only comes with one brick (which is semi-permanently tied to the docking station) and they need another for portable use. Why can't we use the one from their old laptop?
    Even if it's the same manufacturer, the voltage or connector don't match. WTF?
    If we need a second power brick, we don't reward the OEM with extra money. It's 3rd party for that (and usually cheaper too)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @11:35AM (#32811716)

    Let's hope they come up with a connector that is robust yet small, tugs out under pressure, doesn't limit the minimum height of the laptop, and so on.

    I doubt Apple will sign up, their connector already does all of the above. Now this Dell one here which meets none of them on the other hand is a good candidate for such a scheme.

    Also - kill off the large bulky power supplies, and give us smaller, more convenient supplies. Oh, look, Apple are already doing that too.

    I think the power supply on my netbook is nearly as big as the netbook itself. WHY OH WHY!!!

  • Well... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rainmayun (842754) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @11:36AM (#32811736)
    Good luck getting Apple to play along. While I prefer their design, I doubt they'd even license out the spec to other manufacturers.
  • by zmollusc (763634) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @11:38AM (#32811754)

    Then we can just connect straight to car batteries.
    Easy peasy charging in the car.
    12V sealed lead acid motorcycle battery in your pocket for when the li-ion is failing after a year.
    The broken-screen laptops we use as headless servers could have UPS for cheapness using old car batteries.

    It would be awesome!

    PleasePleasePlease!

  • I half agree (Score:4, Interesting)

    by name_already_taken (540581) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @11:43AM (#32811854)

    If every PC laptop uses the same plug, I would jump for joy. If it was an Apple style "magsafe" style connector I would get down on my knees and fellate each and every member of the standards committee. I've been griping for years now how the connector conspiracy is still going strong in the laptop space and what a pain it is to keep matching power cords to laptops.

    Ok, no on the blowjob thing; you don't know where those committee members have been.

    The "magsafe" connector is better than anyone who hasn't used it realizes. Not only does it "break away" nicely and easily, but it also means you don't have to use any effort to plug the thing in. I just get the connector within an inch or so and the magnet pulls it into place. I've just dangled the cord near my MacBook Pro and it will snap into place by itself.

    The strain relief on the Apple connectors sucks - it's basically nonexistent, so they can fail there, but if they fixed that (pretty easy) then it would be perfect.

    Also, while they're at it, why not spec out a standarized battery compartment?

    Because it's a silly idea. Even cars don't have standardized batteries. Ok, they do, but there are something like 20-30 different standardized car battery types.

  • Re:Not for my laptop (Score:3, Interesting)

    by hedwards (940851) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @11:46AM (#32811908)
    You can blame Apple's "Think Different" approach to things. (Though oddly ironic in that it's misspelled) It's been their brand for sometime to do things differently even if it's not a good idea. Think hockey puck mouses and single button at that. Fortunately they've ditched that, but Apple does seem to have an at times pathological need to be different.

    I don't think that completely standardizing the plug is a great idea, what I'd like to see is for them to decide on how the polarity is expressed, sort of like how power outlets generally do. And for the cord that plugs into the brick to be one design. Preferably 3 pronged. And have a different size and color for the notebook end depending upon voltage.
  • by bami (1376931) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @11:50AM (#32811968) Homepage

    Graphic cards.

    Most laptops have stupid Intel graphic chips that bolt onto the motherboard, but some laptops connect the graphics card to the motherboard using a MXM connector (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mobile_PCI_Express_Module).

    I'd really hope that gets standardized, since it's being one of the most important components in a computer nowadays, with graphical acceleration not only for games but for example Photoshop, or all the nice CUDA things you can do with it.

  • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @11:57AM (#32812096) Journal
    That certainly used to be true, but these days there is less of a reason for upgrading. My current laptop is almost 4 years old, and doesn't really feel slow most of the time. I still occasionally use the one that it replaced (I usually leave it connected to a projector for playing iPlayer stuff and music, and for settling arguments at parties), and it is around 7 years old.
  • by QuantumRiff (120817) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @12:06PM (#32812264)

    You know.. Cell phone manufacturers were in the exact same camp. Until China decided no Cell phone could be sold in China without a Mini or Micro USB power adapter. Suddenly, darn near every cell phone now has one..

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @12:06PM (#32812278)

    I've had a series of thinkpads over the years, and there have been exactly 2 power supply types. Pre-T60, everything worked with the 16V adapter. Everything since the T60 has worked with the 20V adapter. (yes, everyone grumbled when the 20V adapter came out, but you can't roast a turkey with 16V)

    I don't get the fetish everyone has with the magsafe. Using laptops exclusively for the last decade I've had the power cord tugged on hard enough to cause a problem exactly 0 times. What are you all doing? draping your power cord across the hallway?

  • Re:Well... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @12:11PM (#32812368) Journal
    I don't understand what aspects, exactly, of the "magsafe" connector Apple actually possess exclusive rights to.

    Deep fat fryers, possibly among other appliances, have been using magnetic breakaway cords for decades to avoid the hazards associated with people snagging cords and being rewarded with a hot oil bath. Surely, using this principle in DC cabling can't qualify as novel...

    Is it the palendromic, connect-either-way bit?
  • Re:Well... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ElizabethGreene (1185405) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @12:16PM (#32812480)

    Are you certain? I've seen similar tearaway connectors on deep fryers.

  • by Morty (32057) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @12:26PM (#32812640) Journal

    Micro-USB is not just about size, it's actually the official replacement for mini-USB. micro-USB is designed to handle more disconnect/reconnect cycles than mini-USB, so it's better even if your devices are large enough to not need micro-USB. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Serial_Bus#Mini_and_Micro [wikipedia.org]

    I also grumbled about replacing my mini-USB chargers, but at least it's standard-for-standard. I now have two connectors to deal with (some devices still on mini-USB, some devices on micro-USB) as opposed to a mess of proprietary connectors.

  • Re:Well... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by fermion (181285) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @01:05PM (#32813180) Homepage Journal
    I doubt others would want the Apple design as it provides a continuity that limits profits. For instance, the inputs to the brick are all the same. Therefore if I lose a power cord, I can just use one of the input adaptors from another apple product. This includes the iPad, the Airport express, most everything. For products that do no use this design, a simple two prong cord is used that can be picked up anywhere. Compare this to my HP power supply which uses this weird cord that means I will probably have to replace the whole thing if I lose a $2 cord. In other words, if other manufacturers wanted to, they could already at least standardize the inputs. They haven't, which means the lack of standards provides some benefit.

    Beyond this is the expense of the power supply. While Apple has the ability to absorbs such costs, and MS based computer mostly does not have such leeway. People expect such computers to be cheap, and MS as shown a lack of willingness to lower prices to reflect that need, preferring the OEMs to bear the brunt. A universal power supply is going to be expensive. If people are going to use it everywhere, then it must be able to meet a range of power requirements, otherwise people are going to fry their laptops. While this is not a severe technical issue, just include some circuitry in the laptop and a communication channel to the power supply, it will add costs to the laptop and power supply.

    Right now Apple can charge more per watt for an power brick than most others, so they can supply a descent power brick. Also, for equal performance, the power brick has to supply less power, so the brick is actually cheaper than most others. A universal brick will cost more. Unless we get away from MS, which wants $90 for OEM retail Windows 7 Home, for a computer that costs $100 to build, I doubt we will be spending a great deal of money improving the brick.

    But all this might be moot. The UBS port seems to working as they de facto standard for any device that requires less than 15W of power. Give the direction of the market, we may see more of these devices, and manufacturers that do not charge over USB will be identified as outliers.

  • Re:good. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by GNUALMAFUERTE (697061) <.almafuerte. .at. .gmail.com.> on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @01:14PM (#32813320)

    Every single thing you just said is absolutely correct.

    I must say, that when you said "Probably no one has this on their must-have!!1! list." regarding eSATA, you are half wrong. I do agree that most users don't, but I fucking love eSATA.

    SATA is fucking great, and it solved all the stupid issues that IDE caused, while allowing me to build modest servers with consumer-grade very cheap disks (I would have never put an IDE drive on a server, SCSI all the way, but SATA is nice enough. Throw a software raid in the deal, and you have a cheap server that works just fine). Now, eSATA is paradise because it allowed me to trash all my desktops and use only my laptop. I can connect any disk natively to my laptop, now, how amazing is that? Yes, I know USB isn't that much slower than SATA, but it is noticeable. But that's not the most important thing: you are not connecting your disk natively. That means you lose some very important functions, like debug messages, sleep modes, and more importantly, SMART.

    I usually connect ~10 different HDs to my machine every week. eSATA is the best thing ever.

    Leaving that aside, connector compatibility and standardization is a must. Apple has always been one of the worst offenders regarding compatibility, and they will continue to be incompatible because they want to be "different".

  • Re:Well... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Moridineas (213502) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @01:44PM (#32813876) Journal

    Indeed. But from my experience, there are times when life might be easier without it. Yes, it does prevent breaking things if you yank too hard on the cable, and that's cool. But unless it (and the socket) is quite new, it doesn't always make a good connection. And as time goes by, the magnetism loses some of its mojo and the plug develops an annoying tendency to fall off the computer if you so much as look at it sideways.

    I've had the exact opposite experience. I have a going on 3.5 year old MBP and the Magsafe works perfectly. Have not had any falling out problems, any loss of magnetism, etc.

    On balance, I think I preferred the physical plugs Apple used with their iBooks.

    and I HATED that connector. I had a Powerbook I used for just about 3 years. I would have kept using it except I went through a power cord a year. The connector being round spun around and caused shorts in the wire. The first power cord I had literally sparked and caught on fire with it just sitting on my desk! (that one was replaced for free). The rest of the laptop still works fine but I have to position the power cord juuuuust so, to get any power at all. As a result of it constantly losing electrical input, I also had to go through two batteries in 3 years.

  • Re:good. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Randle_Revar (229304) <kelly.clowers@gmail.com> on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @05:39PM (#32817930) Homepage Journal

    Displayport has more video and audio bandwidth and much more aux data bandwidth.
    As a VESA standard, it is royalty-free.
    It relates much more closely to how modern digital displays are driven, allowing "Direct Drive Displays" and eliminating certain complexities in encoding/decoding DVI/HDMI.
    eDP is replacing LVDS internally in notebooks, and iDP may replace LVDS in smaller devices, these share silicon with standard DP.

    A lot of good detailed info here (start on page 16):
    http://www.displayport.org/cms/sites/default/files/downloads/DisplayPort_Technical_Overview.pdf [displayport.org]
    obviously from VESA so it has some marketing stuff, but the technical details are right. They do omit the ability of HDMI 1.4 to run 100 Mb Ethernet, and HDMI's support of more color profiles.

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