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Portables Power Hardware

There Oughta Be a Standard: Laptop Power Supplies 482

Posted by timothy
from the watch-them-make-it-lefthanded-micro-usb-3 dept.
Esther Schindler writes "Every mobile device you own has its own power supply and its own proprietary plug. There oughta be a better way, says Alfred Poor. Fortunately, he reports, the IEEE is coming to the rescue. "Their Universal Power Adapter for Mobile Devices (UPAMD) Working Group is developing a new standard that will not just address the needs of laptops and tablets, but will be intended to work with just about any electronics device that required between 10 and 240 watts of power," Poor writes. It's about darned time." If there's one thing I wish for all laptop power supplies, it's that they would license from Apple (or work around, patent-wise) the magnet attachment system that makes cable-tripping far less dangerous to man or beast, compared to a few years ago.
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There Oughta Be a Standard: Laptop Power Supplies

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  • by frozentier (1542099) on Thursday June 23, 2011 @01:04PM (#36544372)
    Just hope it doesn't end up costing more than a proprietary power supply, especially since you'll most likely only be able to use it with one device at a time.
    • Re:cost (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Arlet (29997) on Thursday June 23, 2011 @01:06PM (#36544418)

      It should be cheaper. It opens the door for manufacturers to provide a laptop without a power supply, and opens a 3rd party market for separate power bricks at competitive prices.

      • by nedlohs (1335013)

        Assuming they don't do something stupid with the power negotiation communication implementation and make it require some stupid patent licenses or similar...

      • by c (8461)

        and opens a 3rd party market for separate power bricks at competitive prices.

        ... and gives Monster Cable yet another exorbitant gold plated widget that electronics sales drones can push on baffled consumers.

        • by dwillden (521345)
          No this would be more akin to cell phone chargers for cars. You can pay $50 bucks for the official charger at the phone store, or you can go to Target and pay $19.99 each for one or more that matches your phone model. Except now instead of the store having to stock 15 or 20 different chargers, they can offer a couple different ones from different manufacturers. Perhaps with different features. This one has a couple USB sockets to allow for direct charging of gadgets without the computer trying to access
        • Gold plated Monster power cables with LiquidMetal magnetic attachment point. I expect nothing less from Apple. It is rumored that iPhone 5 will have this.
      • by cdrguru (88047)

        I have heard of this standard and it requires a processor in the power supply and a substantial digital interface in the device it is powering. They handshake where the device says what kind of current and voltage is required and the power supply then responds with what is actually available. The device then must determine if that is suitable or not and if so tells the power supply to then supply power.

        It is a hugely complicated mechanism that is open to all sorts of failures, any of which result in no po

      • It should be cheaper. It opens the door for manufacturers to provide a laptop without a power supply, and opens a 3rd party market for separate power bricks at competitive prices.

        You think it would be better for companies to ship laptops without power supplies ? Are you the bastard responsible for deciding not to put an usb cable in the box with the printer ?

      • Since it is often the exact same contract manufacturer (Wistron, Foxconn, etc.) making different power supplies for different customers in different parts of the factory during different shifts, they would save on the hundreds of thousands of surplus units they must keep on hand. There is no "Apple factory" making the "Apple Power Cords", they are all made in Shenzhen. Practically everything today is made by a "third party" to begin with.
    • by SirGeek (120712)
      What about making induction powering standard instead ?
      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        So make every laptop more expensive and make them lose tons of power when you charge it? Sounds like a great solution.

    • by Kenja (541830)
      Why would a power supply supporting up to 240 watts even though your device only needs 10 cost more? Oh wait...
  • Mod summary up! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bennomatic (691188) on Thursday June 23, 2011 @01:07PM (#36544438) Homepage
    My wife used to knock over her iBook all the time. When we got a dog, it fell off the coffee table twice as often. We replaced it with a MacBook some time back, and it's only hit the ground once in like five years. With a kid having been added to the mix since then, that number would have been a lot worse without the magnetic plug.

    Of course, the kid has come pretty close to doing some other things. He went through a phase of being fascinated by watching water pour over different things.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 23, 2011 @01:16PM (#36544608)

      Your dog falls off your coffee table twice as often as your iBook? Why do you keep your dog on your coffee table? If he's that prone to falls you should keep him/her on the floor.

      • by arielCo (995647)
        He made an interesting choice, though - replaced the dog with a MacBook *and* a kid.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by poodlehat (919902)
      I've been on the mailing list for this working group for about a year now (I am an IEEE-SA member but you don't have to be to be on a WG), and one of the first things I brought up is my tendency to drop my electronics :) A bit more detail, the current thinking is that it will use CAN 2.0 for the link layer but the physical layer is still being hashed out. The device needs communication to negotiate between the power adapter and the device to be powered. The device and power supply will communicate things l
    • Re:Mod summary up! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Albanach (527650) on Thursday June 23, 2011 @01:27PM (#36544842) Homepage

      Why is there a patent on MagSafe? I had a deep fat fryer with a magnetic power cable in 2004. Apple's patent was filed on Christmas Day 2007.

    • by ByOhTek (1181381)

      Really it's a matter of the amount of force used to hold the plug in. It doesn't matter the source of the force. I well built connector (such as on my toshibas) will come out when the force exceeds that of the maximum weight of the cable pulling down on it, but is less than the friction force holding the item in place.

      My Toshiba does that just as well as a friends MacBook, without a proprietary magnetic connector.

  • While I fully support a standard connector, I hope they realize that this will increase the electricity consumption of these devices, along with increasing the price of each charger.

    With that being said, I significantly prefer convenience over efficiency, so I am looking forward to what they come up with.

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      While I fully support a standard connector, I hope they realize that this will increase the electricity consumption of these devices, along with increasing the price of each charger.

      When I measured my laptop's power consumption it was taking 25W at the wall; so turning off a light bulb would save more money.

      • by emj (15659)

        But butbutbut... I have no light bulb in my home that use more than 11W (but that's more than my laptop uses so I guess your point still stands.. :-)

    • by Osgeld (1900440)

      how does this increase consumption?

      if I take my 19 volt 4 amp power supply into one laptop that draws 2 amps, it still draws 2 amps

      • by jd2112 (1535857)

        how does this increase consumption?

        if I take my 19 volt 4 amp power supply into one laptop that draws 2 amps, it still draws 2 amps

        No, it draws something like 2.01 amps. Some environmentalists think the additional .01 amp draw is a big deal, despite that more polution would come from the design and manufacture of multiple power supplies each of which is ever so slightly more efficient.

    • by Ruke (857276)

      Why is that? Because a brick for a 10 watt device is going to have to be over-engineered to provide up to 130 watts? (The summary's "240" appears to be incorrect, based on the IEEE working group description.)

      • by j-beda (85386)

        That over-engineering might result in increased efficiency. When supplying 130 watts, waste heat from inefficiencies are more important than when supplying 30 watts, so a 130W supply might be designed to only have 5% inefficiencies, compared to the 30W supply that may be acceptable with a 10% inefficiency. Thus using the 130W supply for a device drawing only 20W may result in only 0.1W of wast compared to 2W of wast if using the 20W supply.

        But what do I know? Maybe power supplies waste a set amount of energ

    • by hedwards (940851)

      To be honest, this isn't like cell phones where standardizing around micro USB was enough. Laptops use different amounts of power and making it so that the same charger will work on a netbook as a desktop replacement is hardly a wise idea.

      There are certain things that can relatively easily be standardized, such as the polarity of the connector, but when it comes down to voltage and amperage, you're better off setting it up so that there's a small assortment of connectors available, and one combination of vo

    • Re:Lower efficiency (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Arlet (29997) on Thursday June 23, 2011 @01:22PM (#36544738)

      I could imagine that efficiency will improve. Right now, a laptop manufacturer that includes their own power brick has not much incentive to make it really efficient. It's easier just to make a bigger one with a cheaper design.

      With a standard connector, there will be 3rd party vendors that offer standard bricks, and some vendors will aim for the highest efficiency as a selling point.

    • At the cost of using more magnetic components it's perfectly possible to keep efficiency of the power supply constant over a larger range than is usual now (essentially just use multiple smaller power supplies in parallel and turn them off as necessary). So it wouldn't necessarily increase power consumption if it was designed to handle the wider range.

  • So we've only been waiting for this for over a decade, lets just hope it doesn't go the way of a bunch of the other "universal" standards that never get adopted.

    Also what kind of power bricks are we going to have if they have to handle 240w? I don't really want to carry around a 2lbs brink for my laptop that peaks at 20w of power usage.

    • It depends on the EU ... the only way this would get off the ground is with legislation on a large market. The only large market which still occasionally passes reasonable consumer legislation (getting worse every day, but something still occasionally slips through) is the EU.

    • by Arlet (29997)

      A standard connector and voltage, and a choice between a small number of different power levels would solve that.

      • by Skapare (16644)

        And that voltage needs to be one has a major source of batteries available as an auxiliary secondary power source. So make it be 12 volts to match all those car batteries out there. And it will work on my laptop instead of my brother's laptop :-)

    • by dwillden (521345)
      You realize that all laptop power supplies out there currently handle 120 to 240w already? That aspect is nothing new. You take your laptop overseas you only need a plug adapter. Not an expensive converter. The main thing this does is standardize the connector into the laptop, and build some circuitry to allow for differing power needs for different devices. But they can all already handle 240 just fine.
  • Also, that standard should license proprietary designs from a single company with money I conjure from thin air.

  • The magnetic connection would be nice, but only if they also specify proper cable strain relief. I've had a couple of those Apple power supply cables break open at that point.
    • If you got one in the last month or two, you'll notice that the cable connects in a different spot now, so it's far less susceptible to breaking off. Even before, it was much less troublesome than having the whole barrel connector snap off inside your Dell! Nothing like the nervous feeling of soldering on a laptop.

    • by jo_ham (604554)

      They did change it - it was still a weakness in the design, which was worse before when it was a physical plug. The new ones are much better.

  • POE should be the standard... and that will stop those sneaky bastards from obsoleting ethernet jacks from our new fancy tablets and notebook PCs.
    • by tom17 (659054)

      Even better is power over wifi!

    • by hedwards (940851)

      Do not want, the standard network jack was not designed to have the cable constantly being plugged and unplugged. When it comes to my laptops, I tend not to use the network jack very often, but the power cord has to be used at least once every several hours of computing.

      If we want to move to a POE standard, the jack would have to be a lot more durable than what it presently is.

  • or... (Score:2, Informative)

    by Taibhsear (1286214)

    If there's one thing I wish for all laptop power supplies, it's that they would license from Apple (or work around, patent-wise) the magnet attachment system that makes cable--tripping far less dangerous to man or beast,

    Or you could, you know, not put your power cable in an area that people walk through...

    • Or you could, you know, not put your power cable in an area that people walk through...

      One of my first jobs would have been way easier if someone had invented the magsafe connector. The company I worked for had laptops on carts for the nurses to be able to chart meds and other things automagically next to the patient bed. (Scan patient, scan drugs, give patient drugs, record updated with what, how much, and when.) We had ~10-12 instances of electricians being called to remove one prong of the plug from the wall socket because the nurses just walked off with the cart without unplugging the lap

    • Re:or... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by blueg3 (192743) on Thursday June 23, 2011 @01:47PM (#36545154)

      Yes. I too enjoy redesigning workspaces to meet the design limitations of gadgets.

    • Some people use their laptops at home. With kids. They could have the power cords up on the ceiling and the kids would still trip over them.

  • If there's one thing I wish for all laptop power supplies, it's that they would license from Apple (or work around, patent-wise) the magnet attachment system that makes cable--tripping far less dangerous to man or beast, compared to a few years ago.

    Also just wear and tear on the connector. I've seen laptops become unusable just because the power socket is stupidly designed and ends up getting loose. Even some sort of less-patented snap design or something would be better. Van der Waals force, I dunno. Hell, even just something that isn't a cylinder that goes over a small bendable pin, maybe something totally solid like the Apple one only it goes in further, that would be nice...

  • Please also standardize Batteries for these devices. Either that or I'd like them to have the ability to update the cells inside easily (non sealed)

  • by pz (113803)

    If there's one thing I wish for all laptop power supplies, it's that they would license from Apple (or work around, patent-wise) the magnet attachment system that makes cable--tripping far less dangerous to man or beast, compared to a few years ago.

    The connector is called MagSafe (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MagSafe).

    As someone with an EE background, what I've not understood with their design is how they compensate for a lack of wiping action on the contacts. Reliable contacts require wiping between the t

    • As someone with an EE background, what I've not understood with their design is how they compensate for a lack of wiping action on the contacts. Reliable contacts require wiping between the two surfaces to ensure low resistance; non-wiping contacts have inherently shorter lifetime. Exposed, non-wiping contacts would be expected to fail quite quickly.

      Sums it up nicely. Getting round problems like this requires great design. It's complicated, requires effort, and is worth paying for.

    • by goodmanj (234846)

      I think it's a combination of two things:
      1) the contacts look like they're gold-plated. Gold may be corrosion-resistant enough to not need wiping.
      2) It's a low voltage circuit, so arcing is less of a problem than with powerline AC contacts.

  • It's one thing to have a standard it's another thing to have companies actually use the standard! Look at USB power for phones, pretty much all modern phones can connect to a USB port and get power there and many even have USB plugs now but many (looking at you Apple) however still choose to force people to use their of proprietary connector. It's in many companies interest because they think they can make a buck from it.
    • many even have USB plugs now but many (looking at you Apple) however still choose to force people to use their of proprietary connector.

      Apple uses USB also. I don't really care as much what the connector to the phone looks like as long as I don't have to have some proprietary thing to attach to power...

  • by lennier1 (264730)

    It worked for headphones back in the day. Three different sizes, depending on the type of device.(2.5mm, 3.5mm, 6.36mm).

    Most companies already have an internal system like that anyway, where you have one size for normal laptops and a smaller one for low-power devices like netbooks.

  • magsafe fuckers (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Speare (84249) on Thursday June 23, 2011 @01:37PM (#36545000) Homepage Journal
    I really liked the MagSafe(tm) concept when Apple first came out with it, but Apple has been such a fucking prick about the damned things. They don't offer any significant range of options to use the plug, and they actively stymie all attempts of the marketplace to fill that void. Want a piggy-back battery to supply power to the laptop? Apple doesn't make one. Want to tie in with a docking station? Apple doesn't make one. At first, when asked about third party adoption of the plugs, they were "oh, well, I guess they'll start coming out any time now." Then it was "oh, well, guess nobody's trying to license them." Then when manufacturers tried to license them, they were refused. So one manufacturer decided to eat the waste and rely on the doctrine of First Sale. They BOUGHT Apple(tm) adapters, chopped off the white wallwart transformer, and soldered the MagSafe(tm) pigtail to their own battery packs, and they were still attacked by Apple's lawyers. WTF, Apple. People have varying needs to make use of your products. Step up to offer the solution, or get out of the way.
  • It can be round, like a barrel connector, or just rectangular and have the pins symmetrical. Like having several positive pins on the inside, and ground pins on the outside. Make communications pins bi-directional.

    USB should have done this. I'm always needing to plug in a USB connector under a table or somewhere it's too dark. Also, as I get older, my eyes don't focus close in as well as they used to. USB also shouldn't be the same width as an RJ45.
  • I get it, it is a clever idea and just about everyone who owns an apple laptop has to bring up how they would be willing to pay an extra $100 just for the magnet plug.

    I don't like it, I have tripped over cables and such but its no big deal, usually the cable pops right out. I have even had computers come to me that had the power socket almost ripped out from tripping stories. But it has never happened to me, what has happened to me is the constant unplugging of the magnetic plug when working on macs. Multip

  • Apparently leaving a typical wallwart in the plug when not charging anything still wastes power and heats it up. In fact I heard unused but plugged-in wallwarts are wasting many many times as much power as all the usage of them to recharge devices.

    It should be possible to detect that no device is plugged in and somehow disconnect so the power usage is zero. I'm sure the reason this is not done is because it may require a relay or other expensive bit of hardware. It might help if any kind of standard require

  • The problem is that each generation of Laptop/Tablet is getting thinner or adding a new shape. Sure the Think Pad design has changed only slightly over the last 15 or so years. But other models are shaped very differently. Just think of a MacBook Air with a battery sticking out of it, like it was one of those Hot Rod cars that have the exposed engine that shoots out flames.

  • by deadhammer (576762) on Thursday June 23, 2011 @02:24PM (#36545658)
    The IEEE will probably introduce a really good standard for power bricks that will be patent-free, universal and adaptable to different models and country power connector standards. This is exactly why electronics manufacturers won't adopt it. Think HP or Samsung doesn't like charging you $100 for a replacement charging adapter? You think that Dell doesn't just absolutely love it when they discontinue manufacturing on a particular laptop model and their once-device-only charge plugs become unavailable, forcing you to buy a new laptop if you ever want to see power again? The IEEE will draft the standard and release it to manufacturers, and the manufacturers will go "Whelp, that's really nice guys, but you see our laptops are speshul and wouldn't work with that standard, so no thank you."

The use of anthropomorphic terminology when dealing with computing systems is a symptom of professional immaturity. -- Edsger Dijkstra

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