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Portables Power Hardware

Working Toward a Universal Power Brick For Laptops 365

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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  • good. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by B5_geek ( 638928 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @11:31AM (#32811636)

    Its about fracking time.

    Hey industry (Sony I am looking at you) repeat after me:

    Open standards help EVERYBODY!

  • by Z00L00K ( 682162 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @11:35AM (#32811700) Homepage

    The power supply is a good start. Just hope that they also can take a bite at the batteries which are incredibly expensive related to what they actually contain.

  • by jandrese ( 485 ) <> on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @11:36AM (#32811724) Homepage Journal
    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.

    Also, a standardized connector would let third parties come in and start making accessories and replacement bricks for a lot less than the highway robbery prices that the brand names charge.

    Also, while they're at it, why not spec out a standarized battery compartment? Not everybody has to use it, but if all "regular size" laptops did, that would be a huge win. A standardized modular bay connector would be nice too. Not to mention a standardized docking adapter. It's like laptop manufacturers stopped caring about standardization after PCMCIA/PC-Card/Expresscard and have been more than willing to custom engineer everything every time. It's really annoying and the standardization efforts are long long overdue.
  • Not for my laptop (Score:4, Insightful)

    by davebarnes ( 158106 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @11:37AM (#32811740)

    "a standard 3-pin "kettle cord" for incoming power."

    Not for my Apple MacBook.
    I understand the desire for a standard brick, but I do not want to give the magnetic connector on my MacBook.

  • If you're making a standard, why not settle on a voltage level and stick with it? Adding a knob is just asking for people to set it wrong and fry their laptop. If you absolutely must have multiple voltages for some reason, then design the brick such that it automatically chooses the correct one. Plus a knob is a moving part, and will break.
  • Re:Well... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Monkeedude1212 ( 1560403 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @11:40AM (#32811794) Journal

    Still, its not like Apple HAS to play along. Essentially if everyone else jumps on board, wouldn't it take away from Apple's value if its the ONLY laptop without the interchangable power brick?

    Who am I kidding, they'll tote it as an exclusive feature.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @11:40AM (#32811798)

    Those already exist, but you've completely missed the point. That's not a standard, that's one that can adjust to many standards. And if you handed one of those to someone and told them it was a standard laptop power supply that would work with any laptop, they'd probably do some pretty serious damage unless it happened to be set on the necessary settings for their current laptop.

  • by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @11:42AM (#32811822)

    Laptop makers have NO REASON to standardize.
    The ideal consumer product is shitcanned at point of purchase by a delighted customer (toilet paper comes to mind).

    Desktop PC form-factors made maintenance, part sourcing, and upgrading easy, but didn't help kill off old PCs.

    Notebook makers OTOH can count on the failure of key components such as batteries to render their products "beyond economical repair". Combine that with low prices and crap build quality, and you have the recipe for repeat sales. (Good to foster performance upgrades, not so good for economy and ease of maintenance.)

  • by LWATCDR ( 28044 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @11:43AM (#32811840) Homepage Journal

    That would really restrict innovation if they did that.
    And let's be honest they pretty much have standardized the parts you tend to upgrade the most.
    1. Ram.
    2. Hard drives.
    3. wifi cards.
    What else do you want standardized?

  • by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @12:05PM (#32812234)

    "That would really restrict innovation if they did that."

    Well-designed form factors did the opposite for desktops.

    The standard PC form-factors fostered component innovation because development could be devoted to specific components with the assurance that they would have a standard "home" and a large potential market.

    That FREED them to compete on performance, which reinforced the value of standard form factors, and is why you can select from any number of standard PC cases today.

  • Re:good. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Red_Chaos1 ( 95148 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @12:19PM (#32812518)

    USB3 is backward compatible with USB/USB2. USB failed to keep up with storage medium speeds, necessitating eSATA. USB was never intended to replace display connections.

    So nice try at painting USB as a failure, it really isn't. Thanks to USB you no longer have 2x PS2, 2x COM and 1x Parallel ports wasting space on your motherboard. Instead you have 6x USB, 2x Ethernet, and other smaller and much more useful ports to play with.

    But I'm sure someone could dig you up a motherboard that has all those clunky old ports on them, since clearly USB did nothing at all to help.

  • by Migraineman ( 632203 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @12:26PM (#32812646)
    Ugh, automotive power is nasteee. Nominally 14V, unless it's cold outside, at which point it'll be closer to 18V. The ignition system will dump spikes into the rail that regularly approach 30V. Anything connected to the automotive supply is supposed to handle long excursions to 36V, and short excursions to 72V.

    Beyond that, there usually isn't much "extra" power available for non-factory devices. I recently had the displeasure of installing an AC inverter into a Chevy Venture minivan. The alternator was groaning under the load, which was less than 400W. Had to keep a foot on the throttle to increase the idle speed or we'd discharge the battery. We had about 1kW of equipment, but could only run about half at any given time (the stock alternator is only rated for 90A at 12V.)
  • by Twinbee ( 767046 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @01:09PM (#32813246) Homepage

    There was an episode of the Simpsons called "Itchy and Scratchy Land", and from that episode, there was a map with an attraction named "Unnecessary Surgery Land".

    Hence I coined the phrase UWS or "Unnecessary Work Syndrome" for things exactly like this, where every manufacturer spends thousands or even millions of dollars to come up with their own special version of say... the power brick.

    I'm not sure if open source is appropriate all the time, but open standards are such a no-brainer, it hurts.

  • Re:Well... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by moonbender ( 547943 ) <> on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @01:21PM (#32813458)

    Off the top of my head: Filter the light to transform the difference in color into a difference in intensity. E.g. if you covered the orange/green light from the extension cord with an orange semi-transparent tape, the light would be bright when the laptop is charging and dim when it's not. Should work, right?

  • by darkmeridian ( 119044 ) <> on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @01:27PM (#32813582) Homepage

    Asus and Quanta make laptops for Dell, Compaq, Apple, and Sony. These OEMs basically make most of the laptop computers out there on the market today. When they get behind an initiative, it's a big step because they are the ones making all of the little laptops. Of course, Dell, Apple, etc. don't have to follow but it's a big step anyway.

  • Re:Well... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @01:42PM (#32813842) Homepage Journal

    Or use rubber prong locks like Sony Ericsson phones. Or velcro. :-D There are alternatives to magnets. The most important things in a standard design, IMHO, are:

    • High efficiency with low standby current. Must be able to supply significantly multiple voltages upon request, depending on whether the computer is charging or not.
    • No penetration. All contacts should be surface (pressure) contacts. As soon as you have a prong going into a hole, there's the possibility of damaging the machine by yanking it at an angle. The design should be such that if anything gets damaged, it is the cord.
    • Low breakaway force. The force to detach from any angle should be less than the inertial mass of the computer plus friction against a potentially slick surface like a glass table. (Translation: the connector must not be recessed significantly into the side of the machine.)
    • Sufficiently large connector to grasp easily while the computer is sitting on a desk. You should not feel the need to pull the cable by the wire because the connector body is too short to grasp easily.
    • Replaceable cord. Replacing an eighty dollar power supply because a two dollar piece of wire breaks or frays is idiotic. Put a plug on both ends. Problem solved.

    I disagree with your suggestion that the computer unplug itself when fully charged and turned off. Between the self discharge rate, the standby power fed to the logic board used for soft power, and the power used by the battery's management board, the battery drains slowly over time even when the machine is off. The exact rate varies. If you leave a battery for a year or two, it can get down to such a low voltage that the charge circuit will refuse to charge the cells, at which point your battery is a brick. (Been there, done that more than once.) The computer disables its own charge circuit when the battery is charged and reactivates it when the battery falls below a threshold level. There's no need to take away its ability to do so just to conserve a tiny amount of power.

    Besides, that shouldn't save a significant amount of power anyway if the adapter is designed correctly. You're talking about the difference between an occasional short trickle charge initiated by the machine and a longer trickle charge when the person plugs it back in later to top up the last few percent on the battery. If you really want to reduce the power load, push for rules about how much standby power the machine can draw while plugged in, thus making that moot.

  • by Bill_the_Engineer ( 772575 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @01:56PM (#32814104)
    I agree. I just think there's a long road ahead. More political than technical, but still..
  • by billstewart ( 78916 ) on Tuesday July 06, 2010 @05:10PM (#32817510) Journal

    I'm sure there's some technical reason that laptop makers keep increasing the voltages they use rather than increasing the available current at the old voltage - my current Dell wants 19. 5v, and my previous IBM wanted 20. But it really would be nice to have 12 volts again, so I could power the laptop from my car, or my portable car jump-starter battery, or from those 12-volt solar panels, as opposed to my current combination of 12Vdc-to-120Vac inverter and laptop power cord. You might want a surge protector in line, to avoid problems when you're starting you car, but you shouldn't need more than that.

    Anybody know if we can get back to 12 volts?

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.