Top Ten Reasons Not To Buy A Fake MacBook Charger. Number Eight Will Shock You.

Yesterday, Apple showed the world how courageous they are by abandoning their entire PC market. It’s not time for a eulogy quite yet, but needless to say, Apple hardware was great, and the charger was even better. It had Magsafe, and didn’t start fires. What more could you ask for?

When it comes to fake MacBook chargers, you can ask for a lot more. [Ken Shirriff] has torn apart a number of these chargers, and his investigations allowed for an obvious pun in this post. The fake ones will make sparks thanks to the cost-saving design, and shouldn’t be used by anyone.

A genuine Apple MacBook charger is a phenomenal piece of engineering, but the fake one is not. In fact, it’s almost the simplest possible AC to DC converter. The mains power comes in, it’s chopped up into pulses, and these pulses are turned into a high-current, low-voltage output in a flyback transformer. This output is converted into DC with a few diodes, filtered, and wired into a MagSafe adapter.

The genuine MacBook charger is much more complicated. Like the cheap copy, it’s a switching power supply, but has a few features that make it much better. The genuine charger does power factor correction, uses quality caps, has real isolation on the PCB, and uses a microcontroller that’s almost as powerful (and a direct architectural descendant) as the CPU in the original Macintosh. It’s this microcontroller that kept you safe that one time you decided to lick a Magsafe connector not allowing the full 20 Volts to go through until the connector has connected. Until then, the Magsafe connector only outputs 0.6 Volts. The fake charger doesn’t do this, and when you poke the connector with a paper clip, sparks fly.

This isn’t [Ken]’s first teardown of genuine and not Apple products. He’s done iPad chargers, iPhone chargers, and other small, square, white switching power supplies. The takeaway from these teardowns is that cheap chargers are a false economy, and you probably should pony up the cash for the real version.

91 thoughts on “Top Ten Reasons Not To Buy A Fake MacBook Charger. Number Eight Will Shock You.

    1. I enjoyed the clickbait-parody headline, but that intro makes me reconsider the intention.
      This is not an article about the computer market, and it’s not even like the annual iPhone media events are typically also computer hardware refresh events. It just comes off as sounding like the author is disappointed to not see the new shiny thing.

      All that said, I love [Ken]’s teardowns, and enjoyed the rest of this writeup. Just maybe not the intro.

        1. Oh. Meh.

          Apple prices are always inflated… and have been for a very long time. You get the same hardware for roughly half the cost if you’re willing to put up with Windows — or if you install a Linux distro on top, in which case you get the pretty looks as well. Is it a /real/ Mac? No. But is it still just as good? Heck yes. Some will even tell you it’s /better/. (They might be right, too… ;) )

          By the way, the “one for the price of two” deal I mention above, really only applies to their computer hardware. For other things, it’s a more stark contrast even than that. You can get a 2nd gen iPod Shuffle clone from eBay for a buck fitty (or less!) now… search for “mini clip mp3 player” ;) Sure, you have to wait for it to come from HK, the /slow/ way (or fork over an extra $2 or so for ePacket, in which case it’s about two weeks), and it doesn’t have a shuffle mode or voiceover features, but if you’ve got a sixteen gig MicroSD card around you’ve got eight Shuffles’ worth of storage in one vaguely similar player.

          Being the wacky sort of person I am, I buy those players, and I take them apart to see what makes ’em tick. Some (these –> http://www.ebay.com/itm/322074283597) have an untraceable 16-pin SOIC as their only chip. It’s untraceable because the only label on it is the JLAudio logo (…?!) and a serial number or lot code. That said, the “blue” ones are a beautiful aquamarine (the aqua/white two-tone reminds me of a Nash Metropolitan… same color scheme ;) ) and the metal parts are powdercoated. They even bother with metal domes inside — which typically (or so I hear) outlast standard tact switches. Don’t drop it in a drink and don’t run it over and it’ll last for quite a while… not much to break. Oh — and because they have a USB port on ’em, you don’t need a separate reader, /and/ you can listen while charging. Do that last one with a stock /real/ Shuffle, I dare ya ;)

          1. 1998 called they want your knowledge of apple back. The MAC PRO is actually cheaper than the equivalent PC. Same for the macbooks.

            Yet it does not stop kids like you trying to compare a $2000 MBP with the $299 HP crap at walmart. They are not anything comparable. Compare a Dell or HP enterprise class workstation…. like My dell precision mobile laptop it was the same price as an equivalent MBP.

          2. @timothy gray macbooks pro are subject to severe thermal throttling of the cpu, in effect even though it might be the same cpu a mac cpu will only be running at 60-70% , linus has a great video showing how dumping your macbook in a bucket of water will almost double its performance.

        2. They didn’t push back anything. Nothing was announced or planned. Only the rumor sites said they were going to announce them, and as of mid-August, even the rumors said they wouldn’t be announced at this event, but another event sometime in late October.

          As someone who uses a Mac as his main day-to-day, I’ve pushed my 2010 MacBook Pro to its utter limit, and have been holding off the upgrade until the new machines are released.

          I feel your pain though on the RAM and storage. Pretty annoyed these are not user-upgradable anymore; it’s just a bunch of soldered-on, glued-in, proprietary-screwed junk. If only Windows 10 wasn’t so terrible, had reasonable hidpi support, and PC hardware had decent trackpads and build-quality…

          1. PCs have better build quality. Macs are perfectly average in terms of reliability and build, and the compromises necessary for the unibody construction mean they’re in some ways better and some ways worse.

            Of course Macs are stellar if you compare to the bottom tier HPs and Acers that are made to be throwaway business machines across the entire lineup. Three years and out the window is all they ever need to go, with on-site replacement for the dodgy units.

            Sony, Asus, are better than Macs and mostly cheaper, while Dell comes equal in both quality and price – i.e. overpriced and mediocre.

          2. @Dax The Powerbook G4 I use is getting on 10 years now and it’s just as good as the day I got it. Compared to my desktop, no, it’s trash. But to other contemporary laptops, it’s (imo) leagues above them in keyboard and trackpad quality. THAT BEING SAID, I dislike the current ‘chicklet’ style keyboards that are all for slimness or the trackpads with no freaking buttons on them, but those are not specific to Macs. The newer Windows laptops that have similar specs to the Macs go for roughly the same price, and if you want a dedicated GPU, they’re even more spendy.

          3. @The48thRonin At the time of your G4, IBM were still making ThinkPads, or at the latest – Lenovo were still using IBM designs. So better keyboards for one.

            Currently, the most comfortable laptops to use are high-end Dell Latitudes. Better keyboards and trackpads than Apple, Lenovo, HP, etc – well made batteries, decent screens and they’re super solid. Standard Intel components also mean they’re not a tragedy on Linux, either.

  1. “It’s this microcontroller that kept you safe that one time you decided to lick a Magsafe connector not allowing the full 20 Volts to go through until the connector has connected.”

    So if you’re no a moron the cheap copy is safe?

      1. The magsafe connectors i would think are more prone to baby tongues short-circuit or against a metal object(Aluminum edge of a macbook air?) in your bag then say a barrel connector would.

      2. There is no maybe here.
        Personally I chewed on a power cord plug (standard 2 prong ‘radio’ type) when I was ~8. Its designed to he safe, contacts are recessed, still saliva closed the loop and everything went blue for a few minutes :/

    1. The cheap copy is bad, even if you’re no [sic] a moron. They ignore creepage/clearance distances, so if there’s condensation or a bit of loose solder inside the charger, it could expose you to the full primary voltage and kill you. The live Magsafe connector is a danger not just if you lick it, but if you have any metal objects on your desk that it could come in contact with. The output power has lots of noise, which isn’t good for your computer. (This is more noticeable with phone chargers, where your touchscreen will go haywire when plugged into a bad charger.) You probably don’t get the rated output power, so charging will be slower.

      On the other hand, the genuine charger has a few issues too. First, for some reason Apple can’t make durable power cord. Second, it’s very expensive for what you get. Third, despite (or maybe because of) the complexity, it’s not as reliable as you’d expect.

      1. Well said.

        Go into offices where everyone is issued a macbook and you’ll see these chargers hanging around like dirty socks. They get piled up, pushed in corners, fall behind desks. There’s a lot of loose metal in the world and the laissez faire treatment of things hooked to mains electricity means they need to be designed to be safe as such.

      2. At 90€ the replacement unit, I perfectly see why the power cord is not durable… not working unit would have to be replace under warranty, a teardown cable they can say that you did not take good care of it…
        My girlfirend is already at the third charger in 3-4 years. Meanwhile any other charger do as good and doesn’t need to be replace every year!

  2. Those looking for something lighter than Apple’s chunky brick might want to look at this well-engineering item:

    http://finsix.com/dart/

    I have talked with the deveopers. The lightness comes from switching high up in the HF spectrum. It really is ridiculous that a laptop as light as the MacBook Air ships with such a bulky charger. It’s a bit like attaching a concrete block to an expensive racing bike.

    And I agree with your suggestion that courage had nothing to do with Apple dropping the headphone jack. I attribute that to a blend of stupidity and greed.

    1. Does no one remember the first iphone? You had to buy an adapter to make most headphones plug into it until the industry caught up and offered new headphones with thinner plug bodies. Those phones still sold like hotcakes…

      1. The industry then could make such headphones because it was still a regular analog jack, whereas the wireless version is proprietary to apple and the others can’t make a compatible product without begging Apple to let them – which of course costs them money.

        Likewise, the problem with the first iphone was that listening to music on your phone wasn’t such a thing back then. All the MP3 players had 3.5 mm jacks, so Apple changed the jack so that ubiquitous 3rd party accessories wouldn’t fit and the people who bought iPhones would have to buy accessories from Apple.

        The phones “sold like hotcakes” (nor really) despite not having any apps to start with (no appstore until years later) largely because of the cult of Jobs and the status symbol value. The original iPhone was actually a step back, but it was marketed so loudly that it seemed like a revolution.

    2. I wouldn’t call it stupid. I`d call it bold. Risky, perhaps. I can agree with greed but never stupid.

      When the first iMac shipped it was without floppy (I thought it was a mistake at the time and I was proven wrong.) Remember that it came with a CD-ROM, an Ethernet connection and a few USB ports. The only way you could get information out of it was via network or an auxiliary device (like a floppy drive tethered which you had to buy. Hence, the greed part.) Besides the USB ports, it had no other serial or SCSI ports. It was bold but they were betting heavily on USB and networking.

      Today, they are betting on wireless. Heavily. So much that they are willing to bet that the market will not care if they remove the 3.5 mm jack. At least, not enough that they don’t buy the phone or its new accessories. (Greed once again.) But they are moving forward as they did when the first iMac came out.

      Whether it is boldness or greed, they sure are taking a risk and pushing forward. I would never call that stupid. The market will tell.

        1. Yes, but you couldn’t write on a CD back when the iMac came out, so they were perfectly aware that the consumer would -have- to buy the external diskette drive anyways. In 1998 the first USB thumbdrives were still two years away from the market, and they wouldn’t become actually useful until USB 2.0 which the original iMac didn’t have.

          So it wasn’t better then, it was not “pushing forwards”, it was pushing backwards in a deliberate solution of leaving something out to sell it back in later.

          Apple hasn’t been about appealing to the wider market audience since Jobs got fired and returned. After that they’ve always targeted a very specific audience they know will buy their products regardless of their shortcomings.

          1. I received an IBM “DiskOnKey” before they were sold. My mom got it at a tech conference back in late 1999. The thing was only 8MB, but I don’t remember ever having a problem with it not being USB 2.0

            It was still faster, more reliable, and had 6 times the storage of a floppy disk. I remember telling my friends that flash storage tech would one day replace HDDs and getting laughed at. (Who’s laughing now!)

            That said, it was still 2 years after the iMac, and I don’t know how much they cost back then.

        2. SCSI was way faster than USB 1.0 but OSes and games were already shipping on CDs so the lack of a floppy was not big deal.
          The iMac had a fairly fast CPU and decent GPU for the time as well which made the loss of high speed IO less of an issue esp since it was rectified later with the introduction of firewire.
          The latest macbook on the other hand has no redeeming qualities except for battery life.
          It has only one USB port that is also the Charging port ,the CPU and GPU are at best anemic parts slower than what you’d find in a $600 HP laptop and are even farther constrained by a poor thermal design.
          It’s almost as if they actually tried to make it terrible to sell more ipad pros.

      1. “Whether it is boldness or greed, they sure are taking a risk and pushing forward. I would never call that stupid. The market will tell.”

        It’s neither. It’s following the “one idiot is born every minute” rule – they know that there is a certain segment of the market that will buy the products based on image, status and marketing, somewhat regardless of what they sell and they are targeting exactly that. They’ve carved out a specific niche and they stick to it.

    3. > Those looking for something lighter than Apple’s chunky brick might want to look at this well-engineering item

      With 3-D printed plastic on the AC mains side? This does not inspire confidence.

        1. Actually they do. Manufacturing makes a big difference in the material properties of an item.
          Additive manufacturing such as plastic deposition or powder sintering leaves distributed air gaps throughout the structure of the material which radically alter its electrical and sometimes thermal performance. This is why Iron Cores for transformers specify if they were made by sintering or not.

          Also, additive manufacturing typically leaves the finished product with low resistance to twist and sheer forces along certain directions based on how the part was aligned when built. For instance, it is extremely difficult to tap or thread 3D printed plastics because the forces involved will delaminate them.

          1. all correct, but in the application shown does that actually matter? it is a blocking plate on a plug, the voltage breakdown and all of the electrical properties havent changed dramatically.

            i own a 3d printer so i can follow your logic but the same is true of any other fabrication method, the strength of injection molded parts is heavily depended on quite a few factors as well, that doesnt prevent us from using it.
            milled metal parts can also harden unevenly if you machine it too aggressively.

            point is, yes 3d printing has pro’s and con’s like any manufacturing method, but what makes it categorically unusable as implied by the OP?

    4. Oh look, all those credit card readers that plug into the 3.5mm jack don’t work with the iPhone 7. Guess business iPhoners will just have to insist their customers pay with Apple Pay, with iPhones.

  3. It’s too bad Apple’s 2-prong charger still raises the chassis of a macbook to more than 50 volts AC relative to ground, with enough leakage current (40 microamps) to be really annoying, if not actually dangerous. It would fail certification if it were a medical device.

    Ground the chassis through a 3-prong cord, or through other peripherals and you’re fine, but run it without grounding and it’s a persistent low-grade shock. Not the sort of tingling experience Apple had in mind, I think.

    1. The tingle is not pleasant but safe.

      There are LOTs of things that would fail as medical devices – most laser printers are one.
      Medical device ratings are for a very specific reason.

      1. The medical device 10 microamp leakage current limit is a pretty generic one. It’s pretty much at the “barely perceptible” point, and safe under any circumstances. It’s one that should be for all products that plug in the wall, but it’s in conflict with cost and low-EMI requirements.

        But Apple deliberately designed this charger with a higher leakage current. Either they were lazy and cut corners, or deliberately chose to meet a different design goal (and damn the consumer), or are ignorant and incompetent. To expose the user routinely to that leakage current is annoying and unnecessary, and IMHO, abusive to the user. There are several ways Apple could have mitigated the issue, but they apparently deliberately did not.

        Or maybe we’re just “holding it wrong”…

        1. The leakage current also stresses other devices that aren’t engineered to withstand it, such as connecting the laptop to a stereo system. The current flows through the headphone jack to the other device and exits through its ground, which causes noise issues.

          Of course Apple then sells its own proprietary speakers that are similiarily floating off the ground and the customers go “Wow, this sounds so much better, they really know what they’re doing.”

          Indeed.

      1. I’m not USA-ian, but AFAIK, the US electrical code strictly distinguishes live & neutral, and enforces it at the plug/receptacle with a polarized plug, unlike most EU plugs.

        If your charger has an earthing pin, there is no issue: the leakage current is carried by that pin and keeps the chassis at earth potential. The 120V charger ships with a 2-pin adapter and a 3-pin (grounded) cord. With the 2-pin adapter, there is no ground path, and the load side of the power supply and the computer attached to it float at up to the average voltage between the two input power pins (50+V for a 120V supply).

        If your computer is plugged into virtually anything else, that other device provides the ground path (with the notable exception of an ethernet cable, which is explicitly floating by design).

        If your computer chassis is not grounded by an earthing pin or other device then you, the user, provides a ground path. Since the current is AC, it passes through the insulating anodized surface of the Mac, and induces a current in your fingers or palms or wrists even if you are not actually touching a real ground-potential object: the capacitive coupling is sufficient to allow a significant, perceptible and annoying tingle.

  4. There’s a fair bit of Apple bashing and in some card rightly so but I was an apple basher many years ago and an avid supporter of the MS way, worked in the pc industry and had many machines at home until one day my wife at the time ( a graphics designer) upgraded her Mac and I set it up for her I was so impressed with it I changed sides almost overnight.

    I use computers extensively and I just want the computer to WORK when I turn it on. I don’t want to reinstall drivers everything I move my mouse or recompile the kernel to check my email.

    If I want to fiddle with that I play with my raspberry pi or esp8266 or whatever microvontroler I’m playing with this week.

    My macs are 6 years old and don’t give me any grief which is what I want on a day to day basis. Yep jobs was an arsehole and Tim Cook is whatever and yep I paid a premium price But i turn my Mac on and it’s not going to tell me to restart because the time changed.

    1. This is why I like Mac OS. It puts the *user* (and by extension, the user’s workflow) first. Even modal dialogs that need your attention wait in the background until you’re ready. (They bounce… which is a little annoying, but at least they don’t steal your entire focus.)

      Windows puts the system and the background processes first, and that’s why it’s such a pain. “Ding! Upgrade KB4012442 is required immediately and your computer is automatically restarting! Didn’t save? Tough sh*t.”. Where’d your work go? Oh, a background installer needed you to UAC approve this update so we’re covering your screen until it’s done.” “Ding! Some stupid javascript popup needs to tell you something! It gets focus RIGHT NOW!”

      Linux is… a mixed bag. There are parts of it that are outstanding. I’m very happy with all of my Linux machines, but the 3rd party support is just not there. I can’t use 30% of my daily applications (and the FOSS ones are not quite good enough to be reasonable replacements).

      Linux gets server and media centre duty. Macs for work. Windows for… dual booting occasionally to play Overwatch.

      1. Windows won’t reboot automatically if you change one setting in Windows update. Windows 10 never reboots, it waits for you to shutdown or reboot your PC. UAC messages don’t lock up your computer – you can always [Alt]+[Tab]. And other systems ask for your permission or password when you want to install new program. And besides, is it so hard to do one click, especially when you wanted to install that program? And the only pop-ups related to Javascript I get when surfing net, and AdBlock doesn’t have them in its database.

        I never used anything made by Apple, I won’t use anything made by Apple. And I have two legitimate reasons:
        1. Most of their stuff is overhyped and expensive, especially when compared to competitors.
        2. Anything proprietary is evil, wrong, stupid and leaves one with ton of incompatible junk. And in Apple ecosystem many things are proprietary. If it is proprietary, it’s a piece of junk. Or it will be in few years.

          1. Okay, I checked it again. There is setting for “active hours” of computer usage, default setting is 8AM-5PM. at that time computer won’t reboot at all. For other times Windows checks if you are using your computer (ie. fondling gently your mouse). So just change those settings so it won’t reboot during your performance. It never rebooted on me because when I’m using my computer, I’m doing it constantly without long breaks.
            As to the UAC thing, it locks out the screen, but for me it only asks for permission when I’m installing something. So it’s not really an issue…

      2. Windows is better for multitasking. The mac os “the desktop is the program” paradigm is obtuse compared to the “the window is the program” paradigm of windows when it comes to handling multiple data and multiple tasks simultaneously. The task switchers in the macs are just unnecessary kludges bolted on top and it gets confusing really fast.

        And lest we forget how it -was- : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GdL4Ol6KLM0

        1. You ARE kidding? I can scroll a window belonging to other than the foreground app without shifting focus. Dialog boxes don’t wrench focus across to another app when they pop up. More screen space is available to content. I get multiple virtual desktops out of the box. Windows is a clunky mess in comparison.

          1. I recently upgraded a Macbook Air from 10.7 to 10.11. On the Store window to download the upgrade, there was no scroll bar. I could find no way to scroll down to get to the button to click to have it go ahead and get with it – until I plugged a mouse into a USB port. Mouse in, scroll bar appears and *then* it would work properly. Every window with content larger than the window should automatically have scroll bars, or be resizable to be able to see all the content.

            Fortunately the owner of that Air likes 10.11

    1. From my experience a Linux install is now less painful than a Windows install.
      My laptop actually runs better under Linux then it does under Windows though it only has a semi crappy Intel HD graphics chip but it is well documented so it works out of the box.
      If not for games and a few specialized applications I could say goodbye to windows forever.

  5. I run Mac OS… On a generic Gigabyte motherboard with an Intel quad core 3.5 GHz i7 and 32 GB RAM. I’ll never buy Apple hardware again, so long as I can build a Hackintosh. It was FAR cheaper for me to build with generic PC hardware than to pay Apple’s over inflated prices.

    Just means I don’t have ANY Apple power bricks around.

  6. This comment from Ken’s blog sums up my thoughts:
    “Andrew Rodland said…Maybe if they hadn’t created such a silly connector design, it wouldn’t take $50 worth of electronics to prevent common household objects from shorting it out.”

    Although fanboys like Ken would never compare Apple products to anything but the cheapest alternatives.

    How does an AUTHENTIC $80 charger compare to a brand name $60 charger instead of a no-name $15 charger from BANG-GOOD?

    This comparison is similar to those botched plastic surgery videos. You’re not surprised if a $79 nose job done in the back of a box van looks bad. You just want to see HOW bad.

    1. Says someone who has never used one. The next time you nudge your power cable and risk dragging your laptop off the table you’ll understand why that type of connection is used.
      Having decided that it’s a good idea, the concept is patented so you’d be pushed to find a brand name manufacturer who would be prepared to put their name to one and get sued.

      1. I’ve never found it useful because I don’t use my laptop as a desktop and since my laptop has good battery life, it’s only plugged in when I’m sleeping.

        While at my desk, I use a desktop PC which has better performance, better ergonomics, larger screen and is significantly cheaper than any Apple laptop.

        Although I don’t look as cool when sitting in a coffee shop pretending to read Russian poetry with all my Apple fanboy Lumbersexual freinds…. so you got me there.

        The shitty connector design appears to be an aesthetic stopgap. It simply allows fanboys to use their expensive battery powered device which must always be plugged in…. and look-at-me magnets.

        1. Well, given that the average battery life for a Mac has pretty much always been industry-leading…

          I have a Thinkpad. I use it on my desk. But because ergonomics, I use it on a stand and my Bluetooth keyboard and mouse do a much better job that awkwardly angling my hands. And I have TWO screens, the big one and the little one, while being way more power efficient (electricity is expensive) and way quieter than my Desktop PC, which I only use for heavy lifting jobs because why do I need 8 cores, 32GB ram or a dedicated graphics card for watching cat videos?

          1. “Industry leading” compared to real battery powered laptop, one capable of watching a full days worth of cat videos?
            …or “industry leading” compared to desktop gaming PCs crammed into a restaurant menu form factor?

            At what point will people admit their devices are too capable for the current state of technology and should only be considered “semi-portable”? …in which case, yeah, I guess that’s why you need to spend more.

  7. Yeah Magsafe is a cool design, but of all the laptops I have ever had – I have NEVER tripped over the charger or snapped the side off. The Magsafe is an idiot tax.

    Also – I do love mac fanboys who cry to high heavens that their gear is the best because they paid more. Sunken Cost Fallacy.

  8. How to find an Apple user, don’t worry they’ll tell you first. “…well I was using my ‘iPhone’ when X happened.” No one cares you have X device – it’s not part of the story, unless your story was how you were holding it wrong and lost network connectivity.

  9. My circa 2008 MPC TransPort T2500 (same as a Samsung X65) is still better in many ways than many of the latest laptops. Runs Windows 10 quite nicely. The only thing that took some digging to find was a Memory Stick driver for the Ricoh multi card reader. Microsoft stopped including support for some* Memory Stick readers in Windows 7, but has support built in for all the SD varieties, MMC, XD and even that ancient Smart Media. (XD is really just compactified Smart Media and available in capacities higher than 128 meg.)

    *Every laptop I’ve put 7 or later on, that didn’t originally ship with 7 or later, that has a Memory Stick slot, I’ve had to search high and low for a Memory Stick driver. On desktops it’s not been a problem.

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