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.

Pokémon Center Charging Station

If you watch Pokémon Go enthusiasts, you may have noticed something of a community spirit among gamers congregating at busy in-game locations. [Spencer Kern] wanted to encourage this, so produced what he describes as a water cooler for Pokémon Go players, a Pokémon-styled charging station with multiple USB ports.

His build centres on a Yeti 400 solar power pack and a large multi-port USB hub, for which he has built a detailed wooden housing in the style of a Pokémon Center from the earlier Nintendo games. The idea is that gamers will congregate and plug in their phones to charge, thus bringing together a real-world social aspect to the game. We can see the attraction to gamers, however we suspect most Hackaday readers would join us in not trusting a strange USB socket and using only a USB cable not equipped with data conductors.

pokemon-center-usersStill, the housing has seen some careful design and attention to detail in its construction. He started with a 3D CAD model from which he created a set of 2D templates to print on paper and from which to cut the wood. As many of his dimensions as possible were taken from common wood stock to save machining time, and the structure was assembled using wood glue before being sanded and filled. Finally, the intricate parts such as the Pokémon logo were 3D printed, and spray painted. The result is a pretty good real-world replica of the Pokémon Center that you’d recognise if you were a player of the original games, and he reports it was a hit with gamers in his local park.

We’ve covered quite a few Pokémon Go hacks recently, but many of them have had a less physical and more virtual basis. We did see a real-world Pokémon-catching Pokéball though, and of course there was also the automated Pokémon egg incubator.

Thanks [Genki] for the tip.

Smartphone Hack For Adding Magnet Power Dock

Here’s a neat hack for making a magnetic charging mount for a cell phone. We know what you’re thinking, but this is definitely not a traditional contactless charging system. Those use magnets but in a different way. This hack involves putting a couple of magnets onto the case of the cell phone, and a couple more on a charging base. You then wire these magnets into the power inputs of the USB port, and a USB cable onto the base, so putting the phone on the base magnets completes the circuit. The magnets themselves become the charging contacts.

It’s a neat idea, but makes us wonder what this will do to the compass sensor in your phone or your credit cards if they are nearby. With these caveats, it is a neat hack, and could be easily adapted. Want to make a vertical cell phone mount, or a way to attach (and charge) your cell phone to the fridge? This can be easily adapted for that.

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Ode to the TL431, and a LiFePO4 Battery Charger

Nerd Ralph loves cheap and dirty hacks, and for that we applaud him. His latest endeavor is a LiFePO4 battery charger that he made out of parts he had on hand for under $0.50 US. (Although we think he really made it for the fun of making it.)

The circuit is centered around a TL431 programmable shunt regulator, which is an awesome and underrated chip in its own right. If you don’t know the TL431 (aka LM431), you owe it to yourself to fetch the datasheet and pick up a couple with your next electronics part order. In fact, it’s such a great chip, we can’t resist telling you about it for a minute.

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Thorough Macbook Charger Teardown Reveals Some Complex Circuitry

Apple has a reputation in the tech world as being overpriced, and nowhere is that perception more common than in the Hackaday comments. The standard argument, of course, is that for a device with equivalent specs, Apple charges a lot more than its competitors. That argument is not without its flaws, especially when you consider factors other than simple specs like RAM and processor speed, and take into account materials used and build quality. But, as this teardown by [Ken Shirriff] shows, Apple’s attention to detail extends beyond simply machining Macbook bodies out of aluminum.

In his teardown, [Ken Shirriff] thoroughly investigates and describes all of the components and circuitry that go into the ubiquitous Macbook charger. Why does it cost $79? Other than the MagSafe connector, what makes it any better than the charger that came with your Toshiba Satellite in the ’90s? Isn’t it just a transformer to convert AC power to DC?


[Ken Shirriff] answers all of this and more, and you may be surprised by what he found. As it turns out, the Macbook charger isn’t just a transformer in a plastic case with a fancy magnetic connector. There is a lot of high-quality circuitry involved to make the power output as clean and stable as possible, and to avoid potential damage to your Macbook that could be caused by dirty power or voltage spikes. Does it justify the costs, even with so many reported failures? That’s for you to decide, but there is no questioning that Apple put more thought into their chargers than simply converting AC to DC.

DIY Phone Charger Born From Cyclone Disaster

As convenient as cell phones are, sometimes these power-hungry devices let us down right at the worst time. We’re talking about battery life and how short it is in modern cell phones. Sure that’s totally inconvenient sometimes but it could be way worse. For example: during a natural disaster. A cyclone hit [Ganesh’s] home city and the entire area had lost power for 10 days. He couldn’t plug in his phone to charge it even if he wanted to. After realizing how dependent we are on the electrical grid, he did something about and built a phone charger out of parts he had kicking around.

The charger is quite simple. The user cranks on a DC motor and the output power goes into a LM2596-based step-down voltage regulator. The output of the regulator is then connected to a female USB connector so that any USB cord can be plugged in. As long as the motor is cranked fast enough to put out at least 8vdc, a steady stream of 5v will be available at the USB connector. Max current output of the system has been measured at 550mA.

[Ganesh] admits this isn’t a practical every-day charger but in a pinch it will certainly do the trick. It is even possible to build a makeshift charger out of a cordless drill.

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PeriUSBoost: A DIY USB Battery Pack

If you travel often, use your mobile devices a lot, or run questionable ROMs on your phone, you likely have an external USB battery pack. These handy devices let you give a phone, tablet, or USB powered air humidifier (yes, those exist) some extra juice.

[Pedro]’s PeriUSBoost is a DIY phone charging solution. It’s a switching regulator that can boost battery voltages up to the 5 volt USB standard. This is accomplished using the LTC3426, a DC/DC converter with a built in switching element. The IC is a tiny SOT-23 package, and requires a few external passives work.

One interesting detail of USB charging is the resistor configuration on the USB data lines. These tell the device how much current can be drawn from the charger. For this device, the resistors are chosen to set the charge current to 0.5 A.

While a 0.5 A charge current isn’t exactly fast, it does allow for charging off AA batteries. [Pedro]’s testing resulted in a fully charged phone off of two AA batteries, but they did get a bit toasty while powering the device. It might not be the best device to stick in your pocket, but it gets the job done.