Exposing Some Fake Electronics With Too-good-to-be-true Prices

[Giorgos Lazaridis] needed an AC adaptor for his Canon PowerShot camera. He hit eBay and was excited to find this branded adaptor for just five bucks! It works and, even though it would sometimes reboot his camera if the cord was twisted around in the jack, he was satisfied that it did what it was supposed to.

That is, until one day he observed some very peculiar behavior while taking pictures of a PIC circuit he was prototyping. When holding the camera and putting his other hand near the breadboard one of the status LEDs in his circuit began flashing sporadically. If he was using the camera with batteries instead of the adapter this didn’t happen.

His first instinct was to hook up the adapter to his oscilloscope and see what is happening on the power bus. The signal is incredibly noisy. Shockingly so. [Giorgos] cracked open the case to see what is going on with the power supply circuit inside. You simply must view the video after the break to see the horror-show he found. The board is poorly soldered, components are not properly seated in their footprints, and our favorite is when [Giorgos] points out a squiggly trace which takes the place of the smoothing inductors.

Have you documented your own fake electronic hardware finds? We’d love to hear about them.[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZDh8z9UDTo&w=470]

130 thoughts on “Exposing Some Fake Electronics With Too-good-to-be-true Prices

      1. After watching the video, I can assure you that the design is crap.

        – no AC input filter (you can see where it should go)
        – single switching transistor => low efficiency primary switch (that explains your spikes)
        – transistor based PWM circuit => crappy output voltage regulation compared to IC-based
        – No inductive filtering on secondary and only half-wave rectification

        Yeah, Quality Chinese Engineering at its best. If that were my camera, I’d cut off the DC power lead from this supply, throw the supply in the trash, and attach the connector to another, better designed supply, before this one destroyed my camera.

        The output on this supply is 3.15V at 2A. If you can find a similar sized and better designed supply at a slightly different output voltage, there’s a trick you can do involving changing the feedback voltage divider to get the supply to work at a different output voltage.

  1. …like I was doing it with my feet….still chuckling.

    Also, can I get a phonetic spelling of your name so I do not have to sound all of the letters in my head as I read it?


    1. “The soldering is generally goo–I could do better soldering blindfolded and holding the soldering iron with my feet.”

      Sarcasm for the win!

      I’ve bought several cheap laptop power supplies off Ebay, but I’ve never run into a problem like that. Maybe I’ve just been lucky. I’ll definitely be more careful from now on, though.

  2. Reminds me of a certain offbrand PSP charger, it’s like only 1oz in weight and yet they’re really common (I’ve seen them for sale in a lot of non-Gamestop game stores). I had one a friend gave me which broke after charging my PSP about 3 times. I ought to open it up and see just how cheap it is…

    1. I bought one of those because i needed 8V for a project.

      It was supposed to output something like 8.5V 5A, the first one simply died when i plugged it in, the store sent a replacement which i tested more thoroughly, it gave up completely at about 2.5A so it didn’t work for my project that needed 3A.

      Another supply was one bought by a guy i know for his HP laptop, after a while using it he had problems with the laptop stopping charging. He opened it up to see what was wrong, inside he found a small switching AC/DC and five pieces of sheet metal taped together to make it weigh like the real thing!.

  3. Hmmm all of those parts for only $4.99 … and it kinda works… whats the problem }:~) Having said that, I’ve opened up genuine branded goods that were just as badly made. Sadly everything is engineered to a price these days and that price is almost always cheap..

  4. I’ve purchased a bunch of these on amazon too. Some of them crapped out within 6 months but it was worth the cheap price considering OEM or a universal is well over $80. I expected them to be shoddy, but I’ve had good experiences…

    1. It would surprise me if that was a legitimate power supply sold by Canon. If anyone has a similar power adapter known to be from a legitimate source I’d like to see a comparison just for kicks.

    2. The UL file number on the back of the supply (E132244) (link to file) is a file for Tamura Corp. There is no way that Tamura would make something that badly. It may be a direct copy of a tamura design, probably right down to the PCB, but they have a lot higher quality control than that.

      1. It could very well be a result of that quality control. Many companies sell their QC FAIL by the ton to electronic recyclers who are “supposed” to strip them for their components. It is not uncommon for the less scrupulous (most) of them to sell “near misses”.

  5. One thing that puzzles me too is how easy he was able to open it up. In my experience, the OEM ones are a bitch to crack open. Maybe I’m not looking hard enough but once they’re open, rarely do I find any screws holding it together.

      1. Not always. It’s cheaper to weld them shut if you mass produce them in one go, there are still supplies made in smaller quantities per production run that use screws.

        Anyway, opening a welded adapter is really easy. All you need is a small hammer, a large sharpened screwdriver and some experience and you can open one in 20 seconds with minimal (but visible) marks to the plastic.

      2. My canon camcorder adapter that looks very similar overall is held together with torx security screws. I was gonna tear it apart for a comparison…. buuut no torx security bits on hand.

      1. I have tried that (using a vice) but that doesn’t work when the cases are too well put together.

        It also won’t work on most laptop supplies, the insides are so filled with electronics that you can’t squish them more than a couple of mm before you start crushing the components.

    1. Hardly. You get what you pay for. He paid for a $5 charger that works with his camera. Good luck getting a refund for something that works as designed.

      Sure it may not be well built, but that doesn’t make the person a crook. Now if that was an $80 canon charger I’d take it back. But for $5 I’d probably buy more of them.

  6. I have seen power supplies with places for parts yet no part there. Basically the difference between Engineers design and production design. However for a power supply supposedly made in Japan, the insides are just plain wrong. I would expect much better solder quality at the very least. I suspect that this was made in China and fraudulently labeled by the seller. At least the power supply was cheap. I hope you changed the diode with an ultra fast diode and ideally a low series resistance capacitor.
    I would not expect to see any negative pulses on the output unless it is not loaded. Things get weird with some switch mode power supplies when not loaded.

    1. Many circuit boards are printed with multiple configurations, but different end components depending on certain requirements. They produce on board, and configure it with certain components.

      Not saying that is the case in many knock off parts, just boards in general. Pull a multitude of name brand electronics apart and you will see this literally everywhere, from OEM computer motherboards, components, chargers, usb devices, etc etc

  7. A friend of mine had me look at her Walmart special, DVD/VCR combo player which had a power supply problem too. same shoddy workmanship as this. A well trained monkey could do better than that.

    It’s also a shame that half the stuff you see now is about repairing the crap that should be better quality from the beginning.

  8. Not fake but potentially quite dangerous: I bought four single-cell 18650 chargers off eBay from China, they all charged the cells to 4.35v, pushing the voltage into danger levels where bad things can happen to lithium cells.

    However I only bought the chargers for the physical shells not the charging hardware, as I’ll be using dedicated single-cell lithium charger ICs from Microchip, the MCP73831 2ACI/OT.

    1. I found this through google, so I decided to leave my fake-part-experience here:

      I bought a pack of 10 MCP73831 2ACI/OT from ebay for just about 2€. The charging cycle itself worked just fine, exept the STAT pin. It’s allways low in any state exept in shutdown mode (prog pin high). Just in case somebody has a similiar issue ;)

  9. Had something like this happen to me – twice.

    The first time I have bought a third party Dell AC adapter. IT worked, but it was so noisy, that it made using the touch pad impossible.

    The second time I have bought an adapter that was declared as “Original Dell” but was a third party one. Because of my bad experiences with the first one I didn’t even plug it in.

    I wrote them an e-mail demanding an replacement and they actually sent me a original Dell adapter (or a very good fake) overnight. They even didn’t want to have the fake one back.

  10. My favorite is when these cheap-ass chinese SMPS-type adapters literally SCREAM, i.e. whine audibly.

    Almost invariably, it’s a shit design, made with shit parts, assembled by a shit-slinging monkey.

    Can you imagine me, an American, building crap like this and then selling it overseas, literally a fire in a plastic box waiting to happen? I’d have the lawman at my business the next day!

    Oh wait, unless I slap a corporate logo on it. THEN it’s fine. >:(

    1. I have had several otherwise well made fully functional supplies make pretty bad noise either at near maximum load or at almost zero load. While it is likely that a supply that makes noise is bad, it is not a guarantee.

      1. It can also be a simple resonance at some frequency, this is very hard to design out since you can’t make the inductors completely identical every time.

        This is why some PSUs are completely filled with sticky goop, to dampen resonances.

  11. i am surprised how they could get away with using the canon name (that is highly trademarked)

    ok while we are on the act of violating laws then why not commit theft of service and build a tron box to save on your electric bill instead of omitting parts from the power supply.

  12. I don’t see a fuse on that PCB. I wouldn’t like to find out what happens when that first electrolytic or the switching transistor goes short circuit but I guess it won’t smell good.

      1. Why do you say fuse traces are illegal?

        We do this all the time on UL-certified designs. As long as it can be shown to reliably protect against short-circuit faults, UL are perfectly happy with fusable traces.

        As for the inductor being missing, UL are not bothered about RFI emissions and I’m pretty sure that a power supply is not covered by FCC, so there are no RFI emissions limits to meet. (most quality manufacturers will try and meet CISPR-14 limits anyway to avoid customer complaints)

        My point is not that this is a quality product by any stretch of imagination, but that it may in fact be standards compliant – whether it has actually been investigated is another matter entirely.

        1. I only know Nordic standards, and here any PSUs that emit too much RF are illegal to sell. In fact just recently hundreds of different LED bulbs got banned from sale in Sweden because of RF interference.

          Fuse traces may be legal in some places, but i’m pretty sure these ones are not, the overall quality control on this board is too low.

      2. AJ: “pretty sure”? everyone else remember that “pretty sure” people are only “pretty sure” because they don’t have a fking clue and trying to pass off their main idea as fact.

        the fcc explicitly classifies an external switching power supplies as a digital device. needs to be verified before it is to be marketed and sold in the US.


        as for fuse traces being illegal…the fcc doesn’t care about the design, as long as the switching noise doesn’t escape the input/output. (i usta work there)

        i hate to be the regulation nazi (80% ron paul supporter IRL) but the FCC is really trying to do a good thing here…

        regardless though, the really bad part about this is the random internals just have a legit looking label slapped on them.

        1. yeah, the fake label is what kills it.

          if i could make a decision: $20 for that, or $80 for that… would be great. but as far as i can tell, both products can be the crappy one and one marked as $20 and the other as $80.

          hate that.

          only if we had open source hardware as well as software. (and people think it’s easier with hardware)

      3. To achieve the CE mark shown on the label there’s a minimum flash over voltage a fused fuse has to withstand. Fusible PCB traces are not sufficient in Europe. It has to be encapsulated.

        Anyway, I think those wavy traces are designed to be cut if an EMI inductor is fitted.

        (It would fail CE marking on switching noise conducted back up the mains cable too.)

  13. Cheap devices like this get approval and then are built with the safety and noise suppression parts removed.
    This type of thing is really a problem for TV, radio, ham radio, etc.
    I bought an IR remote extender (IR sensors, black box, IR LED) and it made terrible noise in my radio over 50 feet away. I picked up a .01uF capacitor to bypass it, and when I opened the case, I saw an empty spot marked “C2” and when I put the cap in there, the problem totally went away.

    1. i believe this 100%. i have seen companies (big, very well known companies) come in for their certification by wrapping their entire product in copper tape, only leaving the power button exposed.

      of course they passed, but do you think devices like printers, VCRs and other crap will be shipped looking like the statue of liberty in 1886? i dont think so!

  14. You got to handed to whoever gone through the troubles to make this.
    From what can be seen, the quality of the label and general appearance of the plastic molding is quite good.
    The general appearance of the execution of the PCB board is also quite good. Silk screening is clean and neat for instance.

    Given what components that are present, $5 is a steal!

    I not quite sure how the LED on the breadboard suddenly became a proximity detector however.

    1. That’s easy, the circuit was built on a breadboard, breadboards have no grounding plane and very long wires. This means that you can easily introduce interference. In this case an improperly filtered PSU caused RF interference that was conducted through his hand, as he came near enough the capacitive coupling between his hand and the board became strong enough to conduct the interference to the wires on the board and trigger the circuit.

  15. when the letters of the CE sign are this close to each other – it means just “china export” instead of “commitee europe”.
    if you make circels from the C outline and the E outline, they meet each ohter exactly overlaying if it is the Original CE sign

  16. My office manager bought a cheap iPhone 4 charger off eBay once. To the naked eye, it looked exactly like a legit one.

    When you plugged in your phone, the touch screen would act all funky (that’s the technical term). The spot you would touch would be a handful of pixels off the spot that would actually activate. And it wasn’t even like it was always 30 pixels to the right. Once it would be 10 to the left, the next it would be 20 up.

    Upon closer examination, the text on the back was deliberately misspelled. It said things like “Desgned by Aple in Calfornia”

    1. Always a bad sign when they can’t even confirm the spelling.

      They don’t even need to understand it! Just a simple comparison to the genuine product and copying the shapes would do better!

  17. In my line of work (automotive repair), I refer to this stuff as Chinese Replacement Automotive Parts, or C.R.A.P.. If you use C.R.A.P. parts, then expect C.R.A.P. results.

  18. I do laptop repair for a living, and i always advise strongly against cheap adapters for laptops. They do the same thing and in most cases will damage the laptop a great deal over time. My best advice is find a company that you can rely on to get quality adapters without overpaying. Failing that, contact the manufacturer and get one from them. lots of times, they sell the ac adapters at reasonable prices.

    So, add that to the list of reasons to not buy a cheap ac adapter, it can easily damage very expensive hardware.

  19. interesting point i heard from a rfi lab i toured: the ce marking on that actually is a Chinese export marking. they intentionally made it look like the ce marking we all are used to to cause confusion and get people to buy sub-par products

  20. I bought a “200” watt 19 volt power supply for a laptop for “a steal” rated at 4 amps it started to melt and burned a small hole in my carpet at a constant 2.7 amps

    I bought one of those univeral power supplies where you set the voltage and run … lasted about a week now it has a constant 1hz zero voltage pulse to the point where you can hear it

    Bought some cheap scope probes that are pretty crap, and compared to some really nice techtronics toss my scope off by nearly 20% compared with the OSD measurements

    if you get what you paid for, you are lucky in many cases … source excluded

    2 cents

    1. If you buy such cheap items and know electronics you should just open them up right away and fix the fixable issues it’s bound to have, like bad soldering or obstructed cooling and such.
      Seems silly to wait until it burned a hole :)

      1. The real issue with these items (usually from China) is the poor quality of *all* the components. The designs aren’t always all that good, either.

        So, the only way to turn one of these pieces of junk into a working power supply is to redesign it *and* replace all the components with quality ones (because you don’t know the specs on the originals).

        Quality Chinese Engineering at its best. To be fair, though, the iPhone is also built in China, but with significantly more quality control.

      2. True enough but I’ve opened up cheap-chinese items and there always was a rather noticeable issue that sprung out, like for instance how they often seem to add the wires in a later stage and often with a incredibly poor soldering job that leaves wires making contact only if you tilt the thing just right.
        I think that the people that failed the soldering test are selected to do the wiring or something.

  21. You would think a bunch of geeks could make a webpage that is easier on the eyes. This black background hurts my eyes in less than a minute. I’d love to read more of your stuff but my eyes can’t take it.
    Do your readers a favor and make your webpage easier on the eyes.

    Ronnie Selman
    Granbury, TX

    1. Hey Ronnie, even though your comment read as fairly rude, I thought I could do some good here. The color scheme has never bothered my eyes, nor have I heard anyone else complain, so they probably won’t change it. But if it bothers you that much, and if you use Firefox, you can install Stylish (userstyles.org) and punch in your own stylesheet for the HAD domain. I did this real quick just to test it out:

      background-color: #f1f1f1;

      color: #222;


      .entry p {
      color: #222;

      Off-black on off-white – very kind to the reading eyes, if not actually pretty. Hope that keeps your eyes from bleeding!


  22. It almost seems like it would just be a better idea to make your power supplies yourself and/or sell kits of them to people, sure they would be more expensive than the Chinese made PSUs but more likely than not be more safe and have less noise.

  23. Not as bad as the “cheap” wifi range extenders which are essentially a piece of wire with a connector on the end.
    They look the same as the expensive ones but are completely different inside, the well made ones have a specially shaped multilayer PCB with a precise impedance at 2.45 GHz.

    I’ve heard of fake external hard disks doing the rounds which are essentially a low quality SSD with the fakeflash software, and a speaker to make the appropriate hard disk noises when accessed.
    Not seen one “in the wild” but with drive prices sky high its only a matter of time.

    Catch is, the drive “looks” the same and even behaves the same when formatted but any data saved past 4GB is unreadable when read back.

    The problem with fake power supplies is that not only will they blatantly break EMC, but under UK law the user (i.e. you) is responsible for the interference.
    I’ve heard of at least one case where an ECG machine used in a hospital was malfunctioning and reporting abnormal traces, this was found to be third party power supply, luckily it didn’t result in loss of life..

    1. The CE mark should protect you against that. If someone sells you something with a CE mark on it, he essentially says “I’ve tested it and it complies to certain rules” This includes EMC emission tests.

      If this product then fails to meet those rules, then it’s the responsibility of the producer, not the consumer.

      1. An if you buy it directly from china, you are doing an import, so you are responsible of certification of the product you are importing.
        You can then turn against the producer, oh wait…

      2. Marc, that’s not true.
        If the producer put a CE mark on it as a consumer you should believe that, no consumers are expected to have the skills equipment of knowledge to be able to check conformity.
        -hence the point of having the mark there to start with.
        the whole point of the mark is that you should be able to buy a product from any country, if it has the mark then it’s supposed to conform to the standard (the C after all does stand for conform. [in French])

    1. looks like someone bought a $100+ usb hard drive and gutted it and installed a $10 2 or 4 gig usb stick then corrupted the directory to make it show that it can hold 500 gig.

      and got a sata laptop drive for free once they returned the drive as defective.

      of course i have seen worse how about ceramic tiles instead of hard drive



      buy an mp3 player and get it pre loaded with porn and explicit songs


      this is why staples does not stick the returns back on the shelf unless it is unopened goods.

  24. Is anyone really surprised that an item bought for $5 on eBay is a counterfeit? Or that the insides are crap when it’s opened up?

    If I were looking for a replacement power supply for a $100 digital camera, I think I might start with an authorized Canon dealer, or at least check some place like NewEgg or Tiger Direct, who would stand behind the product they sold me.

    1. Oh man you hit the nail on the head there! What the heck is up with the wire color coding in some of that crap? Lol, it is indeed backwards or random (seems like they got a deal on purple wire there for a while). Glad you brought that up :)

    2. to be fair i’ve seen some US made devices from the 80s an 90s be ridiculous with the color coding of stuff too. like if the two wires are white/red? who does that?

      “i thought this was america.”
      -randy marsh

  25. Moral of the story?

    If you are a cheap, you get burned. Expect everything on ebay with a “too good to be true” price as fake or junk.

    This is why we have no jobs in the USA, you guys will not buy a $80.00 power supply.

    1. A $5 piece that needs maybe $1 more in parts to make it behave as designed. Sure, the problem is that people won’t pay $80 for $2 in parts and $15 in labor (amortized for design, testing, etc, of course).

  26. As a circuit bender, I have seen all manner of Chinese tomfoolery. My absolute favorite was one of those kids laptops. I got it open and wafted the chemical smell away and amongst the wires literally taped to their contacts, were two chunks of facia granite, hot-glued to the bottom to give the whole chunk of shite “heft”. Another recent (musical) keyboard find used the long forgotten guts of a transistor organ (complete with resistor-chain keyboard with the resistor leads acting as contact points) that had been refitted with a My Music Maker cpu for the sequencing portion ONLY. The MMM cpu natively has 8 OBS and 8 Rhythms so it is a complete waste as the keyboard only uses the transistor organ lmao. The speakers were never meant to work, having been soldered but the connection pads were merely glued on-no actual contact with the speakers themselves. The absolute worst part? MADE IN 2008. Yep, 3 years ago. It uses technology 4 decades old (NOS i’d say). Such a waste of human energy all the way around :(

  27. OK, I got curious. I bought a power supply for my Canon Powershot A20 a while back on Ebay for not much. I don’t remember the exact price, but it was cheap. I suspected it was cheap because it was overstock and the camera was getting old, not that it was a fake.

    So I cracked open my CA-PS500 supply (literally cracked, there were no screws. glue and tabs)
    It looks like a legitimate Canon supply. Fused, soldered nice mix of through hole and surface mount. I had put it on my scope, and not a ripple to be found, at least without load.

    Pics can be seen here.

    1. Thanks @Trav. Quite a contrast to the fake one: extensive EMI protection at the inlet and a proper fuse with a plastic tube around it to keep it together in case it explodes.

      They wouldn’t take the trouble to add that level of protection unless it was mandated.

  28. If the quality and workmanship is that bad, isn’t it fair to assume materials are unacceptable as well?

    With all the cadmium kids’ toys coming from China, I’d bet even worse stuff in the electronics. Forget lead-free.

    It doesn’t help that the factory-original stuff is usually also made in China. The worst I’ve seen was the typo on the warning label on factory-original batteries for the Sprint Overdrive (made by Sierra Wireless). Doesn’t instill confidence, especially when the batteries swell up and quit working every 6 months.

  29. This is what happens when our government allows corporations to call ‘National Policy’ shots.

    We should have never given china most favored trade status and we desperately need to enact tarrifs on their goods before it’s too late.

    Don’t think so? Look around; we are in this mess because we don’t make most things any more. The ripple effect from this has yet to be mesured but it is a tsunami that will destroy America as we know it.

    Oh yea, so what if china retaliates by enacting their own trade barriers. I think the current balance is China, a gazillion dollars, America, nothing.

    1. Shhh!!! Don’t say that. You may be labeled a communist or worst for saying it!! :P

      That happened because “We the people” allowed “them the corporations” to run the country >:[

    2. Yes, that’s right. Counterfeit Chinese electronics flooding the market are exactly what Canon wants.

      Companies resort to seedy tactics due to heavy corporate taxation: the ignoble ones are the only ones that are still able to turn a profit. Everybody who actually put effort into giving customers a good deal was forced into bankruptcy, or sued into employing domestic workers worth less than half their pay. I heartily agree that we’d be better off with more domestic manufacturing, and that halting imports from China would probably be a good idea, but placing the blame on the corporations is like a burgler suing a homeowner because he fell off said homeowner’s roof while breaking into his house and broke his arm.

      Government legislation is what’s driven the economy to this. More government legislation can only make it worse.

  30. Watch this video and it shouldn’t be so shocking.


    Also watch out for large “computer quality” capacitors from china, often you’ll find little cheap caps hiding inside the can.

    I took an entire course from JPL on how to I.D. counterfeit parts. You’d be amazed at the stuff crooks will do to make a cheap nand gate look like an expensive microcontroller…

  31. This is typical for these supplies. The internal circuitry of the camera is capable of dealing with this, so this is more or less irrelevant… Why would you want a super clean, low-noise signal from this power supply when you don’t need it? That would be a waste of money.

    1. No, it’s NOT typical. Too much ripple will put more stress on the camera’s internal components than they’re designed to handle over time. And the EMI this power supply radiates would cause it to fail certification by all the regulatory agencies stamped on its counterfeit label, had it actually been submitted to those agencies.

    2. “This is typical for these supplies.”

      No, it’s not. Canon designs and builds quality stuff. The supply shown in the video is not capable of putting out a regulated 3.15V @ 2A under any circumstances, and the certification marks on the label are counterfeit, as is the supply itself. He’s lucky it hasn’t destroyed his camera.

    1. That might work indeed. I had none because i needed any. During prototyping – and especially for such small scale projects- i rarely add a capacitor (out of pure laziness) unless it is needed.

      But thing about this: If i had a capacitor, i might never discover the EMI :D

    1. That Canon supply I posted, that I believe to be a actual Canon supply, I probably only paid $4 for.

      It was brand new, even came in a Canon box. Good deals do exist, but yeah if you’re only paying a fraction of the price you might get a loser every once and a while.

      I don’t mind buying cheap aftermarkets, but I want to know that is what I’m getting.

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