Raspberry Pi Foundation Looks At Counterfeit Apple Power Supplies

The Raspberry Pi foundation is in a somewhat unique position. They always test the units that get returned to them in hopes that they can improve the design. They often request that the power supply also be sent back with the RPi unit, as we know the board will not work well if the PSU can’t source enough current. And so they’ve been able to get a look at several counterfeit iPhone chargers. This is not one of the recommended ways to power the RPi, but their ability to collect failed hardware means that they have identified three different fakes on the market.

Seen here is a genuine Apple product on the left. The others are fake, with the easiest way of spotting them being the shiny chrome plug connectors. The genuine part has a matte finish on the connectors. There is also a difference in the chamfering, and even a variation on the orientation of the USB port on some of them. Unfortunately we don’t get a look inside, which is what we really wanted. But you can see in the video after the break that weighing the adapter will also give it away as a fake, showing that the components within probably vary quite a bit. This reminds us of some other fake PSUs that have been exposed.

[Thanks Joe]

42 thoughts on “Raspberry Pi Foundation Looks At Counterfeit Apple Power Supplies

  1. I don’t get why people would buy cheap chinese crap that has the potential to put 120/240 volts through your $600 phone. If you can spend that much on a phone you can nut up and get a reliable (not necessarily Apple.. just not ebay/deal extreme/chinese) adapter.

    1. I hope that sellers use the same logic. Because if i had a small store that sold these, the customer wouldnt know the difference and I would make a killing. Well… until they found out they didnt work that well.

      1. Smoke a one buck iPhone with a a junk charger going to cost more that a dollar to replace it of course. They have mobile phone users by the sort hairs. They have to or mobile phone service wouldn’t exist.

    2. You said it yourself – the genuine (Apple in this case) is too expensive.

      The only alternative is ‘cheap Chinese crap’.

      Oh wise one with you infinite wisdom, what are we mere mortals to do?

      1. First idea off the top of my head? Don’t loose the one that came with the phone. Alternatively, don’t loose the multiple USB chargers that come with assorted devices. I’ve got about six.

        1. But how do I “not lose” the one that comes with the Raspberry Pi? And how do I know if a Raspberry Pi power supply is genuine or “counterfeit”???

          As far as I know, RPi doesn’t recommend any specific power supply. I use a cheap Chinese 2 amp USB power supply that doesn’t even try to look like it’s “designed in California” for my RPi and other development boards, and haven’t had any trouble.

      2. Yes, just like you can buy cheap locally made crap or fine locally made expensive stuff. The “Made in China” tag doesn’t mean poor quality.

        Quite the opposite. The Chinese manufacture to the customer’s specification. If you buy some $10 adapter on ebay expect it to be hand made by some dude who knows nothing about electronics and even less about quality control. You buy a product from an official store you get a product that will have most likely been checked, ensured working, and if it fails or burns out your device will be covered under warranty.

        You get what you pay for regardless what is written on the box.

    1. yeh, it’s also a missed opportunity to hook them up to to an oscilloscope to see the smoothness and the voltage of the outputs. I think that’s what most of us could have related to.

      1. Oh, don’t make the mistake of thinking these rip-off supplies are based off Apple’s blueprints – the emulation is merely superficial – they’re designed to look the same but generally the electronics are far inferior. A teardown of Apple’s charger showed it to be very high quality [1], whereas fakes tend to be low quality and often don’t meet standards for electrical isolation, making them potentially very dangerous [2]

        1. http://www.arcfn.com/2012/05/apple-iphone-charger-teardown-quality.html?m=1
        2. http://www.arcfn.com/2012/03/inside-cheap-phone-charger-and-why-you.html?m=1

  2. The title makes no sense. They organization looks like a counterfeit power supply? I know you guys hate proofing your articles, but let’s at least proof read the titles so they are legible.

  3. I work in an A***e store on the bar.

    I see so many of these its terrifying. The giveaway is usually the USB orientation, sometimes the screen print is off centre.

    Another common thing with the fakes is the enclosure just falling away exposing the internals. Besides the obvious shock hazards, I’ve seen weak thin bell wire leading from the mains pins, leaky capacitors and human (I think) hair stuck in hot glue.

    On the flipside, I’ve had some non-A****e gear fall over when running off the legit charger, yet work fine on any other powered hub I give it.

  4. I find a lot of the cheap USB useless most of the time and almost never use them. I normally get them free with other items I purchased and find that if I try to charge my phone or tablet the touch screen normally stops responding. If trying to power an Arduino project I notice a lot of pulsing of the power (they skimp on the capacitors) and lots of strange side effects.

  5. If you use crappily made USB chargers, you’re gonna have a bad time.

    If it feels of cheap, it probably is, I’ve never plugged in -any- of those little “black box” USB adapters with the red and/or green led poking out the top, you know which one I’m talking about, that generic one that comes with everything cheap. If nobody put their name on it and it has a little led poking from it, it’s likely garbage.

    The sad thing is is if they put the money they spent on the copying of the apple charger into a few extra components they might be of at least reasonable quality.

  6. I tried to figure out how I got 5.2 volts on my nominal 5V bus on a project despite the presence of a 0.6V silicon power diode voltage drop and 100nf smoothing capacitor between the USB power socket and the bus. In addition, the piezo driven by the picAxe was producing random clicks and pops. I realised the “idiot diode” was in fact acting as a peak detector of sorts on the very choppy waveform coming out of the cheap “black with an LED indicator” described by another commentator plug in USB charger. Silence and 4.4V miraculously ensued on the nominal 5V bus with substitution of a benchtop power supply.

  7. It’s quite refreshing to hear a company say they wouldn’t recommend it but if you’re going to… rather then simply warning or even sometimes try and stop you from doing it.

  8. A battery charger doesn’t need any filtering at all. Pure DC is a luxury for a charger, after-all there are caps in the device being charged. Anything worth pirating is over priced, period. Those plugs suck, to small to grip and pull out of the wall. Apple? Suckers!

    1. USB “chargers” aren’t purely battery chargers, they also power the device after the battery is fully charged. There are 2 reasons they need proper filtered voltage.

      1. because FCC, EU and others say they do.

      2. because other ways you need the filtering in the phone or other device, making it larger and heavier.

      Also these cheap chinese 5V adapters are often potentially lethal both in that they can output mains voltage, and in the very real fire hazard they pose.

  9. A while back I bought four of the cheapest 1-cell 18650 chargers I could get from a Chinese eBay seller, they all worked ok but the PSUs that plugged into the cell holders gave out 4.35v. That could be lethal if the cells you’re charging decide they really don’t like being charged above 4.2v.
    However I bought them just for the cell holders as I put my own lithium charging ICs in, the Microchip MCP73831-2/OT – http://ww1.microchip.com/downloads/en/DeviceDoc/21984a.pdf which is reliable and cheap as chips if you know where to look.

  10. When you said looks at, you were being very literal. Why didn’t they plug them in and find out what they’re outputting?

    Its funny how they show all their electrical equipment at the beginning then fail to use it. Its as if they’re saying “Here’s how thorough we could be, but instead we’re just going to show you some wobbly camera footage”

    1. Different target audience: while we would love a teardown, and to see quite how bad they are, the video has a different aim. It is simply to warn, and allow people to non destructively distinguish real from fake. Also without typical benchtop tools, or even a multimeter.

      With that said, I’d love to see the mains/~5v gap on these things!

  11. I’ve seen this before with flat panels, the latest “dastardly trick” is to make fake filtering inductors with a piece of wire instead of the wound components.
    A casual glance wouldn’t see it, and this is often done to avoid getting nailed by CE/EMC as the board will “look” the same.

    Even worse, there are rumoured to be counterfeit Li-FePO4 large format cells on the market which are a Li-Ion inside with a small switching regulator to generate the expected voltage.
    Guess what happens when you charge them from a high current supply at the right voltage? Yes thats right, KABLAMMO! :-(

    Just what the electric car and bike modding folks don’t need, as they will pass every test you throw at them and even provide nearly the full run capacity for a while at least.

    Don’t even get me started on those “cheap” external packs. Took one apart and it has no failsafe at all, Vcharge >4.35V depending on available current and the pouch cells are just stuck together with double sided tape with no hot glue on the terminals so if the lead free solder breaks it directly shorts out.
    Oh and the “fuses” are just bits of wire, same as you’d expect.

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