So Where’s My Low Voltage DC Wall Socket?

What are the evocative sounds and smells of your childhood? The sensations that you didn’t notice at the time but which take you back immediately? For me one of them is the slight smell of phenolic resin from an older piece of consumer electronics that has warmed up; it immediately has me sitting cross-legged on our living room carpet, circa 1975.

"Get ready for a life that smells of hot plastic, son!" John Atherton [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
“Get ready for a life that smells of hot plastic, son!” John Atherton [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
That phenolic smell has gone from our modern electronics, not only because modern enclosures are made from ABS and other more modern plastics, but because the electronics they contain no longer get so hot. Our LCD TV for instance nowadays uses only 50 watts, while its 1970s CRT predecessor would have used several hundred. Before the 1970s you would not find many household appliances that used less than 100 watts, but if you take stock of modern electrical appliances, few use more than that. Outside the white goods in your kitchen and any electric heaters or hair dryers you may own, your appliances today are low-powered. Even your lighting is rapidly being taken over by LEDs, which are at their heart low-voltage devices.

There are many small technological advancements that have contributed to this change over the decades. Switch-mode power supplies, LCD displays, large-scale integration, class D audio and of course the demise of the thermionic tube, to name but a few. The result is often that the appliance itself runs from a low voltage. Where once you would have had a pile of mains plugs competing for your sockets, now you will have an equivalent pile of wall-wart power supplies. Even those appliances with a mains cord will probably still contain a switch-mode power supply inside.

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New Efficiency Standards for Wall Warts in the US

The common household wall wart is now under stricter regulation from the US Government. We can all testify to the waste heat produced by many cheap wall warts. Simply pick one at random in your house, and hold it; it will almost certainly be warm. This regulation hopes to save $300 million in wasted electricity, and reap the benefits, ecologically, of burning that much less fuel.

original
The old standard.

We don’t know what this means practically for the consumer. Will your AliExpress wall warts be turned away at the shore now? Will this increase the cost of the devices? Will it make them less safe? More safe? It’s always hard to see where new regulation will go. Also, could it help us get revenge on that knock-off laptop adapter we bought that go hot it melted a section of carpet?

However, it does look like most warts will go from a mandated 50-ish percent efficiency to 85% and up. This is a pretty big change, and some hold-out manufacturers are going to have to switch gears to newer circuit designs if they want to keep up. We’re also interested to hear the thoughts of those of you outside of the US. Is the US finally catching up, or is this something new?