Hardware Stability

Apple power adapters

There are at least three AC power adapters from Apple Computer, Inc. which have come in for criticism by customers. The three AC power adapters of greatest concern for poor hardware stability were the original black rectangular transformer issued with the PowerBook G3 Series "Wall Street" computer, the updated rounded "yo-yo" transformer issued with the early model G3 iBooks and titanium G4 PowerBooks, and the white square transformer issued with later models of titanium G4 PowerBook and aluminium G4/Intel Macbook Pro.

The original black rectangular AC power adapter

This AC power adapter is notorious for heating up too much during normal use (and in one instance a US customer has discovered how it can create a fire in his study room).

Another problem of this adapter relates to the wire used to transfer the power from the transformer to the computer — it is stiff and prone to metal fatigue when bent enough times. You should also remember that the solder joints for this wire into the power plug is small and weak and will break from its connection during normal use (approximately 9 to 12 months).

Apple Inc. did try to claim at the time consumer complaints were made, in order to avoid liability for its bad design of this power adapter, that the customers were not looking after the Apple product properly (or perhaps the company is really trying to say that consumers were using it too much?).


FIXING THE PROBLEM

As far as the AC power plug is concerned, you are better off buying a brand new Apple-made transformer at Apple's usual inflated prices and help the Apple resellers make a profit. Given the specialised nature and design of the AC plug (i.e. it contains a standard three-way 3.5mm stereo plug with an extra outer metal cylindrical negative plate to help grip onto the outer part of the AC socket inside the computer and so provide safety to computer users because it does deliver a solid 1.875 amps of current at 24 volts - three in the centre pin of the stereo plug of which only two of them are active for safety reasons and one active "negative" outer plate) and the way the plug and wire are permanently attached to the transformer, there is no way you can repair or replace the cable and plug using available standard plug and wire fittings from an electronic store. Unless you are prepared to do a custom job on the AC socket on the computer and get a standard variety of plug on the transformer, you will have to buy a brand new transformer (the easiest and simplest solution).

Sarcastically, we wish to take this opportunity to thank Apple for protecting our environment and in making it easy for "normal" people to repair it outside of the warranty period. On a serious level, please visit your Apple dealer to get a replacement (it should be free-of-charge now that Apple has officially approved the decision to replace the original black transformer with the rounded plastic "transparent" iBook power adapter — presumably on the grounds that it is better).

UPDATE
February 2002

Apple, Inc. had recently approved a free replacement program for the old black rectangular power adapters included with the Apple Power G3 Series computer in favour of what was believed to be a better rounded "transparent" power adapter known unofficially as the "yo-yo". The replacement was instigated because a US Government Department involved in the safety of products told Apple, Inc. to resolve the overheating problems of the old adapter after a consumer complained of experiencing a fire in his study room as a direct result of the power adapter.

Despite the replacement for a newer rounded version, another problem has appeared as we will discuss next.

The rounded "yo-yo" transformer-style AC power adapter

Now here is another beauty from Apple which we hope other computer manufacturers will not emulate.

This time the poor quality AC cable connecting the rounded transformer to the power outlet in the wall breaks too easily through normal use (a particularly common problem for the older M7332 version), forcing consumers to pay at least A$50 for a new AC cable thanks to the unique design of the Apple plastic and rubber plug going into the transformer.

Why does it break? Apple has used a bunch of extremely thin and soft copper wires wrapped together in such a way as to provide just enough strength to survive normal use for up to 12 months. But because the wires are very flexible and thin, bending of this AC cable enough times through normal use (e.g. when you have to carry the cable inside a backpack or briefcase) and straightening it out again when powering the laptops eventually causes the wires to suffer metal fatigue and break. We have evidence to support this with two AC power cables collapsing after less than 12 months of use.

As for the thinner wire coming out of the rounded transformer and into the power plug for powering the Apple computer, this is not soldered properly to the plug and will require customers to pay A$150 or more to replace the entire transformer (including power plug and wire) roughly every 8 to 12 months of normal use. The problem is worse with the latest 65-Watt white-square power adapters (see below).

This is bizarre in the light of the knowledge that such problems are virtually non-existent among other computer manufacturers such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM. Why is Apple so "not up to the job" of providing decent power adapters for its own products?


FIXING THE PROBLEM

The official solution suggested by Apple, Inc. is to take out the extended 3-year AppleCare warranty (the latest recommendation) at your cost of course and to the benefit of Apple and its resellers. Then you can have up to two or three power adapters replaced at no further cost to you. Any more than this and Apple, Inc. and/or your local Apple resellers will probably start making a fuss about how you are allegedly abusing your power adapter without acknowledging the adapter's poor design. When getting a replacement, make sure the cable itself going into the power plug is of the thicker variety (as it would appear Apple has designed yet another version of the power adapter). This thicker wire (if soldered properly to the power plug) should withstand the higher temperatures and normal wear and tear (e.g. the natural twisting and bending considered normal use) much better than the thinner wire.

Unofficially, the AC cable can be repaired, but you will have to be very patient, have the right equipment, and have your wits about you. Here is what you will have to do:

  1. Get a thin-blade hacksaw (the kind you use to cut tight curves in a piece of wood) to break open the unique outer Apple-designed plastic plug. You'll need a clamp to hold the plug in position and cut around the edge of the plug. Don't cut all the way around the plug. Try to create a cut such that the plug looks like a clamshell. The point at which the plug is not cut should be where the AC cable passes through the plug. When cutting the outer part of the plug with the hacksaw, make sure you only go down about halfway into the plastic because there is a secondary plastic plug at the centre of it.
  2. Prize open the outer rubbery skin of the plug and remove the extra layer of rubbery material filling up the plug inside.
  3. What is left inside the plug should be a hard plastic shell containing the metal pins where the electricity goes through into the wires of the AC cable. Take this internal hard plastic plug out and pull the whole thing in a direction such that more of the AC cable will go through the outer rubbery plug part you have just cut with your hacksaw.
  4. Cut off a reasonable length of the AC cable (about 10 centimetres). This should hopefully remove the damaged part of the wire.
  5. Remove the plastic cap and pull out the metal pins to free them.
  6. Use a soldering iron to remove the unwanted portion of the AC cable from the metal pins.
  7. Prepare the good end of the AC cable by stripping back the insulation in readiness for attaching to the metal pins.
  8. Solder the fresh AC cable to the metal pins. Reinsert the metal pins back into the plastic plug. Close it with the plastic cap.
  9. Put everything together inside the outer soft rubbery power plug part and drill a hole near the centre to hold everything together with a screw. When drilling a hole and putting in a screw, make sure the screw cannot touch the two conducting metal pins or you will get electrocuted

NOTE: This is not something the average consumer can do on his/her own without the correct equipment, patience and knowledge. If you don't feel comfortable, we recommend getting an electronics enthusiast to try it instead. Or better still, for your greatest safety, purchase a brand new power plug.

You will have to fix the plug on the left using the above steps and eventually the 3-pin power socket to the wall as shown here.

The latest square-shaped white "brick" AC power adapter

There is a general feeling the square-shaped AC power adapters are lasting slightly longer than earlier types. However, don't expect one adapter of this type to last for the lifetime of your computer. In fact, it doesn't take too long before the latest 65W variety of square-shaped transformers used in the later titanium and early model aluminium G4 PowerBook as well as early model duo-core Intel MacBook Pro from Apple show signs of failure in some aspect of the design (now believed to be less than 2 years with regular use and carrying around).

The most common complaint from users has been the permanently attached (i.e. unfixable by anyone) cable coming out of the transformer and into the power plug for supplying power to the computer is not properly soldered into the power plug itself. Also the outer insulating material of the cable will break where it enters the transformer, exposing the negative outer conductor. While this is still safe to touch, if at any point the internal positive wire breaks as well, the risk of electrocution or simply a sudden and catastrophic short-circuiting of the transformer will occur. Certainly the first signs of something going wrong with the cable can be seen when consumers explain to Apple how the red light may not illuminate during charging indicating something is starting to go wrong the wire itself can break inside the power plug. After a while, the green light may stay on and help to charge and power the computer, but after a few months, the plug eventually collapses causing short-circuiting and eventually the transformer goes dead.

Another less important issue that can occur is how the rubber reinforcement around the wire entering into the power plug will eventually break. If this happens, the likelihood of the wire breaking inside the power plug will increase.

As one MacFixIt.com reader said:

"I've had two 15" Powerbook power adapters fail now with the same symptoms: there is no longer a red or green glow when plugged in to the computer, and it no longer charges the battery. Oddly, though, it WILL power the computer and prevent the battery from losing more power. So it partially works. I'm convinced this is a static discharge problem, as I work in a very dry environment and "shock" my computer several times a day when I touch the aluminum case. I think some circuit inside the adapter is getting a static zap and it gets partially fried." (MacFixIt.com: Power adapter issues (#2): Using the extension cord to solve issues; eliminating sizzling noises; more. 3 February 2006.)

Apple has produced two versions of this white square transformer. When you open an early model version of this adapter, it will look like the following:

Everything looks neat inside except for the difficulty in breaking open the white plastic housing. We used the fine blade of a hack saw fitted between the groove and cut gently through the thin plastic below. However, despite its innocent internal appearance, there is a problem as we shall discuss below.

If we compare this to the newer white square transformer, we see that Apple has stopped people from trying to repair the adapter themselves for safety reasons by injecting a white insulating material around the transformer and throughout most of the electronic components:

We have scrapped off a fair bit of the insulating material to reveal more of the components. It should be noted that there are no resistors on the top of this newer circuit board to help solve a particular problem in the previous model. There may be some resistors underneath the circuit board, but they are non-serviceable:

The reason why this newer adapter was taken apart is because the white wire coming out of it through the circular rubber component was wearing down through normal wear and tear until the outer ground wire and inner active wire came together and short-circuited the transformer. On taking this adapter apart, we incorrectly used a screwdriver. As a result, we damaged the main capacitor as shown below:

causing the whole adapter to stop functioning.

In the earlier model, we found a problem whereby if the adapter is accidentally covered with a couple sheets of newspaper, the heat quickly builds up inside the adapter to the point where after about 2 hours, a spark could be heard, the smell of burning electrical components, and finally the unit went completely dead.

The problem can be seen below:

Here we can see a burnt resistor next to the main capacitor. Colour coded Orange-Orange-White with a gold band below, this resistor was overloaded with too much current under high heat and so collapsed by sending a couple of sparks to the nearest ground source (i.e. metal plate). The resistor has a remarkably low resistance of approximately 0.3 ohms suggesting this acted more like a fuse to blow the circuit. However, because the adapter is not meant to be opened and repaired by anyone, Apple used a resistor rather than a fuse. So once the resistor blew, it would also permanently damage the power regulator and main capacitor, effectively putting the circuit out-of-action.

You should be aware that there is no over-temperature protection system built-in. When combined with the very thin wire to the power plug, this is an extremely cheap and nasty power adapter. We can only wonder how much it had cost Apple to make one of these "easy-to-fail" adapters (probably less than $5 on mass-production scales).

UPDATE
9 September 2006

A similar no protection system exists in Apple's AirPort Express device. This is a device looking like a white square power adapter you plug into the wall except it is suppose to be designed to act as a wireless router. Do not be deceive by the expensive price tag of A$199 for one of these devices. The price is no indication of quality from Apple. Users have already complained long and hard of the problem with the device — namely it shows a flash of light then goes dead without warning or reason usually after the warranty period (around 16 months after purchase). (Galvin, Nick. AirPort queue up: The Sydney Morning Herald (Icon Supplement). 9-10 September 2006, p.08).

Apple Australia may officially stated that no replacement will be provided after the warranty but some users can get a replacement showing the policy is inconsistent or that some Apple Authorized Service personnel are aware of the problem and understand (with the right words from the customer about the Trade Practices Act that goods must be of "merchantable quality" and be expected to last a reasonable time) that this is not a customer fault and, therefore, should be replaced.

Perhaps a further indication of the quality of Apple products?

Fixing the problem for American users

Some users have suggested a viable replacement for the 65-Watt Apple power adapter via http://rswww.com/. The part number is 311-9359. Or try a third-party adapter made by MacAlly or Kensington. Users have noted the solid construction of these adapters compared to the Apple variety. Only one drawback, you won't get the fancy amber and green lights on the power plug indicating charging and normal power. Perhaps there is something to learn from this: users can usually survive without the fancy features in favour of a solidly built product.

As one MacFixIt.com reader said:

"I gave up on Apple's adapters and purchased two third-party adapters made by MacAlly. On the plus side, they seem more solidly made, and they don't spark when inserted into an outlet. Cons are lack of a lighted amber/green ring to indicate charging, and lack of a protective cap for the pin that inserts into the Powerbook. Still, I'm happier with this [US]$34.00 replacement than spending another [US]$80.00 on a lousy Apple adapter." (MacFixIt.com: Power adapter issues (#2): Using the extension cord to solve issues; eliminating sizzling noises; more. 3 February 2006.)

Fixing the problem for Australian users

There are a number of alternative power adapters on the market from Jaycar Electronics and Dick Smith Electronics. A good solidly constructed product with excellent built-in safety features worth exploring is Kerio Energy Knight III Universal Notebook AC Power Adapter.

You can purchase a 70W or 80W version. For powering an iBook, G3 Powerbooks (e.g. "Wall Street", "Pismos" etc) and G4 PowerBooks (e.g. titanium and PowerPC aluminium), the 70W unit is adequate. Kerio Energy Knight III has over current, short circuit and internal over temperature protection features, a thicker cable that enters the power adapter in a more sturdy fashion, and a light and compact 270g adapter with carry case. And best of all, you can use it to power PC laptops as well (IBM, Compaq, Dell, HP, Sony, Toshiba and others including the Pentium M series and Centrino notebooks).

The product uses an output voltage adjustment device (i.e. the fuses you would find in your car, except they are specifically designed for this power adapter, so don't try to use the car fuses under any circumstances). They are colour-coded to help you select the right one and tell the power adapter how much voltage to deliver to your laptop:


Purple (15V)

Blue (16V)

Red (18V)

Green (19V)

Black (20V)

Orange (24V)
 

One you have selected the correct voltage through the right fuse, the power adapter sends through a maximum of 3.7 amps to ensure adequate power for your device (it will draw the right amount of current it needs). For Apple laptops, use the orange device and plug it in like so (there is no special way to insert it):

And choose one of two power plugs for Apple laptops — the big one is for G3 PowerBooks, the smaller one is for everything else. For other power plugs, here is what you will get in the package:

Also don't be afraid to take it with you on overseas trips. It can handle input voltages as low as 100 volts. And after testing one of these adapters, we found that after 24 hours of being left on (under a couple of sheets of newspaper), it felt much cooler to the touch that an Apple power adapter.

As of May 2006, the Kerio Knight III Universal Adapter was selling for A$98 unless the salespeople were putting the wrong price tag on it.

We can only wonder what Apple will come up with next when the triangular or some other geometrically-shaped transformer appears on the market! Any chance users can have a solidly constructed power adapter? Thanks Apple, Inc. for thinking about the consumers when selling cheaply made power adapters to the world market. We really appreciate the effort you've put into them.

The new MagSafe Power Adapters - The future for all power adapters? Or just another gimmick from Apple?

As of 4 February 2006, it would appear that Apple has looked into the power adapter problem and has decided, after sending in its team of engineers to determine the solution, that the real cause for all the headaches to consumers has been because people were deliberately or accidentally pulling the wire during normal use.

So what's the solution? Apple has built a new power adapter. This latest one uses a magnet to stick onto the casing of an Apple laptop before commencing charging and powering. The benefit of this approach is clear when we see there is no longer a "plug" to grip onto a "socket". If you pull the wire, the whole unit can easily break free from the magnetic field and slip off. An interesting concept and one that is likely to solve the dangerous problem of electrical sparks coming off the end of the pin and circular metal jacket of the plug.

Of course, you will need to buy the new Intel-based Macintosh laptops to benefit from this "latest technology". And you will have to buy the adapter from Apple as there are no third-party manufacturers at the present time capable of coming up with an alternative product that does the same job.

UPDATE
16 November 2011

Known as the MagSafe power adapter, the new design is an improvement in the sense that you can remove it a little more easily even if it is accidentally dislodged by someone clumsy enough to get their foot tangled on the power cord. But only just.

The original MagSafe power adapters still have a weak point. Apparently people could still break the cable within 12 to 18 months of purchase because they were pulling on the cable to disconnect all the time and not pinch on the connector head to pull up to achieve the same thing. Perhaps a slight oversight on the part of Apple with its incredibly small plug head for people with apparently oversized fingers? But thank God for the company we have consumers who are happy to test new product designs after paying the full price for a new laptop and adapter every few years, right?.

However, when it came to the replacement of the damaged MagSafe adapters once they appeared, there was a slight delay from Apple Inc. Management still continued to argue both tooth and nails that users were not using the power adapter properly. But after several class actions and the passing of a few years, and the realisation these adapters were really not well-designed and safe enough to last a reasonable period of use, Apple has finally seen the light (through a settlement) of providing replacements.

So if you still have one of those old adapters from any MacBook or MacBook Pro laptops (including those out-of-warranty after 12 months), even if you have bought a new one and threw the old one out, you can now get a replacement (or a refund).

For a limited time (until 21 March 2012, so basically chicken feed for Apple, Inc.), if you have used your old power adapter and there is the slightest sign of damage in the area shown in the picture below (courtesy of Apple), Apple will gladly replace (or pay you for) the adapter worth about US$79. Or if the adapter is about 2 years old and looking worse for wear, Apple will pay you US$50 and you drop off the old adapter into their the company's hands to dispose of the problem (out of sight is out of mind as they say), or US$35 for a 3-year-old power adapter.

Nice chaps really at Apple, Inc..

For further details, visit the Adapter Settlement web site.

UPDATE
18 September 2015

MagSafe rectangular white power adapters generating 85W of power (as required for the latest MacBook Pro) are still suffering the "thin cable breaking" problem where it enters the brick of the transformer. Here is a classic picture for the latest power adapter (the third one purchased in the last 5 years, and all having the same and consistent problem):

Furthermore, the cheap and poor quality nature of the thin wire means it is subject to permanent twists that eventually sees the insulation and conductor inside break. At AUD$119 to replace, it is an expensive way for consumers to fix these power adapters. But then again, if you are an Apple reseller needing to make a profit, it is a fantastic way to make a bit of extra cash on the side.

Or better still, it might be an excellent way for some lawyers to make some cash on the side by helping consumers get the previous settlement deal extended for a little while longer until such time as Apple sees the benefit of making better quality power adapters.

Alternative MagSafe power adapters

Fed up with the Apple variety of expensive power adapters not surviving the distance in a reasonable manner? You are not alone. The best alternative power adapter at half the price of Apple is the Quirky PowerCurl Clip-On Cord Wrap. There are four colours, each handling a specific power output of 45W, 60W, and 85W for the newer Apple power adapters, and a separate 85W power adapter for the older Apple power adapter.

AC Wall Plug Adapter Replacement

Please note that this latest recall and replacement program implemented as of February 2016 will not fix the thin cable problem (i.e., the one that goes permanently into the power adapter). Poor design and blaming the consumer for pulling on the cable will remain the principle explanations from consumers and Apple, respectively, for this problem. However, in terms of the little sliding AC wall plug that attaches to the "square brick" power adapter, this is a different matter. With nothing to pull on, twist, drop your coffee and damage it, or whatever to this tiny solid, one piece plug, it is clear Apple has to address a poor design and manufacturing issue.

Apple has tried to let it go for as long as possible. Probably helped along somewhat by the fact that not that many people use the small wall plug. Instead the long power cable with its own wall plug gets used the most since most people need to have adequate length from the power wall outlet socket to juice up their laptops. However, now that more than 10 years have passed, the company has apparently made a voluntary decision to replace these tiny plugs without any influence from class action law suits or other legal avenues from consumers. A rarity in itself.

Luckily it is not a major component or part that would cost hundreds of millions of dollars for the company to rectify. Rather, what we have here is effectively chicken feed for the company. As such, the company is showing itself in a good light by making the decision to have the part replaced entirely on its own.

The problem Apple has identified and acknowledged as a problem, and given the special emphasis from the company as involving "very rare cases", concerns the two-prong Apple AC wall plug. Issued in all laptops sold in Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Korea, Argentina and Brazil, it would appear, the plug may break by some means (presumably by UV light hitting the plastic and, together with the heat, eventually leaves cracks in the material) and creates a risk of an electrical shock if touched. The affected plugs were manufactured and sent to consumers within the boxes that carry their purchased laptops and certain iOS devices between 2003 and 2015 inclusive.

As for those plugs supplied to the United States, United Kingdom, China and Japan, these are not affected. This is either because the problem is:

  1. not common enough in those countries,
  2. the markets are bigger and Apple is happy to spend a little more on quality materials to build its products, or
  3. the problem had already been quietly addressed some years ago and no longer poses a problem for these users.

The affected wall plug is believed to look like this:

Whereas the unaffected (and properly redesigned) wall plug, should look like this:

The one showing "4913" as a faint engraving on the inside is just an example of what needs to be replaced. In fact, if the adapter has four or five characters (i.e., numbers and letters) written in this area, it should be replaced. Also included in the replacement program are those wall plugs with no characters on the inside. If it has "EUR" in clear black painted lettering, you should be fine.

If you do have one of the affected wall plugs, check to see if their are any cracks or other signs of damage on it. If there are none, you should be okay if you are still using it. Just make some time to visit your Apple reseller to have it replaced. On the other hand, should cracks be visible anywhere on your plug, do not use the plug under any circumstances. Have it replaced immediately.

Full details of the replacement program can be found here.

AC Wall Plug Adapter not being improved by Apple

The problem of the thin wire for transporting electrical power from the "brick" component of the power adapter (e.g., the 85W variety) to a Mac laptop is still able to have its insulation and/or entire wire pulled out of the brick itself with minimal force (even for a relative new, or under 6 months old, product). The result of this partial pull out of the wire is to expose the outer "ground" wiring to possible contact with someone's fingers. While it should remain generally safe to touch, any further damage in this area may see the outer wiring break sufficiently to the point where the risk of electrical shock is significantly increased.

The solution to this problem is simple. For a clue, here is a user's response to an Apple survey sent on 21 October 2016 (he had to do this twice — once on the previous day when he purchased a new power adapter, and the second one within 24 hours as if Apple is not certain the first survey was clear enough — with the second survey changed such that he could not enter details specifically about the product problem and recommended improvements in the extended questions section, but fortunately he did manage to briefly mention the problem and solution below the question asking if the Apple staff member did a reasonable job in assisting the customer):

Hans okay. Apple not okay. Apple products need more durability, especially in regards to the power adapters. It has been going on for too long and it is obvious the product of the power adapter is not getting improved by Apple.

To improve the problem with the power adapter, during manufacturing make sure you tie a knot and have it hidden inside the "brick". Should any pull slightly beyond the limit of the thin wire (I consider the amount of force to be extremely minimal to the point where I feel it is not designed for normal use), the knot will effectively press against the inside of the brick casing to prevent the wire (or at least the insulating part) from being pulled out, but ensures the connection to the power board internally and the insulation remains unstressed and perfectly intact.

A simple solution like this will cost nothing to Apple. But it will save hundreds of dollars for the consumer, unless, of course, this is all part of what a shareholder company and its Apple resellers do to continually make a profit (sorry for being a bit cynical).

It should be noted that the staff member Hans was shown the faulty old power adapter and asked if there was anything Apple could do to fix it. The response was an emphatic "No." He did add that it is recommended the thin wire be wrapped around the small plastic handles that come out of the brick. However, the other problem with doing this, as the customer has experienced, is that the wire also gets itself into a permanent twist through regular wrapping. Eventually the wire will break internally once the twist is too great and this will ensure the power adapter needs to be replaced. This is based on experience from the customer and was mentioned to Hans, who in turn acknowledged that this can happen too. So, in the end, it is a no-win situation for the customer, but a considerable win for Apple and the Apple reseller.

Perhaps the user should not be too cynical. It may well be the fact that Apple does not want to know about this problem (as evident from the survey being changed on the second occasion) because there is likely to be a reason for the poor design of the power adapter. Seriously, how else can we force Mac users to come back and continually buy new Apple products for the sake of profit and keeping the shareholders happy? Any company would need to find ways to maximise profit, right? Apple just happens to have found a way to do it, thanks to the design fault of the power adapter.

However, if Apple later claims this is not true, then the simple fact to the matter is get off its proverbial buttocks and improve the product and prove the Apple claim is true and the customer is wrong. Is that too hard to achieve in this day and age?