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back to article Drawers full of different chargers? The IEC has a one-plug-to-rule-them-all

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) says it has come up with a universal laptop charger plug and socket. The standards body said that its proposed design would ensure compatibility between DC-powered notebooks by establishing a common interface – and limit waste by cutting down on the need to bundle new chargers …

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Silver badge

While not generally an Apple fan, their magsafe connectors are quite good and I can see why they might not want to give them up. I can't quite see the industry agreeing to pay them royalties for it be a universal standard either.

Perhaps the answer is to have a connector on the charger body, then apple can provide a proprietary lead with a magsafe connector on one end and everyone else can provide a lead with standard connectors on each end.

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Silver badge

Indeed, the MagSafe connector is quite well designed. I'm not sure how rugged it is, I think it's purely intended for home/office use. Rather than making the cable well protected (like my current laptop) they've opted for using a small magnet to hold it in place and design the cable to withstand being yanked out.

So I rather suspect the IP rating of that particular connector to be rubbish. Perfectly fine for Apple's use case, but I can see Panasonic and others saying, "thanks but no thanks".

At the very least though, it would be nice if all laptops could have a standard charging voltage and current, so that suitable adaptors can be made.

Right now, I've got a few laptops: Lemote netbook that runs 20V 2A with a plug that's compatible with newer Toshiba laptops, a few older Toshiba laptops that run 15V (one 3A the other 5A), an Apple MacBook that runs anywhere between 16-18V with constant current, and a Panasonic CF-53 with its 15.6V supply.

Most are constant voltage: the Apple being the notable exception. I suspect in Apple's case, the power supply charges the lithium pack directly and the machine permanently runs from the battery. Take the battery out, and the machine won't run, at all.

If they agree on the electrical characteristics, that gets us most of the way there. With the myriad of form factors, from netbooks, ultrabooks, tablets and desktop replacements, it might be difficult to get consensus with a connector format. I can see there maybe being 2 or 3 variants of a standard, but at least with a common electrical spec, it takes a good amount of guesswork out.

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@Number6

Yes, you could even have a version of the power brick embedded in a wall plate or in the desk, though if you go that far, you probably should include GbEthernet in the same plug for high-current PoE.

In fact, a global standard high-power PoE with signal, DC+/- and Earth terminals would be rather nice!

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Silver badge

Forget Apple

They are not going to play ball any more then they do with phones. As long as almost every one else uses the new standard it's worth having.

The only problem I see is the range of power required between a 11" ultrabook, and a 17" gaming laptop. The ultrabook buyer is not going to want a jumbo 90 watt supply.

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Re: Forget Apple

Exactly … the power requirements are different. But, if we can reduce it from the 50 (okay, guess) different varieties, down to a handful… say:

* low power devices: Micro USB (or its successor), 5V, 3A max, for small tablets and phones, pocket-sized devices

* medium power devices: for larger tablets and ultrabooks, capable of delivering 60W

* high power devices: for full-blown laptops, capable of delivering 120W

The medium power devices connector would be something small that would suit an ultrabook. The MagSafe would fit here, as would a small (maybe 4mm diameter and 1mm pin) barrel connector. The cabling would be of a lightweight nature, and the connector should pull out with sudden shock so that equipment doesn't go flying if someone trips on a lead.

The high power devices would be much more heavy duty, possibly an option for it to be sealed against dust/water ingress depending on the device (although I can see that being useful for the others too). Possibly a barrel connector here with a diameter around 6~7mm and a 2mm centre pin. This would be aimed at gaming laptops, desktop replacements, all-in-one computers, monitors, etc… where the components are significantly heavier thus a cable is at vastly greater risk of damage, should one trip over it.

The current situation is an utter mess with many standards. I think it's a mistake to assume one connector will rule them all. If we can keep it down to 3, then I think we're doing well.

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Re: Forget Apple: Only 90W?

There are some laptops with 120W supplies.

I can't see this working. Also probably about 3 different DC voltages needed.

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TRT
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Re: @Number6

I like this idea!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Forget Apple

They [Apple] are not going to play ball any more then they do with phones.

They will if someone like the EU make it mandatory. Here's hoping.

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Gold badge

Re: Forget Apple

Small bug in your calculation. My Alienware MX18 has a 220W PSU...

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Bronze badge

"While not generally an Apple fan, their magsafe connectors are quite good"

It does have a big benefit to people who suffer from tripwire screen breakages. But Magsafe suffers from a fairly big problem - magnets. They attract steel shavings, paperclips, etc right into the power connector zone.

While it might be a limited risk, is it safer to have a fire risk or a smashed laptop risk?

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Joke

Ummm ...

The solution is you buy another charger?

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XKCD: Standards

http://xkcd.com/927/

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Facepalm

Obligatory XKCD http://xkcd.org/927/

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Happy

Just a fraction too late.

... and I was even later!

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Anonymous Coward

Yet another failure?

I expect it to be as useless as using micro usb. People are having to replace these connectors after only a few months. I've never had a concentric power connector fail on any low voltage device, even after 10 years usage, but am currently having to replace a Sanyo data type connector on a couple of phones because of contact failure.

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Pint

Re: Yet another failure?

really? I've had to replace or repair dozens of those coaxial connectors, all different and proprietary on various laptops over the last 10-15 years.

beer, because a job well done deserves one!

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Unhappy

Re: Yet another failure?

Are these from people who use the power cords to swing the notebook computers over thei heads?

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Day

Re: Yet another failure?

"as useless as using micro usb". The new micro usb standard for phones is not useless. It doesn't suit apple, because they want to charge extra for stuff so they don't like the idea of commodity anything. But for most smartphone users, it's an obvious step.

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Re: Yet another failure?

MicroUSB is not a failure as it has electrically defined a standard for phones. Sure, the connector itself is a bit rubbish mechanically, but that is a problem hopefully soon to be solved with the upcoming C-type connector.

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Silver badge

Re: Yet another failure?

Purely anecdotal evidence, but in >10 years of laptop and mobile phone use, the reason most got put on the recycling pile was failure of the concentric socket (pulling out of the mobo usually). The amount of leverage on them is huge, and so they are bound to fail this way. On the other hand, I have never had a microUSB fail.

YMMV

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TRT
Silver badge

Re: Yet another failure?

I've had three pass across my desk. Two on micro HDDs and one on a phone.

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Boffin

Re: Yet another failure?

Captain Scarlet wrote:

"Are these from people who use the power cords to swing the notebook computers over thei heads?"

No, it's mostly from people who take their notebooks somewhere where there's power, plug in, turn on/resume, work for a hour or two, turn off/hibernate, unplug, and go to the next location, wash rinse repeat for 6 hours a day for 5 days a week, more often if they use them on weekends, and do so for the full three-five year lifespan of the average notebook computer. I.e., lots and lots of connect/disconnect cycles during the laptop's usable lifetime.

This doesn't count people tripping over the power adapter, or if the machine is picked up from the front with the plug in the back (putting stress on the whole assembly when the entire notebook's weight is resting on the plug!) or any of a hundred different scenarios that would cause the solder joints or the plug itself to fail.

I've a friend of mine who re-solders and replaces broken jacks on laptops; other shops send work his way as he is quite good at it and doesn't charge the cost of a replacement mainboard for the job.

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Thumb Down

Re: Yet another failure?

"I expect it to be as useless as using micro usb. People are having to replace these connectors after only a few months."

Probably the same people who throw phones down on desks, drop laptops and tablets and generally don't treat them like the expensive and delicate pieces of technology that they are.

Off the top of my head, we have a couple of phones, a couple of kindles, a table,a portable DAB radio for the car and a satnav which all use micro usb. No broken connectors at all and my phone, satnav and portable DAB radio get plugged/unplugged multiple times every day. It only takes a short while to learn which way up the plug goes and to gently rub the plug between thumb and finger as you grab it to feel the raised USB logo indicating the "top". Just like you do with full fat USB plugs.

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USB?

"And as wireless charging boffins have found, any new design will have to compete against USB, which is becoming a global connection standard for juicing batteries in portable kit."

I didn't think USB had enough power to charge laptops...

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Re: USB?

it doesn't. original USB was 2.5 watts, the enhanced USB 'power' version used by ipad's and such is 10 watts. even a superslim ultrabook is about 40 watts.

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Silver badge

This is just as dumb of an idea as the micro USB "standard"

Which is about to be made obsolete by the new reversible micro USB connector that isn't compatible.

Why don't they specify that the POWER BRICK must have a standard full sized USB output, and let people use whatever connector they want on their devices? Isn't that what they're worried about as far as e-waste?

Besides, phones aren't the biggest source of e-waste. It is all those devices like wireless routers, cable/DSL modems, set top boxes etc. that have a brick with the cord built in, that uses one of 5v/6v/9v/12v/18v/24v and one of a dozen or so connector sizes and one of two polarities, so you can almost never reuse a power brick and renders the device useless if you lose the power brick.

How about mandating those power supply can't have the cord built in, have six different connector sizes for the six (or are there more than six and I'm overlooking some?) voltages identical on BOTH ENDS of the cable and use a standard center positive polarity / sheath ground polarity? That would make everyone's lives a lot better than trying to force everyone to use a soon-to-be-obsolete connector on phones!

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Re: This is just as dumb of an idea as the micro USB "standard"

@DougS

".............specify that the POWER BRICK must have a standard full sized USB output....."

Absolutely.

Blackberry chargers used to have that -- incredibly useful for charging loads of other stuff like MP3 players which don't come with their own charger.

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Re: This is just as dumb of an idea as the micro USB "standard"

The microUSB standard isn't dumb, and the new reversible connector will be compatible where it matters -- electrically.

I'd also expect upcoming USB charging standards to be used for routers etc. too due to the ability of the protocol to negotiate a DC voltage/current requirement between charger and load device. Agree though that it can't come soon enough, as I'm fed up having to do soldering jobs for router extension cables!

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Bronze badge

MagSafe is neat

In addition to Apple, I too am a big fan of their MagSafe connector. They are excellent. For those who've never used one before, they are drawn towards the laptop housing and snick into place magnetically. Perfect ergonomics. A bit of gentle pressure in the right direction and it undocks just as easily. Very useful if you're anywhere near a twitchy cat that likes jumping on your equipment while you're typing.

OK, advert over. One thing about Apple's MagSafe chargers is that they come in different power ratings according to the demands of the laptop. Personally, I think that's a bad idea because the connector is the same, and you can potentially end up with excessive charging time if you happened to plug in the wrong charger. Harmonising the juice rating for laptop chargers would be a good idea IMHO.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: MagSafe is neat

Don't quote me 100% but pretty sure the Magsafe chargers are interoperable - yes they have different power ratings but the laptop will draw the power it needs and if the power supply is smaller than the one it came with it would just take long to charge. But I agree would probably be easier if they just made say a 65w version that worked on all - problem is something like the Air gets away with a smaller / lighter 45w (perhaps less) version while a top end Macbook Pro is going to need a lot more so 'Air' owners would end up carrying a larger charger than they need.

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Re: MagSafe is neat

The MacBook Pro will complain if you feed it a 45W connector, but it'll work fine. However, if you run the system hard, it not only won't charge, it'll continuously run down the battery until you ease off. That's why the 85W adapter is necessary.

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Anonymous Coward

Again Apple already have the best with Magsafe just as they do with Lightning vs Micro USB. Magsafe offers a charge indicator (useful), goes in either way (ok just like normal round DC plugs) and if it gets pulled it pops off hopefully before dragging the laptop crashing to the floor.

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Day

What's the advantage of Lightning over MicroUSB for charging? (Helping Apple to make more profits is not an advantage).

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"What's the advantage of Lightning over MicroUSB for charging? (Helping Apple to make more profits is not an advantage)."

It can be plugged in upside down. The plug corners are rounded, and rounded such that the plug centers more easily. The plug is a solid plug, not a shell design, so it is lot more sturdy. The contacts are on the outside of the plug rather than in a shell, resulting in larger contacts. The contacts on the plug and contacts in the jack are easier to clean.

I really don't know what the micro USB standards committee even did. Just made the USB plug smaller, and knocked off early? They didn't even try to make a good connector.

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What's the advantage of Lightning over MicroUSB for charging?

Have you seen one?

Reversible and no where near as flimsy or fiddly are some good ones for starters.

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E-Waste reduction? Not really

I don't think waste has been reduced really. Each phone I've bought over the last few years has come with a micro USB connector but also its own charger. However, if I use the charger from my HTC Desire HD with my HTC One I get a message saying I'm not using the correct charger... I got the same message if I use a 'generic' USB->micro USB cable from ebay too.

My colleagues, one with a Sony Xperia and one with a Samsung Galaxy something or other get similar messages if they don't use the cables that came in their boxes.

So, not so universal - regardless of connector.

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Silver badge

Re: E-Waste reduction? Not really

I haven't experienced that exactly - all my phones (various makes and models) charge from any of the cables I use, either from a USB hub or a USB adapter plugged into the mains. Using my (probably Samsung supplied) usb cable to a hub worked for my friend's Nokia Lumia (I know - I'm lucky to have a friend so unique!) when we were away recently. However, there is a difference in how some of the phones respond to using the banana plug in the car's 12V socket - some will, but others just don't like it. I don't know if it is the same cause as you identify.

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Ewaste

You don't get a charger with a Kindle, at least not outside US.

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I used to android phone and whatever laptop of the moment

But since going fruit I have been amazed at how good there adapters for all there kit is.

It's time for the rest of the techverse to play catch up and adopt

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It's time for the rest of the techverse to play catch up and adopt

And spend the next few years fighting Apple patent lawyers because they tried to use magnets in power supplies or connectors with rounded corners.

You don't actually think Apple would licence magsafe and lightning to their competitors for a reasonable fee?

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Anonymous Coward

Strangely, those wonderful lightning connectors that the whole world should use are not so wonderful after all.

£15 for a usb cable. 237 user ratings on the UK site, 207 1 star. Comments are all saying how crap they are. These are Apple customers saying that.

Not much better on the American site either, 653 out of 948 are 1 star reviews. Some of the reviewers are on their 5th cable in a year. I'm still using the USB cable and charger that came with my £99 Orange San Francisco three years ago.

You may want to pay £15 for a cable, personally I don't want to have to spend over £100 just to replace the numerous USB cables I have in various rooms and the car. Especially for such poor quality ones too.

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Bronze badge

Re: Not so strange, really

"Strangely, those wonderful lightning connectors that the whole world should use are not so wonderful after all."

The reviewers that you quote are in the main purchasing cables that they broke. Most likely through very rough treatment. Of course they will be cheesed off that they aren't protected from their own ham-fisted behaviour. Meanwhile, many millions of users seem to struggle by with the cable that came with their phone.

It's not, as you state, merely a USB cable. It also has an embedded processor that routes signals according to its orientation. And offers some degree of protection against Chinese knock-offs that are likely to torch your house in the middle of the night.

A sober comparison of Lightning vs "notoriously fragile" Micro-USB can be found here.

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Joke

Apple no onboard?

They are waiting for a standard to be established so the can then paint it white and patent it.

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Anonymous Coward

Low voltage ring-main anyone?

A few recent purchases have come with micro usb charging and no PSU, great, I've already got a dozen plus a multi-way mains power strip with 2xUSB outlets, plus the options of power from desktop PC USB and powered USB Hub plus in-car cigarette lighter USB adapters. Sure I don't like any of the USB plugs but if all I want is electrical power why not USB at one end simple round barrel plug at the device end?

Behind my desk is a collection of mains adapter strips housing about 10 power adapters. Why not have a big transformer at the fuse box and a ring main providing 5 volt outlets. Few electronic devices really need a higher voltage, they may be built to take a 20v feed but internally that gets stepped down.

I do have a draw full of mains adapters and the range of voltages and plugs is quite remarkable.

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Re: Low voltage ring-main anyone?

It's not a stupid idea. I'm not quite sure how it'd work from the perspective of voltage drop and electrical noise etc. Plus it could work out more inefficient than using supplies customised to the application since you would need to have voltage converters.

I am aware that they do DC power distribution in some data centres, but if memory serves, it's done at about 380VDC to avoid these losses.

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Re: Low voltage ring-main anyone?

because you would need cables the thickness of your fingers to be able to transfer the power required at such a low voltage.

You'd be better off putting the PSUs into the wall sockets.

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Silver badge
Paris Hilton

Whenever someone starts talking about a universal connector for anything

I recall my second real job when I was a wee lad. It was for an outfit called SMART HOUSE, LP which was an offshoot of the National Home Builders Association here in the US. Their mandate was to devise a method for putting cabling into a house that would enabled distributed communications amongst electronic widgetry in the home (even the gas stove).

At some point one of the engineers pulled out a 12" circular saw that had an odd angle bracket attached to it. The angle bracket ran parallel to the direction of the blade. He explained it was an early idea someone put together for an installation tool. It seems they started with the idea of a single cable that would include everything from 6 pairs of 22/24 for communication, a couple of cables for 5V DC, a couple for 12V DC, the three for 120VAC and even the cables for 240VAC, plus coax up and down for the video phone system and I think 4 twisted pair for the phone subsystem. All in a flat ribbon cable. The idea for the circular saw was that you would use one hand to hold the bracket on the wooden 2x4 stud in residential unit, and with the other swing the circular saw into place to cut a grove into the stub. That way you could pull the big-ass cable through the middle of the stud. And yes, everyone except the guy who built it looked at it and thought it was an update on a medieval tool to enable self-amputation.

Paris, because even she has more clue than that guy did. And probably more than the eggheads pushing this idea.

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Silver badge

One other thought

One thing I learned in my 3.5 years working for the outfit before they filed for bankruptcy: it's not really the device manufacturers driving the market for the different connectors; it's the connector manufacturers. So this standard is pointless because they'll never sign onto it.

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Recycling?

Perhaps the pre-melted chargers and phones are slightly easier to extract metsl from?

The major advantage of standardized connectors seems to be the availability of inexpensive after-market chargers. With the minor disadvantage of electrocutions and pants-on-fire.

The market giveth and the market taketh away.

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