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Beware Of Junktronics


By Ted Twietmeyer

Junktronics is a term I've coined to describe junk electronics which are everywhere now.

You would think that finding a power adapter or battery for a notebook computer would be a easy thing to do. To keep a late model notebook computer running, you may discover your original manufacturer may no longer sell a battery or power adapter for it. If you have never tried to buy a replacement power adapter which will function as good as your original power adapter, you won't know what fun you are missing.

If you plan on keeping your computer any length of time, go buy the original adapter from the manufacturer NOW while you still can get it. You will have piece of mind when you buy one, test it when it arrives for a few days with your computer then put it on the shelf. Murphy's law of power adapters states: Failure will only occur at the worst possible time.

Your power adapter IS the Achille's heal of any notebook computer.

Here is something very few people think about: With a desktop computer, power supply failure means immediate loss of work. With a notebook computer, power adapter failure means you are immediately running on battery. You still have plenty of time to pull out a replacement and plug it in -all  without losing any work. That is - if you have one already have a replacement on hand! Without a spare power adapter on hand, you suddenly realize there is perhaps 2 hours to finish all the work you need to do and copy the important files off your notebook computer - before you can no longer access them at all.

Finding a replacement power adapter may send you on a hunt that can quickly occupy many hours of your time. With Ebay, most people start by looking at a review of the seller after finding the product they need. But how many negatives has someone had in the last month? Are they a offshore seller that could take weeks to get your product to you after they have your money? Have previous buyers found the seller is unresponsive?

It appears some Ebay sellers are selling USED power adapters as new product. One tell-tale sign - when a buyer complains their "new product out of the box has scratches all over it." Or the product is found to be DOA out of the box. A "new" adapter may run a short time, then crackle and die. There are adapters sold as replacements for specific model computers; but often buyers find the power plug doesn't even fit the computer the adapter is listed for! More junktronics.

One buyer did a autopsy on his new DEAD adapter by opening it up. Opening one of these can be difficult - many adapter cases are ultrasonically welded together, making dis-assembly a destructive process. Inside he found under-rated capacitors which failed. Most manufacturers of electronics will power up a product about one second just to see if it works, then unplug it and ship it.

Products which are no longer manufactured are often cloned by small, relatively unknown Chinese companies, then boldly peddled as though the product is a original new product. But even original, new power adapters sold by Dell Computer for their notebooks can have problems. Dell notebook computers have been banned by at least one university. When I asked a system administrator at that university 4 years ago why this was, he replied: "Because certain Dell notebook power adapters are known to CATCH FIRE." Scary indeed -this certainly fits the definition of junktronics.

In electronic design, there is absolutely NO REASON for any product to catch fire and potentially burn down your car, home or business. This is what fuses and protection circuity are for. Often fuses or protection circuitry may be left out of a power adapter which is designed overseas just to save a few cents. American engineers are usually conscientious; they are always concerned about fire and liability and are unlikely to do this. A bad electronic design can cost a American engineer his job or his career, but apparently overseas defective, minimal electronic design is encouraged.

Often companies like Compaq, HP, Dell or others use a overseas manufacturer to build their power adapters. Manufacturers may only define little more than logos, markings, performance, wattage and connector type for a new power adapter design. It remains the responsibility of engineers at manufacturers like Compaq, HP, Dell and others to REVIEW and TEST the overseas-designed adapters for reliability and fire issues.

Many adapters have labels with numerous "approval" logos for numerous countries. These symbols mean nothing when it comes to reliability or even safety. A power adapter can have the best design in the world. If any power adapter or battery is manufactured with junk electronic parts, all these "approval" logos mean absolutely nothing.

There are replacement batteries available for notebook computers. Often cloned replacement batteries sell for far less money; but according to many buyers these can be far less reliable. One buyer commented how light the NEW battery pack was but it didn't work. Most likely there are no batteries inside it. How could it have passed final factory testing? It absolutely could not have passed. That is, if the factory even tests their products which appears doubtful.

Here is another unpleasant fact: Lithium-ion batteries are known to catch fire. Scrimping on buying a lithium battery to save a few dollars is a gamble at best. NEVER BUY A USED BATTERY. A lithium fire burns at over 2,000 degrees F. Fire can occur when a separator film between the lithium plates inside the battery allows a short circuit. Excessive internal current flow is what ignites a lithium battery. Whenever a vehicle fire occurs in a Tesla car, Chevy Volt or other electric car no fire department can ever put it out.

Why? Water can only put out a fire when applied to the base of the flames. With super-hot battery fires, water rapidly turns to steam long before reaching the base of the flames which is useless. Foam cannot smother a 2,000 degree F. fire. All a fire department can do is water down the surrounding area and vehicles and wait for the fire to burn out. Now imagine a lithium-ion battery catching fire in your home or garage when you are asleep or not around...will anything be left? Your fire alarm system calls for help - but so what? No fire department can get near your car to pull it out of the garage or away from your home. Imagine a cheap, badly designed power adapter igniting itself when you are not around to put it out.

IF I owned a electric vehicle which uses current lithium battery technology, it would be kept in a garage far away from our home.

To reverse engineer any product like a power adapter or battery pack is not trivial; there are dozens of precise measurements required to machine new steel plastic molds for use in a molding machine. There is at least one circuit board which must also be replicated. Lithium batteries have simple circuitry within them for protection against fire caused by over-discharging or over-charging. All circuitry must accurately replicated to be compatible with the computer they are designed fit. A Chinese investment equivalent to tens of thousands of US dollars is required just to clone one power adapter or one battery pack.

How is it so many adapters and batteries, which are sold on Amazon or Ebay as NEW, are found dead by buyers right out of the box? Perhaps Chinese companies are buying returned batteries and adapters straight from original equipment manufacturers like HP, Dell and others - then re-sell them as new. After reading hundreds of negative buyer reviews, it is clear not all companies are doing 100% testing of their products before shipping.

Here are some tips:

* Let your power adapter and computer breathe! Power adapter electronics dissipate internal circuitry heat through the plastic case. Your adapter will run cooler internally if air can circulate around it. Same holds true for your computer, too.

* If the fan in your notebook computer has started running faster than usual, but no computational-intensive programs are running:

1. Check for obstructed ventilation vents
2. Check for undesirable running processes like adware and spyware in your task manager

Be aware that free software of any kind, often has back doors and spyware within. When it comes to free computer anti-virus and firewall  protection, be aware you will never get what you don't pay for. It could cost you your identity.

So beware of junktronics. You are better off paying a little more to buy a genuine name-brand replacement adapter or battery from your original manufacturer. Well known manufacturers have their good name to protect; they don't want to be slammed with millions of lost dollars created by recalls, fires and liability lawsuits.

Ted Twietmeyer


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