A dozen USB chargers in the lab: Apple is very good, but not quite the best

When you buy a USB charger, how do you know if you're getting a safe, high-quality charger for your money? You can't tell from the outside if a charger provides silky-smooth power or if it is a dangerous charger that emits noisy power that cause touchscreen malfunctions[1] and could self-destruct. In this article, I carefully measure the performance of a dozen different chargers, rate their performance in multiple categories, and determine the winners and losers.

The above picture shows the twelve chargers I analyzed.[2] The charger in the upper-left is the cube-shaped Apple iPhone charger. Next is an oblong Samsung adapter and a cube Samsung adapter. The Apple iPad power adapter is substantially larger[3] than the iPhone charger but provides twice the power. The HP TouchPad power charger has an unusual cylindrical shape. Next is a counterfeit iPhone charger, which appears identical to the real thing but only costs a couple dollars. In the upper right, the Monoprice iPhone charger has a 30-pin dock connector, not USB. The colorful orange charger is a counterfeit of the Apple UK iPhone charger. Next is a counterfeit iPad charger that looks just like the real one. The Belkin power adapter is oval shaped. The KMS power supply provides four USB ports. The final charger is a Motorola Charger.

Summary of ratings

The chargers are rated from 1 to 5 energy bolts, with 5 bolts the best. The overall rating below is the average of the ratings in nine different categories, based on my measurements of efficiency, power stability, power quality, and power output. The quick summary is that phone manufacturers provide pretty good chargers, the aftermarket chargers are worse, and $2 counterfeit chargers are pretty much junk. Much to my surprise, the HP TouchPad charger (which isn't sold any more) turned out to have the best overall score. The counterfeit iPhone charger set a new low for bad quality, strikingly worse than the other two counterfeits.

 ModelOverall rating
Apple iPhone Apple A1265
Samsung oblong Samsung travel adapter ETA0U60JBE
Samsung cube Samsung travel adapter ETA0U80JBE
Apple iPad Apple 10W USB Power Adapter A1357
HP TouchPad Hewlett Packard LPS AC/DC Adaptor P/N 157-10157-00
Counterfeit iPhone Fake Apple A1265 "Designed by California"
Monoprice Monoprice Switching Mode Power Supply MIPTC1A
Counterfeit UK Fake Apple A1299
Counterfeit iPad Fake Apple 10W USB Power Adapter A1357
Belkin Belkin UTC001
KMS KMS-AC09
Motorola Motorola AC Power Supply DC4050US0301

Inside a charger

These chargers cram a lot of complex circuitry into a small package, as you can see from the iPhone charger below. (See my iPhone charger teardown for more details.) The small size makes it challenging to make an efficient, high-quality charger, while the commoditization of chargers and the demand for low prices pressure manufacturers to make the circuit as simple as possible and exclude expensive components, even if the power quality is worse. The result is a wide variation in the quality of the chargers, most of which is invisible to the user, who may believe "a charger is a charger".

The circuitry inside the Apple iPhone USB charger

Inside the iPhone charger

Internally a charger is an amazingly compact switching power supply that efficiently converts line AC into 5 volt DC output. The input AC is first converted to high-voltage DC. The DC is chopped up tens of thousands of times a second and fed into a tiny flyback transformer. The output of the transformer is converted to low-voltage DC, filtered, and provided as the 5 volt output through the USB port. A feedback mechanism regulates the chopping frequency to keep the output voltage stable. Name-brand chargers use a specialized control IC to run the charger, while cheap chargers cut corners by replacing the IC with a cheap, low-quality feedback circuit.[4]

A poor design can suffer several problems. If the output voltage is not filtered well, there will be noise and spikes due to the high-frequency switching. At extreme levels this could damage your phone, but the most common symptom is the touchscreen doesn't work while the charger is plugged in.[1] A second problem is the output voltage can be affected by the AC input, causing 120 Hz "ripple".[5] Third, the charger is supposed to provide a constant voltage. A poor design can cause the voltage to sag as the load increases. Your phone will take longer to charge if the charger doesn't provide enough power. Finally, USB chargers are not all interchangeable; the wrong type of charger may not work with your device.[6]

Counterfeits

Counterfeit chargers pose a safety hazard as well as a hazard to your phone. You can buy a charger that looks just like an Apple charger for about $2, but the charger is nothing like an Apple charger internally. The power is extremely bad quality (as I will show below). But more importantly, these chargers ignore safety standards. Since chargers have hundreds of volts internally, there's a big risk if a charger doesn't have proper insulation. You're putting your phone, and more importantly yourself, at risk if you use one of these chargers. I did a teardown of a counterfeit charger, which shows the differences in detail.

I've taken apart several counterfeit chargers and readers have sent me photos of others. Surprisingly, the counterfeit chargers I've examined all use different circuitry internally. If you get a counterfeit, it could be worse or better than what I've seen.

How do you tell if a charger is counterfeit? The fakes are very similar; it's hard for me to tell, even after studying many chargers. There's a video on how to distinguish real and fake chargers through subtle differences. You can also weigh the charger (if you have an accurate scale), and compare with the weights I give above. The easiest way to get a genuine Apple charger is fork over $29 to an Apple store. If you buy a $2 "Original Genuine Apple" charger on eBay shipped from China, I can guarantee it's counterfeit. On the other hand, I've succeeded in buying genuine used chargers from US resellers for a moderate price on eBay, but you're taking a chance.

The following picture shows a counterfeit charger that burned up. The safety issues with counterfeits are not just theoretical; when hundreds of volts short out, the results can be spectacular.

Counterfeit iPhone charger that burned up

Photo by Anool Mahidharia. Used with permission

Indicated charger type

A device being charged can detect what type of charger is being used through specific voltages on the USB data pins.[6] Because of this, some devices only work with their own special chargers. For instance, an "incorrect" charger may be rejected by an iPhone 3GS or later with the message "Charging is not supported with this accessory".[7]

There are many different charger types, but only a few are used in the chargers I examined. A USB charger that follows the standard is known as a "dedicated USB charger". However, some manufacturers (such as Apple, Sony, and HP) don't follow the USB standard but implement their own proprietary charger types. Apple has separate charger types for 1 amp (iPhone) and 2 amp (iPad) chargers. HP has a special type for the HP TouchPad.

The point is that USB chargers are not interchangeable, and devices may not work if the charger type doesn't match what the device expects. The table below shows the type of charger, the current that the label claims the charger provides, the current it actually provides, and the charger type it indicates to the device.

The types of the counterfeit chargers are a mess, as they advertise one power level, actually supply a different power level, and have the charger type for a third level. For example, the counterfeit iPhone charger is advertised as supplying 1 amp, but has the 2A charger type, so an iPad will expect 2 amps but not obtain enough power. On the other hand, the counterfeit iPad charger claims to supply 2 amps, but really only supplies 1 amp and has a 1A type.

 Charger typeLabelMeasured currentWeight
Apple iPhone Apple 1A charger5V 1A1.79A23.0g
Samsung oblong dedicated USB charger5V 0.7A.80A33.1g
Samsung cube dedicated USB charger5V 1A1.17A23.2g
Apple iPad Apple 2A charger5.1V 2.1A2.3A67.5g
HP TouchPad HP TouchPad charger5.3V 2.0A2.4A54.8g
Counterfeit iPhone Apple 2A charger5V 1A.94A18.8g
Monoprice Apple dock5V 1A1.22A67.8g
Counterfeit UK dedicated USB charger5V 1A.57A29.4g
Counterfeit iPad Apple 1A charger5.1V 2.1A1.2A43.4g
Belkin Apple 1A charger5V 1A1.27A43.0g
KMS Apple 2A charger5V 2.1A3.4A99.5g
Motorola dedicated USB charger5.1V .85A.82A38.6g

Efficiency

People often wonder how much power their charger is wasting while it's idle, and if they should unplug their charger when not in use. I measured this "vampire" power usage and found the chargers varied by more than a factor of 20 in their idle power usage. The Samsung oblong charger came in best, using just 19 mW; this was so low compared to the other chargers that I measured it again a different way to make sure I hadn't made an error. On the other extreme, the fake iPhone charger used 375 mW. The Apple iPhone charger performed surprisingly badly at 195 mW. If plugged in for a year, this would cost you about 21 cents in electricity, so it's probably not worth worrying about.[8] In the following table, I use the official charger Star Rating System (yes, there actually is such a thing).[9][10]

I also measured efficiency of the chargers under load.[11] One of the benefits of switching power supplies over simpler linear supplies is they are much more efficient at converting the input power to output. The chargers I measured all did pretty well, with 63% to 80% efficiency. The HP charger was the winner here.

 VampiremilliwattsEfficiencyPercent
Apple iPhone 19574
Samsung oblong 1976
Samsung cube 8677
Apple iPad 6278
HP TouchPad 9180
Counterfeit iPhone 37563
Monoprice 7872
Counterfeit UK 10363
Counterfeit iPad 9566
Belkin 23466
KMS 17969
Motorola 5975

The chargers up close

Apple iPhone and counterfeit

A real Apple iPhone charger (left) and a counterfeit charger (right

The above photo shows a real iPhone charger (left) and a counterfeit (right); the two chargers are almost identical, down to the green dot. If you look closely, the genuine one says "Designed by Apple in California", while the counterfeit has the puzzling text "Designed by California". The counterfeit also removed the "Apple Japan" text below the plug. I've seen another counterfeit that says "Designed by Abble" (not Apple). I assume the word "Apple" is removed for legal or trademark reasons, since the word "Apple" is often (but not always) missing from counterfeits.

Samsung oblong

The Samsung oblong charger.

I call this charger the Samsung oblong charger, to distinguish it from the Samsung cube charger.

Samsung cube

The Samsung cube charger is shaped very similarly to the Apple iPhone charger. Internally, however, it turns out to be entirely different.

Apple iPad and counterfeit

A real Apple iPad charger (left) and a counterfeit charger (right

The photo above shows a real iPad charger (left) and a counterfeit (right). The counterfeit has almost identical text, but without "Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China", "Listed" under UL, and the manufacturer "Foxlink". Inexplicably this sanitization left "TM and © 2010 Apple Inc".

Real (left) and counterfeit (right) iPad chargers

The above photo shows a real iPad charger on the left and a fake iPad charger on the right, with the plug removed. The most visible difference is the real charger has a round metal grounding post, while the fake has plastic. (The US plug isn't grounded, but in other countries the lack of ground in the counterfeit could pose a safety hazard.)

HP TouchPad

HP TouchPad charger HP TouchPad charger

The HP TouchPad charger has a very unusual cylindrical shape, which is striking if perhaps not practical. The charger twists apart, allowing the plug to be replaced for different countries. (It took me weeks to discover this feature.)

Monoprice

Monoprice USB charger

The Monoprice charger isn't a USB charger, but instead has a 30-pin iPhone dock connector attached. It is a relatively large charger.

Counterfeit UK

Counterfeit Apple UK iPhone charger

This charger is a counterfeit of the Apple UK iPhone charger. They've removed Apple from the text, but left Emerson Network Power, which I'm sure is not the actual manufacturer. The genuine Apple UK charger can be distinguished by a serial number inside the USB connector.

Belkin

Belkin phone charger

The Belkin charger eschews the minimal design styling of most chargers, with a roughly oval cross section, curves and ribs, and a cover over the USB port.

KMS

KMS 4-port USB charger with plug detached

The KMS charger is unusual in providing 4 USB ports. It also gives off a blue glow while in use. The plug can be removed and replaced for use in different countries, similar to the iPad and HP TouchPad chargers. I couldn't find any UL safety approval on this charger, but I did find a report of one catching fire.

Motorola

Motorola phone charger

The Motorola charger has the lowest listed power output, 850mA. The back of it has a holographic sticker (like a credit card), which may ward off counterfeiters, even though it's unlikely for anyone to counterfeit this charger. I wonder though why Apple doesn't use holograms or other anti-counterfeiting techniques, given the large number of counterfeit Apple chargers being sold.

Delivery of advertised power

Each charger has an advertised power output, but some chargers produce considerably more and some produce much less. Your device will take longer to charge, if the charger can't put out enough power. This table shows each charger's ability to deliver the rated power, based on my measurements of maximum power. While most chargers meet or exceed the power rating, there are some exceptions.

The counterfeit chargers perform extremely poorly, putting out a fraction of the expected power. Charging your device with one of these chargers will be a slow, frustrating experience. In particular, the counterfeit UK charger only produces a third of the expected power. Although the label claims the charger works on 100-240 volts, it's clearly not designed to work on US power.

The iPad is a surprise, putting out less power than expected. Despite being nominally a 10 watt charger, the label says it provides 5.1V and 2.1A, which works out to 10.7 watts. However, the maximum power I measured is 10.1 watts (4.4 volts at 2.3 amps, as shown in the Power section below). Since the measured power is slightly less than advertised, it only gets four bolts.

 RatingLabelWatts from labelMeasured watts
Apple iPhone 5V 1A5.06.0
Samsung oblong 5V 0.7A3.54.0
Samsung cube 5V 1A5.05.5
Apple iPad 5.1V 2.1A10.710.1
HP TouchPad 5.3V 2.0A10.611.4
Counterfeit iPhone 5V 1A5.02.7
Monoprice 5V 1A5.05.7
Counterfeit UK 5V 1A5.01.7
Counterfeit iPad 5.1V 2.1A10.75.9
Belkin 5V 1A5.05.6
KMS 5V 2.1A10.510.9
Motorola 5.1V .85A4.34.3

Power quality

In this section, I measure the quality of the power produced by the different chargers. I analyze it for voltage spikes, high frequency noise, and line-frequency ripple. The following table summarizes the results in three categories. Spikes indicates extremely brief large voltage spikes in the output, while Noise indicates high-frequency noise in the output, and Ripple indicates low-frequency (120 Hz) fluctuations in the output.[12]

 SpikesNoiseRipple
Apple iPhone
Samsung oblong
Samsung cube
Apple iPad
HP TouchPad
Counterfeit iPhone
Monoprice
Counterfeit UK
Counterfeit iPad
Belkin
KMS
Motorola

The following oscilloscope traces show the output signal (yellow) and frequency spectrum (orange). The left images provide high-frequency information on the output voltage. The right images show the low-frequency information on the output voltage.[13]

The desired voltage graph is a flat, thin yellow line indicating totally smooth power. However, some factors mess this up. First, any ripple from the power line will show up as 5 sinusoidal peaks in the first (high-frequency) yellow line. High-frequency noise will widen the yellow line. Voltage spikes will appear as vertical spikes in the yellow line.

The plots also show the frequency spectrum in orange, from 0 at the left to 230 kHz at the right. The desired graph would have the orange spectrum near the bottom of the screen. Thus, the power quality exponentially gets worse as the orange line gets higher. The left (high frequency) spectrum generally shows noise at the switching frequency of the charger (and harmonics). The right (low frequency) spectrum typically shows spikes at multiples of 120 Hz, caused by ripple from the 60 Hz power.[5]

Apple iPhone

High frequency oscilloscope trace from Apple iPhone charger Low frequency oscilloscope trace from Apple iPhone charger

The ripple is clearly visible as the waves in the yellow trace on the left and as the spikes (at 120 Hz and 240 Hz) in the orange trace on the right.

The iPhone charger performs extremely well at filtering out spikes and noise, the best of the chargers I measured. Apart from the 120 Hz spikes, the noise spectrum (orange) is flat and very low. The power quality is so good, I checked the results several times to make sure I wasn't missing something.

Samsung oblong

High frequency oscilloscope trace from Samsung oblong charger Low frequency oscilloscope trace from Samsung oblong charger

The Samsung charger's output has a lot more noise than the iPhone charger. This is visible in the thickness and jaggedness of the yellow output curves. The orange frequency spectrum on the left shows large peaks at harmonics of the switching frequency. The 120 Hz spike on the right is a bit lower than the iPhone charger, so the ripple filtering is a bit better.

Samsung cube

High frequency oscilloscope trace from Samsung cube charger Low frequency oscilloscope trace from Samsung cube charger

The Samsung cube charger shows some noise in the output (yellow). The frequency spectrum shows wide peaks at multiples of the the switching frequency, about 90kHz. There's some ripple.

Apple iPad

High frequency oscilloscope trace from Apple iPad charger Low frequency oscilloscope trace from Apple iPad charger

The iPad charger almost eliminates the ripple; only a small blip is visible in the orange spectrum on the right. The noise level is low, although appreciably worse than the iPhone.

HP TouchPad

High frequency oscilloscope trace from HP TouchPad charger Low frequency oscilloscope trace from HP TouchPad charger

There's no ripple visible in the HP charger spectrum on the right. The overall noise level is good.

Counterfeit iPhone

High frequency oscilloscope trace from counterfeit iPhone charger Low frequency oscilloscope trace from counterfeit iPhone charger

The output from this counterfeit charger is a wall of noise. In order to fit the waveform in the display, I had to double the scale on the left and increase it by a factor of 5 on the right, so the yellow curve is actually much worse than it appears. On the left, note the huge ripple with massive high-frequency noise on top. This output is not something you want to feed into your phone.

Monoprice

High frequency oscilloscope trace from Monoprice USB charger Low frequency oscilloscope trace from Monoprice USB charger

The output from this charger is very noisy, as you can see from the thickness of the yellow line. Note that the frequency spectrum (left) has very tall but narrow spikes at harmonics of the 28kHz switching frequency, showing a lot of high-frequency noise. On the positive side, there is hardly any ripple.

Counterfeit UK

High frequency oscilloscope trace from counterfeit UK iPhone charger Low frequency oscilloscope trace from counterfeit UK iPhone charger

This charger has very bad output. The large degree of ripple is visible in the waveform (yellow, left) and the very large spikes in the spectrum (orange, right). The thickness of the yellow waveform shows the large amount of high-frequency noise, which is also visible in the very high peaks in the spectrum (orange, left).

Counterfeit iPad

High frequency oscilloscope trace from counterfeit iPad charger Low frequency oscilloscope trace from counterfeit iPad charger

This counterfeit charger has so much noise in the output that I had to double the scale on the left to get it to fit. Note the very large spikes in the output (yellow). The spectrum (orange, left) is much higher everywhere, indicating noise at all frequencies. Surprisingly, it has only a moderate amount of ripple; the manufacturer seems to have done at least one thing right.

Belkin

High frequency oscilloscope trace from Belkin phone charger Low frequency oscilloscope trace from Belkin phone charger

The Belkin charger does well at eliminating ripple, but has a lot of noise otherwise. The spectrum (orange, left) shows large peaks. The yellow output is wide, showing a lot of noise, combined with many large voltage spikes of about 1/3 volt.

KMS

High frequency oscilloscope trace from KMS charger Low frequency oscilloscope trace from KMS charger

The KMS charger has fairly good output, with a small peak in the spectrum (orange, left) at the switching frequency. It has no detectable ripple. However, it has many large voltage spikes in the output, over half a volt, as can be seen on the right.

Motorola

High frequency oscilloscope trace from Motorola phone charger Low frequency oscilloscope trace from Motorola phone charger

The Motorola charger has a lot of spikes in the output (yellow) . The spectrum (orange, left) shows high frequency noise at the switching frequencies. There's a moderate amount of ripple (yellow, left and orange, right).

Summary

The quality of the output power is radically different between chargers. The counterfeit chargers are uniformly bad, with hardly any effort at filtering the output. The other chargers vary in quality with the iPhone charger setting the standard for noise-free power, but surprisingly poor filtering of ripple. The power quality is a key factor that affects the performance of chargers; spikes and noise are known to interfere with touchscreens.[1]

Power curve

In this section I look at the voltage and current output by the charger as the load increases. The first rating is Voltage Sag, which is the undesired drop in output voltage as the load increases. The second rating is Current Sag, which shows how the current fluctuates as load increases. Finally, Regulation shows the overall stability of the output from the charger.
 Voltage sagCurrent sagRegulation
Apple iPhone
Samsung oblong
Samsung cube
Apple iPad
HP TouchPad
Counterfeit iPhone
Monoprice
Counterfeit UK
Counterfeit iPad
Belkin
KMS
Motorola

The graphs in this section need a bit of explanation, which is provided in the diagram below. The voltage/current load curve shows the performance of the charger under different loads. Each point on the curve shows the current (X axis) and voltage (Y axis) produced by the charger under a particular load condition. Follow the yellow curve clockwise from the upper left to the lower left to see the effect of increasing load. The upper left point of the curve shows the voltage produced by the charger when there is no load on the charger. As the load increases, the charger is supposed to keep a constant voltage and increase the current (i.e. horizontal line), until it reaches the maximum power (upper right). If the load continues increasing, the charger switches to a constant current mode, dropping the voltage while continuing to provide the maximum current (i.e. vertical line).[14] At the lower right, the charger has reached its shutdown point due to excessive load, and rapidly drops to no output in the lower left corner to avoid damage.

Example Voltage vs Current graph for a phone charger

[16]

Apple iPhone

Voltage vs Current curve for Apple iPhone charger

The output from the Apple iPhone charger is surprisingly non-constant under load. The charger starts off with 5.2 volts with no load, dropping to 4.6 volts as the load increases, resulting in the downwards slope of the top yellow line. As the load increases, the current keeps increasing, resulting in the slope of the right yellow line. Note however that the yellow line is relatively thin, so the regulation is pretty good at each point.

Note that because this charger has a high current output, this chart has a different current (horizontal) scale than most of the charts to fit the whole trace in the image. Stretch it horizontally to compare with other graphs.

Samsung oblong

Voltage vs Current curve for Samsung oblong charger

For this charger, the voltage is approximately flat, except for a bump under no load (upper left) which is probably a measurement artifact. The vertical yellow line shows the current stays nearly constant as the load increases. The charger shows good voltage and current stability under changing load. The yellow line is a bit wider than the iPhone charger, showing a bit less regulation for a fixed load.

Samsung cube

Voltage vs Current curve for Samsung cube charger

The voltage curve sags slightly under load. The right hand curve shows the current stays stable, but the line is moderately wide, showing a bit of weakness in regulation.

Apple iPad

Voltage vs Current curve for Apple iPad charger

Similar to the iPhone charger, the iPad charger shows a lot of voltage sag. The voltage is about 5.1 V unloaded, dropping to 4.4 volts and 2.3 A (10.1 W) at the corner. Unlike the iPhone charger, the iPad charger has pretty good current stability. The regulation is solid, as shown by the narrowness of the yellow trace. Note the scale change due to the high current output.

I'm puzzled by the steep voltage sag on both the iPhone and iPad charger. Since the designers of the Apple charger went to a great deal of effort to build a high quality charger, I conclude they must not consider voltage sag worth worrying about. Or, more interestingly, maybe they built this sag as a feature for some reason. In any case, the chargers lose points on this.

HP TouchPad

Voltage vs Current curve for HP TouchPad charger

The charger has some voltage sag, but the current (vertical) is nice and constant. The yellow line is relatively thin, showing good regulation. Note the scale change due to the high current output.

Counterfeit iPhone

Voltage vs Current curve for counterfeit iPhone charger

This counterfeit charger shows extremely poor regulation, as shown by the very wide yellow line. It's hard to fit a voltage-current curve to this picture. The amount of power supplied by this charger seems almost random.

Monoprice

Voltage vs Current curve for Monoprice charger

The Monoprice charger shows reasonably straight voltage and current lines showing good constant voltage and current outputs. The vertical line shows some width and noise, suggesting the regulation isn't totally stable.

Counterfeit UK

Voltage vs Current curve for counterfeit UK iPhone charger

For this charger, the upper line doesn't get very far, showing that this charger doesn't output much current. My suspicion is that it was only tested with 240 volts so it performs poorly with 120 volts, even though the label says it takes 100 to 240 volts. The width of the yellow line shows very poor regulation.

Counterfeit iPad

The output of this counterfeit charger is so poorly regulated that it's hard to tell exactly what's happening with the voltage and current. It looks like the voltage is roughly constant underneath all the noise.

Belkin

Voltage vs Current curve for Belkin phone charger

The Belkin charger shows voltage sag as the current increases. In addition, the output is fairly noisy.

KMS

Voltage vs Current curve for KNS phone charger

The KMS charger shows a lot of voltage sag as the load increases. In addition, the output is all over the place, showing very poor regulation, more like what I'd expect from a counterfeit charger. Note the scale change due to the high current output.

Motorola

Voltage vs Current curve for Motorola phone charger

The Motorola charger shows a bit of voltage sag, but good current stability. The regulation is good but not perfect, as shown by the width of the yellow line. (The gaps in the vertical line are just measurement artifacts.) Note that the maximum current output of this charger is fairly low (as advertised).

Conclusions

So what charger should you spend your hard-earned money on? First, make sure the charger will work with your phone - for instance, newer iPhones only work with certain chargers. Second, don't buy a counterfeit charger; the price is great, but it's not worth risking your expensive device or your safety. Beyond that, it's your decision on how much quality is worth versus price, and I hope the data here helps you make a decision.

P.S. How about some teardowns?

My previous iPhone charger and fake charger teardowns were surprisingly popular, but if you were hoping for teardowns on the full set of chargers, you'll need to wait for a future blog post. I haven't torn the chargers apart yet; if I need to take more measurements, I don't want to have just a pile of parts. But I do have some preview pictures to hold you over until my teardown article.

Counterfeit Apple iPhone charger internals

The above picture shows the internals of a counterfeit Apple iPhone cube charger. The two boards stack to form the compact cube shape. This charger blatantly tries to pass as a genuine Apple charger; unlike the "Designed by California" charger, this one exactly copies the "Designed by Apple in California" text from the real charger. Note the very simple circuitry[4] - there are no components on the other side of the board, no controller IC, and very little filtering. Also look at the terrible mounting of the transistor on the front right; clearly the build quality of this charger is poor. Finally, note the overall lack of insulation; this charger wouldn't meet UL safety standards and could easily short out. But on the plus side, this charger only cost a couple dollars.

Inside a cheap USB charger

The above $2 charger is notable for its low-profile design; it's about as thin as you can make a charger and still fit the power prongs and the USB port. The transformer is very short to fit into this charger. Like the previous charger, it uses a very simple circuit,[4] has little filtering, and almost no safety insulation.

The complex circuit inside a Samsung cube USB charger Circuit boards of a Samsung cube USB charger, showing the transformer, switching transistor, filter capacitors, and other large components

Finally, the above pictures show the internals of the Samsung cube charger, which has circuit boards packed with tiny components and is much more advanced than the counterfeits (although slightly less complex than the Apple charger). Despite being very similar to the Apple charger on the outside, the Samsung charger uses an entirely different design and circuitry internally. One interesting design feature is the filter capacitors fit through the cut-out holes in the secondary circuit board, allowing the large filter capacitors to fit in the charger.

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Notes and references

[1] For an explanation of how the noisy output from cheap chargers messes up touchscreens, see Noise Wars: Projected Capacitance Strikes Back.

[2] The charger selection may seem slightly eccentric; it is based on chargers I had previously acquired, chargers I could obtain at a reasonable price, chargers supplied by Gary F. and Anthony H. (thanks, guys!), and some counterfeit chargers for comparison.

[3] TI has an interesting new design for a 10 watt inch-cube charger. With this design a tablet charger could be as small as the iPhone charger.

Texas Instruments PMP8286 10W cube charger.

Photo of PMP8286 10W cube charger used with permission from Texas Instruments.

[4] The cheap chargers all use a "ringing choke converter" circuit, which coincidentally is the same power supply topology used by the Apple II. These chargers use an extremely simple feedback mechanism in place of the control IC in higher-quality chargers. See a comic-book explanation or a technical explanation for details.

[5] Since the input AC has a frequency of 60 Hertz, you might wonder why the ripple in the output is 120 Hertz. The diode bridge converts the 60 Hz AC input to 120 Hz pulsed DC, as shown in the diagram below. The pulses are smoothed out with filter capacitors before being fed into the switching circuit, but if the filtering isn't sufficient the output may show some 120 Hz ripple.

Image by WdWd, used under CC BY 3.0

[6] The chargers use specific voltages on the data pins to indicate the charger type to the device being charged. Because of this, an "incorrect" charger may be rejected by an iPhone with the message "Charging is not supported with this accessory".[7] Under the USB standard, a charger should short the two data pins together to indicate that it's a "dedicated" charger and not a real USB device. However, companies such as Apple, HP, and Sony have their own proprietary nonstandard techniques. The following table summarizes the voltages that appear on the D+ and D- lines for different chargers, and how the D+ and D- lines are configured internally.

Charger typeD+ voltageD- voltageD+/D- shortedD+ pullup (kΩ)D+ pulldown (kΩ)D- pullup (kΩ)D- pulldown (kΩ)
dedicated USBfloatfloatyesnonenonenonenone
Apple .5A22no7549.97549.9
Apple 1A22.7no7549.943.249.9
Apple 2A2.72no43.249.97549.9
HP TouchPad 2A2.82.7yes250300n/an/a
Sony3.33.3no5.1105.110

Most of this data is based on Maxim USB Battery Charger Detectors, Adafruit's The mysteries of Apple device charging, TouchPad's USB Cable, XDA forum (Samsung), and TPS2511 USB Dedicated Charging Port Controller and Current Limiting Power Switch datasheet. The Apple 2A (i.e. iPad) information is a new result from my measurements. For details on USB charging protocols, see my references in my earlier posting.

Amusingly, semiconductor manufacturers have recently introduced chips that allow chargers to sequentially pretend to be different proprietary chargers until they trick the device into accepting the charger. It seems crazy that companies (such as Apple) design incompatible chargers, and then chip companies invent schemes to work around these incompatibilities in order to build universally compatible chargers. Two example chips are the TI TPS 2511 chip, and SMSC's USC1001 controller, which pretends to be nine different charger types.

[7] If you've wondered why some chargers cause the iPhone to give a "Charging not supported with this accessory" error, Silicon based annoyance reduction made easy describes how devices use proprietary protocols to limit the chargers they will work with.

[8] For the efficiency analysis I use 12 cents / kilowatt-hour as a typical residential energy price, which I got from US Energy Information Administration table 5.3.

[9] The official no-load charger star ratings are discussed at Meeting 30 mW standby in mobile phone chargers.

[10] There are many standards for energy consumption; see 5 W Cellular Phone CCCV (Constant Current Constant Voltage) AC-DC Adapter. For Energy Star ratings, a 5W charger must have under .5W no-load consumption, and 63% efficiency under load. A 10W charger must have under .75W no-load consumption, and 70% efficiency.

[11] Because switching power supplies use power in irregular waveforms, I used a complex setup to measure power consumption. I measured the AC input voltage and current with an oscilloscope. The oscilloscope's math functions multiplied the voltage and current at each instant to compute the instantaneous power, and then computed the average power over time. For safety and to avoid vaporizing the oscilloscope I used an isolation transformer. My measurements are fairly close to Apple's[15], which is reassuring.

You might wonder why I didn't just use a Kill A Watt power monitor, which performs the same instantaneous voltage * current process internally. Unfortunately it doesn't have the resolution for the small power consumptions I'm measuring: it reports 0.3W for the Apple iPhone charger, and 0.0W for many of the others. Ironically, after computing these detailed power measurements, I simply measured the input current with a multimeter, multiplied by 115 volts, and got almost exactly the same results for vampire power.

[12] The spike, noise, and ripple measurements come from the oscilloscope traces. The Spikes measurement is based on the maximum peak-to-peak voltage on the high frequency trace (the low frequency trace yields almost identical results). The Noise measurement is based on the RMS voltage on the high-frequency trace, and Ripple is based on the maximum dB measured in the low-frequency spectrum. These measurements appear on the right in the traces.

[13] In the power quality section, the high-frequency (left) images show 40 milliseconds of the waveform in yellow, and the frequency spectrum up to 234 kHz in orange. The low-frequency (right) images show 1 second of the output voltage in yellow and the frequency spectrum up to 600 Hz in orange. Because the frequency spectrum is measured in dBm, it is logarithmic; every division higher indicates 20 dB which is 10 times the voltage and 100 times the power.

[14] The chargers use a design called constant-voltage, constant-current (CVCC), since they provide a constant voltage (and increasing current) up to the maximum load and then a constant current (and decreasing voltage) if the load continues to increase. [15] The Apple 3GS Environmental Report gives some efficiency measurements for the Apple USB Power Adapter. It lists 0.23W no-load power and 75% efficiency. These values are reasonably close to my measurements of 0.195W no-load consumption and 73.6% efficiency.

[16] Measuring these curves was a bit tricky. I used a NTE2382 power MOSFET transistor as a variable load, manually varying the gate bias to generate the load curve. The transistor needed a large heat sink to dissipate 10 watts. A more complex dynamic load circuit is described here, but the simple circuit was sufficient for me.

The graphs were generated using the X-Y mode on the oscilloscope, with the load voltage as Y and the current as X. I used a .12Ω current sense resistor to measure the load current. This works out to 1/6 amp load current per division for the 20mV/div traces (most of them), and 5/12 amp load current per division for the 50mV/div traces (the high-current devices).

Note that increasing load corresponds to a decreasing resistance across the output: the upper left has infinite resistance (no load), the lower left has zero resistance (short circuit), and the resistance decreases in between. Since the power (in watts) is voltage * current, the maximum power is in the upper right corner, approximately 4W in this case. The load resistance can be computed by Ohm's law, e.g. middle of the upper curve: 5 V / .4 A = 12.5Ω, upper right corner 5 V / .8 A = 6.25 ohms. Middle of the right hand curve: 2.5 V / .8 A = 3Ω, overload point = .5 V / .8 A = .6Ω.

[17] Most of these chargers aren't made by the companies that sell them, and there are some interesting facts about the manufacturers. The manufacturers of the chargers can be looked up from the UL certification number. The oblong Samsung is made in China by Korean RFTech, a manufacturer of mobile phone products. The Samsung cube is made in China by Korean power supply manufacturer Dong Yang E&P. The HP charger is made by Foxlink, who also makes the iPad charger for Apple. The counterfeit chargers are made by anonymous Chinese manufacturers, despite what they claim on the labels. The Monoprice is made by Golden Profit Electronics (formerly ShaYao Electric Factory Three - no word on what happened to factories One and Two). The Belkin charger is manufactured by the obscure company Mobiletec of Taiwan. The KMS charger doesn't give any clues as to the manufacturer, and I can't identify KMS as a company. The Motorola charger is built by Astec (now part of Emerson Network Power). Interestingly, Astec's big break was manufacturing power supplies for the Apple II, as I discuss in my article on the Apple II power supply.

Apple uses a dizzying variety of manufacturers for their chargers. The iPhone charger (A1265) is made by Flextronics, the UK charger (A1299) is made by Emerson Network Power (except the one I have is counterfeit), the iPad charger (A1357) is made by Foxlink Technologies, and the Magsafe (ADP-85) charger (not discussed in this article) is made by Delta Electronics. The A1385 iPhone charger often comes with the iPhone 5 and looks identical to the A1265 I measured, but is manufactured by Emerson Network Power instead of Flextronics. I am told that by using multiple manufacturers, Apple has more negotiating leverage, since they can easily switch manufacturers at any time if they're not happy with the price or quality.

Confusingly, Foxlink (Taiwan), Foxconn (Taiwan), and Flextronics (Singapore) are all manufacturers for Apple with similar names. Foxlink (the name for Cheng Uei Precision Industry) and Foxconn (the name for Hon Hai Precision Industry) are entirely independent companies aside from the fact that the chairmen of both companies are brothers and the companies do a lot of business with each other (statement, Foxlink annual report). Foxconn is the company with continuing controversy over employee treatment. Foxconn and Flextronics are the world's #1 and #2 largest electronics manufacturing companies according to the Circuits Assembly Top 50.

155 comments:

Anonymous said...

What model of scope and probes are you using?

codequickly said...

Thank you for the great article on usb power supply. I'm surprised to learn how bad the fake power supplies are. Be careful when shopping for usb chargers or batteries over Ebay. I've been burned with few bad batteries as well.

Anonymous said...

This is awesome; thank you for posting it.

Anonymous said...

Does using a chinese iPhone charging cable matter than the original one?
Thanks for a detailed article.

Ken Shirriff said...

Hi Anonymous! I borrowed a Tektronix TDS5104B oscilloscope, which is very nice but fiendishly expensive. Instead of buying the Tektronix, you might want to get a Rigol and a new car :-) I'm not sure what probes were attached.

Anonymous #2: the charging cable shouldn't matter, unless it's really bad.

LeMadChef said...

I'd love to see this done for a set of vehicle 12V to USB converters (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cigarette_lighter_receptacle). Would that be possible?

Thanks.

waskita adijarto said...

Great article! I'm curious what tools did you use to measure power curve?

Anonymous said...

Very cool! I had some an eletronics lab where we designed basic linear sources, very nice to have a look at real world!

Ken Shirriff said...

Thanks for the comments. LeMadChef: 12V converters would be interesting to examine; perhaps a future article. Waskita: to measure the power curve, I used a power mosfet as a variable load, and plotted the voltage and current with an oscilloscope as I changed the load. See footnote 16 for more details.

Anonymous said...

Is it dangerous to use a high output power charger, like the HP TouchPad one, with a low consumption device, like a phone?

Anonymous said...

If you can get your hands on it, please try also Nokia's fast charger ac-16 (comes with Lumia): http://www.mobilejaw.com/content/2012/05/MobileJaw-Nokia-Lumia800-Charger.jpg

kLy said...

Thanks for a very interesting article:)

My problem with USB wall chargers however isn't the quality or quantity of the power but just that it works at all with *all* my devices since different manufacturers have different ways of screening out wall chargers.

Currently the *only* one I've found that does the job is the Sony PS3 controller charger.

You can see my rather blind stumblings related to this here:
http://superuser.com/questions/375089/is-there-a-usb-wall-charger-that-just-works-with-every-device

(the question itself as well as the accepted answer a little down the page)

I'd be very interested to hear your (much more educated) take on this. Thanks :)

Anonymous said...

Might also want to take a look at the XtremeMac dual usb charger: http://www.xtrememac.com/en-US/products/chargers/InCharge-Series-for-iPad/universal-dual-usb-wall-charger/

The only one I've found that can charge two iPads (or an iPhone and an iPad) simultaneously. Be curious how they rate in your tests.

[ Disclosure: no association with them other than a happy user. ]

Anonymous said...

The blackberry playbook charger would be a good one to check out as well. I've been using one of those to charge everything recently.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the well explained walk through! I recently purchased one of these on eBay, and it actually blew up when I dropped it!

www.ebay.co.uk/itm/HDD-POWER-SUPPLY-AC-12V-5V-2A-FOR-HARD-DRIVE-MOLEX-UK-/320705061184?ssPageName=ADME:L:OU:GB:1123

Daniel said...

Thank you for an informative read.

Can you do this comparison for genuine original laptop AC adapters and a cheap aftermarket one? I am curious as to the differences between a $80 original from Sony and a $15 third-party one.

Perhaps you can do a test based on your current laptop so only need to spent a few dollars on a cheap one to compare it with?

Thank you!

Akshay said...

Hi Ken,

Interesting article. At the beginning, you mentioned "noisy power that cause touchscreen malfunctions". I'm going through the source you linked to, but I have had this question in my head for a while now, so I'll just put it here.

In India, we have 230V/50Hz and my Samsung charger says 150-250V/50-60Hz on the label. For some reason, Indian Railways has 110V power sockets in trains. When charging phones in the train, it always happens that the touchscreen goes wonky. Different phones show different behaviour, from totally non-responsiveness to very heavy lag or some offset in the touch location.

So that would mean that the power coming in from the train sockets is very noisy. In that case, how much blame do we assign to the charger for not filtering it out?

Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Great post. Please analyze more chargers, like the Amazon Kindle PowerFast. Also, it would be good to understand the Android situation, where I understand the data pins have to be shorted together in the charger or cable (?) or Android phones only charge at 500ma.

EdB said...

My guess is the voltage sag is intentional and helps to reduce the power dissipated in the wall charger itself. There is no need to maintain exactly 5V at the charger output when the battery is at a low charger level.As along as the sag does not extend lower than 4.35V r 4.2V at full current, the the battery will charge just fine.

skywise said...

I have a suggestion for an article topic..
iPhone/iPad/iWhatever data/charge cables.
I was totally surprised that various cables I have around the house have totally different charge rates.
Apple cables seem the most consistant (figures) and ebay specials can lose 1/2 the power going to my iPad.

Anonymous said...

U R Clueless. Apple chargers are different from standard chargers:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Universal_Serial_Bus

You can make Apple-compatible non-standard charger into standard 2000 mA supercharger by connecting +D to -D. Thereafter it wont charge Apple of course, but who cares.

So the author should have tested first if the charger was a standard USB-charger or Apple-crapped. Because now the test results are useless, because non-standard charger can deliver only max 500 mA to a standard device.

thaytan said...

Interesting that the HP touchpad charger won - it's the charger we can't stand to have in the bedroom. When not under load, ours gives off a high-pitched (like 10khz) whine that drives us crazy.

Jeff Laing said...

Fascinating article.

One thing I'd be interested to see would be how this maps on to the European insistence that everything use a micro-usb cable, so that people can minimise the number of charges they own.

It seems to me from your article that phone manufacturers are still only paying lip-service to such a standard, if the charging voltages are being provided on distinct pins.

k_sze said...

Have you ever come across the Momax brand of chargers. It's a fairly well-known brand of third-party chargers in Hong Kong and Mainland China. Their chargers seem to have a fairly solid build, just from the looks. I own a car charger and a BS1363 charger of this brand (model UTC0501000). I would love to see an analysis, especially one of the BS1363 ones.

Ben said...

Iwould love to see a similar set of tests that included some wall sockets with built in USB chargers. There are several models on Amazon that range in price from $15-$30.

It is really tempting to be able to plug a usb cable right into the wall rather than having to use a bulky adapter.

Christopher said...

@Author
Please report the items with fake UL livery.
http://www.ul.com/global/eng/pages/offerings/services/programs/anticounterfeitingoperations/

Anonymous said...

Awesome! Was an eye opener and brought up a lot of good points that I never considered.

Would it be possible to do the same thing with Car Chargers? As most of the time I have to charge my phone in the car.

rew said...

There is no reason for a powersupply to HAVE a constant-current mode. A charger rated at say 1.0A, could provide a straight constant-voltage line up to 1.2A and then shut down entirely.

The problem is, you'll never supply the startup-current of a few capacitors on the output this way.

But a powersupply could be designed to provide say 1.1A constant current at powerup, and switch to constant-voltage mode once 5V is reached. From then on it will shutdown when 1.2A is touched...

Anyway, in practice you're right, most have a constant-current phase leading up to the "overcurrent shutdown".

Anonymous said...

staples has a usb charger (made in china)...is this a knockoff??

Anonymous said...

Ken, do you know what the max draw is for an iPhone 4 or 5? Would they benefit from using the 2.1amp charger?

Anonymous said...

Please review the AT&T Zero Charger.

Does it really use 0 vampire power when not plugged into the phone?

Do other chargers shut off when unplugged?

What is the quality of the power?

Dorin said...

Nexus 4!

Dorin said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrea said...

Can you test some HTC chargers?

Eric said...

I just want to say thanks for the very comprehensive analysis.

Michal Hipner said...

Can you (pretty) please test the:
EZOPower illuminated Blue Flowing Light Micro-USB Charge Cable
VS
Power4 illuminated micro-USB (http://www.wellpower4.com/product_detail.asp?ptype=16&stype=118&id=726)
VS
a Chinese fake (http://www.ebay.com/itm/130773068919?ssPageName=STRK:MEWAX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1423.l2649)

(wouldn't mind seeing HTC charger also)

Anonymous said...

any links to an online store that sells genuine chargers at affordable prices?

Anonymous said...

You seem overly concerned with the voltage of the Apple adapters. The USB spec allows the supply voltage to vary between 4.4V and 5.25V, so a USB device has to be able to use these voltages. So the iPad power supply drooping down to 4.4V is not a problem.

Also the iPad supply is advertised as a 10W adapter and that's exactly what it delivers. It seems perverse to mark it down for living up to its specification. The power supplied is a USB nominal 5V, which is allowed to be as low as 4.4V.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for reminding me of all those damn 3041 and 3042 labs. x_X

Anonymous said...

Great article!

I have a general question: I have moved to India and am using my US chargers at 220v. I also have some stepdown transformers for the things that require 110v. In general, would it be better to charge through the transformers--IOW, do they help to prevent surges and spikes?

Anonymous said...

Really helpful article. Thanks.

Tidus Stormage said...

Since HTC is doing well with their phones these days, why not review it. A teardown would be nice too. Oh, and the Apple MagSafe chargers too!

Jbator said...

That was an awesome article, I have been buying some of that junk, no more. Can you please test some of the new hard wired USB power outlets that have two USB ports and a standard receptacle. I put in a few Leviton ones and now I only need chargers when I travel.

Anonymous said...

Please test model A1300, came with iPhone 4S

Unknown said...

Great article, I never knew there was so much to tell about USB chargers.
Like a couple of others, I would also like a test of an HTC charger.

Anonymous said...

Great article. Thanks. The oscilloscope graphs tell it all.

T_Beermonster said...

As a matter of interest how was the fake UK charger connected to the the (presumably US) power supply?
Was any attempt made to separate the effect if any of the socket adaptor from the device performance?

Also looking at the oscilloscope traces I suspect that not only was this tested only for 230V but also only at 50Hz.

T_Beermonster said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for the fascinating article! I really enjoyed it and certainly learned a few things.

SuperSonic said...

Great article. Really wish this was included http://www.henca.com/index.php?sp=&p=6&cat2=107&cat1=136&cat0=63&id=1692&cat1=136&cat0=63&new=&s=d6930f90f6961541aefd62e4c8ca7708&lang=en. It's marketed as a premium usb charger and seems to be pretty nicely made.

EmilyTheChef said...

Thank you so much for posting your findings! I'd bet it probably took you a long time to buy the charges, evaluate all the different measurements and present your findings. I am grateful for your hard work.

Anonymous said...

Can you test some Scosche chargers. They seem to be a very popular aftermarket choice for chargers, making single usb, multiple usb, car chargers, 1A and 2A chargers.

Thanks.

Andrew S said...

Great analysis and data! The reason that holograms aren't used is that they only add a few cents to the cost of counterfeiting an item. Holograms are old news; you can buy stacks and stacks of "authentication holograms" in shenzhen.

Philip Reeve said...

Shocking (pun not intended) and interesting article.

Anonymous said...

Great article, i was looking for some more information around these chargers. Is there any chance there is a car USB charger variant in the planning ?

Mark said...

Question: if you've been using generic cheapo chargers with no ill effects does that mean they're okay or I should stop using them because they will damage the phone over time?

Anonymous said...

I just bought a $2 counterfeit that looks exactly identical to the genuine iPhone charger shown in the article...
I think there's a new revolution to counterfeit and mimicking technology~

Andsetinn said...

Nice work. This is interesting.
In light of the capacitor plague (please see Wikipedia). Do you have any intentions of testing older power supplies. In my experience Apple power supplies, at least until 2010, suffered terribly from that.
Also, could you make one graph that shows the voltage output, versus amp draw, of all the power supplies.

Ken Shirriff said...

The votes are all in and "car charger" won for the charger that people are most interested in. Kindle narrowly edged out iPhone 5 at the end. Thanks to everyone who voted; stay tuned for more teardowns.

Anonymous who asked about the oscilloscope probes I used: they are surprisingly expensive Tek P5050
and P6139A probes.

Many people asked about cables. I found an article where someone tested cabled. The quick summary is cheap cables have higher resistance which makes charging slower.

Akshay: sounds like Indian trains have bad quality power. (Why 110V in trains and 220V normally?) It would be interesting to see if higher quality chargers do a better job filtering the power on Indian trains. Next time I visit India I'll bring a bunch of chargers, an oscilloscope, and a train ticket :-)

Anonymous with the step-down transformer: My guess is that using the step-down transformer provides a bit of filtering if the input power is bad (due to its inductance), but it wastes some power in the process. In India, I just plug US chargers into 220V (after carefully reading the label to make sure it will take the voltage). I use a Kensington travel adapter, which converts the plug format, not the voltage.

T_Beermonster: I plugged the fake UK charger into 120V through the adapter mentioned above, which doesn't modify the power at all, so it's just 120V 60Hz into the fake UK charger.

Andrew S: thanks for the info on holograms.

Andsetinn: I probably won't be testing computer power supplies as tomshardware and jonnyGURU cover them extensively.

Dan W said...

This is brilliant. Would you happen to have tested the Mu USB charger? https://www.themu.co.uk/

Anonymous said...

i am looking forward to a car charger version of this comparison. thanks for the great thorough info!

AL said...

There are lots of comments about testing brand Bb and aaaa. I think the only way the author can test is to send him two units!

nitro2k01 said...

I would like some clarification about the "Indicated charger type" test. What is used as a load? An iDevice? A resistor? Various device depending on the charger?

Rob said...

Thank you for a thorough and informative testing effort and write up. I would be interested to see a wider range of chargers tested, as manufacturers (even the good ones) seem to provide little information on their products beyond nominal input and output figures. In the meantime I'm investigating getting hold of a Touchpad charger to replace a Chinese generic that I bought before from a well-known internet auction site. Would be interested to send it to you for testing, but it seems you're on the other side of the pond for that to be easy. Regards from the UK, Rob

Anonymous said...

I see a lot of ebay listings for the hp touchpad charger that ship from china for around $6. They all say genuine, and have pictures if what appears to be the real charger, but I'm skeptical that they are fakes. Anyone order one?

Anonymous said...

There are most definitely fakes of the hp charger out there. Be skeptical of any shipping from china. They are most likely the Kmashi charger that looks identical in the listing. Some listings go out and say it isn't the official one, while others say it is official.

Anonymous said...

This is a great review, I'll be picking up another touchpad charger.

Are you going to do a car charger review? I want to buy one of the dual 2A units, but I'll wait if you are going to review them.

Anonymous said...

Great job. Another Nokia charger I'd like you to test is the AC-10U. http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B002PXXD1I

Angus said...

[quibble]
Too bad. You spoiled the review for me ;-) by your misuse of "eschew". The Belkin design doesn't AVOID the minimalist design of most USB chargers, it, too, has the typical minimalist design.
[/quibble]
https://startpage.com/do/search?language=english&cat=web&query=eschew

Ken Shirriff said...

Angus, thanks for your comment. What I mean is that chargers such as Apple have a minimalist cube design, while the Belkin charger adds multiple non-functional design elements such as ridges, swoops, and an oval shape to make the charger more interesting.

Charles Anderson said...

The HP touchpad charger looks like a slightly larger version of my old Palm Pre charger. I checked, the prongs twist off in the same way, had that for years, never knew. It would be nice to see it tested too.

Anonymous said...

Great article.

Since the Apple chargers don't short D+/D-, does that mean that most devices won't attempt to draw more than 500 mA, even though Apple's iPad chargers can support up to 2A?

Donnnie D said...

Hello. Per your recommendations and data I purchased an HP Touchpad charger. When I connect it to my Ipad 3, the battery status indicates "Not Charging". My initial thought is that Apple "programmed" it that way to discourage 3rd party accessories. However not being an electrician, could someone tell me if there is any TECHNICAL reason why this charger wouldnt work with my Ipad, and why I won't benefit from the HP's superior specs?

Ken Shirriff said...

Hi Donnie! I'm sorry to hear that your charger isn't working. The problem is probably explained in the "Indicated charger type" section of the article, and footnote 6. Apple uses proprietary voltages on the middle two pins to indicate that it's an Apple charger, and HP uses different voltages to indicate that it's an HP charger. So the iPad can tell that it's not an Apple charger. One thing to check: does it still charge, even though the device says it isn't?

timelessbeing said...

I agree that noisy, spiky output can lead to instability and undesirable behaviour in sensitive electronics, such as the aforementioned touch-screens, while charging... but a battery isn't as picky! I'm not talking about extended voltage surges (which will overheat a battery or trigger a protection circuit), or insufficient voltage/current which simply increases charge time (but doesn't cause harm). Batteries will happily accept any electrons that come by. In fact, a battery should act as a great big smoothing capacitor.

I'm not defending the junky Chinese chargers that might zap you, burn your house down, or simply don't work, but lets not get carried away and pretend like we're performing high precision experiments in a research lab. Most of us just want to charge a device, and you don't need to shell out a day's wages for a shiny crApple branded premium charger to get the job done.

I still have an adapter from a Pong game console. It consists of a transformer, a single diode and an electrolytic capacitor.

LeilaBD said...

Ken, thanks very much for such an informative post. If you are at all inclined to test any of the additional devices people have asked for, perhaps you should set up an Amazon wishlist with them on and the people who want you to test them can buy them for you.

GaryH said...

Hi Ken
Great work!
But my experience of switch-mode wall-warts is that too many of them die, almost invariably because of inadequate ripple-rating of either the mains-side electrolytic capacitor or else the first electrolytic after the secondary-side rectifier. (The equivalent components in the Standby-supply section of a desktop-PC PSU account for nearly all dead ones of those too.)
BTW For live-side measurements I use a Tektronix P5200 HV Differential probe - this has been an expensive but most-useful accessory and is good at rejecting stray-fields around switching supplies!

Dave B said...

Hi.

Great article, and long overdue.

If you redo the AC chargers in the future, could you see if you can do a conducted emissions test on the AC side? (With a CDN and Spectrum Analyzer.) As that would interest a lot of Ham Radio guys (and gals) out here. Some of these things can be very noisy when left powered, but not connected to anything.

I have some very noisy car (12V DC powered) phone chargers too, the worst being a branded product that came with a phone!

As someone else said, after market laptop chargers vs originals would be an interesting comparison too.

Keep up the great work.

DB.

RyanV said...

This is a great post. Very helpful. I have several brick type power supplies that I'm thinking of converting into "usb chargers":

Sony PSP2000 Supply: 5V 1.5A output
Samsung Supply: 5V 2.6A output
Deer Powered-USB-Hub Supply: 4.4-5.5V 2A-2.6A output

I'm thinking of simply using the +5V and Gnd to be connected to the usb standard A port. So, for some questions:

1) Would this be a good idea?
2) Which one would be the best power supply to use?

Thanks.

Roland Ronquist said...

You say your previous teardowns where "surprisingly popular", considering that your writing is a surprisingly good read for such a boring subject, and not only a good read, but a very thorough investigation of this important subject.

Nobody -not on the web- has better consumer advice in this particular area than you have here on this blog.

Keep on...

Mike said...

Hey Ken - this was super informative and I wanted to thank you for it. A charger is just some normal, every day piece of technology that people pay little to no attention to at all but as you've found out, they are not created equal and vary wildly in terms of performance.

I feel like people don't pay enough attention to the brand or quality of charger and just toss whatever they can on to it as long as the plug fits. The results from your testing show that it is actually a pretty big deal and could result in some damaged electronics or even worse, a fire.

Thanks again! I learned a lot today.

- Mike

mikeH said...

Hey Ken - this was super informative and I wanted to thank you for it. A charger is just some normal, every day piece of technology that people pay little to no attention to at all but as you've found out, they are not created equal and vary wildly in terms of performance.

I feel like people don't pay enough attention to the brand or quality of charger and just toss whatever they can on to it as long as the plug fits. The results from your testing show that it is actually a pretty big deal and could result in some damaged electronics or even worse, a fire.

Thanks again! I learned a lot today.

- Mike

Anonymous said...

The HP TouchPad charger absolutely must be inserted into the outlet with the USB interface nearer to the grounding plug. If you insert it with the USB interface away from the grounding plug it will not work.

Anonymous said...

Great job on a very informative review.

In checking around online and reading reviews and comments about the Samsung Cube (P/N ETA0U80JBE), it appears that if you can get one for less than $15 and it isn't a used one, it's more than likely counterfeit. If only the counterfeiters were as good at copying the electronics as they are at copying the packaging.

The Apple 10W charger has been replaced by a 12W version in the same packaging.

http://store.apple.com/us/product/MD836LL/A/apple-12w-usb-power-adapter


Anonymous said...

I thought this crowd would appreciate learning about this new charger that is powered by hot and cold drinks. Company is running a kickstarter campaign and they are over 70% to their goal of $100K in less than 10 days. Here is a link to get you there: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/epiphanylabs/epiphany-one-puck?ref=search

bethel95 said...

Some comments on the HP charger:

* While no longer in production, the HP TouchPad charger is still very much for sale. I saw one just today for $28, and have purchased one myself for only $10 (on Amazon) as recently as last summer.

* With regard to the one report in the comments of a high-pitched whine, I can only guess that was a defective unit--I own 3 of these, and none of them make any noise.

* I also own several of the smaller HP Pre chargers--they have a lower amp output. If you're thinking of buying one, just get the TouchPad charger, instead.

Anonymous said...

The UL markings are counterfeit. These A1265 knockoffs have never been certified by Underwriters Labs and this is important to know. Makes any other markings suspect. Citation:

http://www.ul.com/global/eng/pages/corporate/newsroom/newsitem.jsp?cpath=%2Fglobal%2Feng%2Fcontent%2Fcorporate%2Fnewsroom%2Fpublicnotices%2Fdata%2Ful-warns-of-counterfeit-ul-mark-on-usb_20130315080000.xml

John Ritchie said...

Awesome article and great analysis!!

Dan said...

Thank you!

Kevin said...

Thanks so much for creating this valuable resource!

I'd love to see you investigate some of these power supplies and charger modules I see on eBay like

http://ebayitem.com/290905131282

And

http://ebayitem.com/121034311394

Anonymous said...

I wanted to find out of my Orange Apple UK USB charger is fake. It's very similar to the one shown but mine does have "designed by Apple in California" "model No. A1299 Made in China in put 100-240V-50/60 Hz 0.15A Output:5V then a line with 3 dashes underneath 1A Emerson Network Power the CE mark a letter N in a circle on the left, then on the right the bin with a cross and a letter V within a circle, then a SAFETY MARK logo with the numbers 090471 - 1 1

The bottom right pin looks like it's not been fitted properly :/

Ken Shirriff said...

Anonymous with the orange UK charger: I'm told that genuine UK chargers have a serial number at the very back of the USB port looking into it, so take a look. Also, if you have a scale, weight the charger and see if it matches the weight in my article - oh, sorry I don't have the weight for a real one. Any of my readers want to weigh a UK charger? As for the text on the charger, if it's wrong then it's definitely a fake, but sometimes fakes copy the text exactly. Best way to tell: smash it open and send me pictures :-)

Anonymous said...

Interesting how Apple chargers are great. Coincidence? I dont think so. Its obvious that this tests is payed by Apple! But I will do the same thing, every penny counts.

Anonymous said...

similar shit: http://www.lygte-info.dk/info/usbPowerSupplyTest%20UK.html

Bagho said...

Wonderful, Ken! Simply wonderful! You've done a great job, comparing the minute details of all the chargers and revealing so much of information. Thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

This is a very informative post. However, you cannot call "counterfeit charger" the ones you tested because none of them has fake "Apple" or "Samsung" (or the likes) printed in them. YOu can call them cheap/dangerous/whatever, but not counterfeit.

Anonymous said...

Could you possibly add more power supplies to your review? I'm particularly interested to see how Apple's new 12w USB PS performs.

Corgi, Dr. of Ursinity, Prattling Pasha of Positivity said...

Any plans to evaluate this iPad charger from Monoprice? http://www.monoprice.com/products/product.asp?c_id=112&cp_id=11212&cs_id=1085102&p_id=9417&seq=1&format=2

Loren said...

Ken, great article! Check out PortPilot, an inline USB power analyzer that identifies charger types, shows the output voltage and current, and can also spoof different charger types on the output. No match for a TDS5104B, but much cheaper and fits in your pocket... http://igg.me/at/portpilot/x/2675224

AaronX said...

Thank you for a great, well-written article. I find USB chargers very interesting. Can I ask: how did you measure the charging current? Did you just splice a multimeter into the USB cable? I would like to measure the current to accurately compare chargers and see if I'm getting what I paid for, but I'm no good with electronics.

Ken Shirriff said...

Hi AaronX. I measured the charging current two ways. I put a multimeter in the output circuit to get a simple current measurement. For the voltage/current graphs, I put a "current sense" resistor (a fraction of an ohm) in the output circuit and measured the voltage across it with an oscilloscope. Then Ohm's law gives the current. I used a dummy load rather than a real phone for these measurements since phones have a constantly changing load, which messes up the measurements. And I didn't want to destroy my phone if something went wrong.

Ahmed said...

WoW WoW WoW!!

Thank you soooo much for the informative comparison, it is TRULY appreciated!

Thank you very much :D

Anonymous said...

what about charging through a pc usb??
i have a bunch of fake chargers for all my gadgets and i was thinking to charge them all through my pc after reading this!..

Clayton said...

Have you ever tested any of the car lighter-to-USB adapters? Do you have any recommendations, or know of any to particularly avoid?

Clayton said...

Never mind -- I started reading through the comments, and I see that many others have asked the same question before me. :-)

Maybe you can answer this, though: Issues of output power quality aside, is there any reason to suspect that a generic car adapter could be a safety hazard? With just 12v DC going in vs. 120/220v AC, could it possibly burst into flames or electrocute you if it was poorly constructed?

Thanks for a very interesting article!

Mathijs said...

Thanks for taking the time to share this information!

I learned a lot from your blog today ;)

James3000 said...

I've been an EE since 1979. Have seen the transition from the old transformer based linear discrete voltage regulator power supplies to today's modern switching/transformerless designs and their variants. While there are benefits as to size and weight in the new designs vs those of just 30 yrs ago I am still concerned about having this much circuit-density on a very small PCB inside of a sealed wall-wart case. Specifically with regard to external powerline surges and lightning strikes. Do they have a fuse? PTC's can short and fail in some circumstances. Also the ever-present threat of dubious quality counterfeit components from China. I have seen commercial service PS units and related sub-assy's fry and flame-out because of what turned out to be a counterfeit cap or off-brand semiconductor IC that failed in service, usually due to overheating from fab material degradation over time under load. I guess the rule is use prudent precautions and common sense when dealing with anything that's plugged into the 125VAC wall socket. Not only for the powered device but the infrastructure as well. You usually get what you pay for. Get the better stuff for peace of mind. A very well done and concise article!

Anonymous said...

Can I translate your writing [http://www.righto.com/2012/10/a-dozen-usb-chargers-in-lab-apple-is.html?m=1] and repost in my blog?

Ken Shirriff said...

Anonymous translator: Thanks for asking. Yes, go ahead. Please make sure you credit me as the original author and have a link to this page. What language are you planning to translate it into?

Anonymous said...

Voltage sag on any charger is not really an issue as long as it doesn't sag below the maximum charge voltage of the battery it has been designed to charger - for the iPhone and iPad this is 4.2V fully charged. Which is below the sag voltage you measured before the current limit was hit.

Anonymous said...

Just found this blog when looking for information on HP touchpad chargers.
Thanks for your time and trouble in putting together such an informative review.
I would echo the comments of others, and say it adds to the evidence for why you should always try to buy good quality electrical products.

Anonymous said...

For phones many people use the USB on their laptop/computer. If you are ever going to repeat these tests, would not it be interesting to include a handfull of U/I curves for a random choice of PC USB's?

Anonymous said...

How do the stats from this company look?
http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/96w-8-port-usb-charger-2-4a-on-each-port?c=activity

8x2.4A with 4.81V under load and 40mV avg (80mV max) output noise.

Appreciate your input.

Thanks!

Hans Schulze said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

On the ipod/ipad charger, I don't think the metal post is for grounding. The original version of the charger had the post made of plastic and it kept snapping off. Apple eventually changed to a metal post.

Joe

casey said...

Excellent review of chargers. I'm very curious about how these various chargers respond to a short. You show some data for each charger in your voltage/current scope plots. USB chargers appear to have some current-limiting circuitry in the event of a short, but surely they aren't all equal in this regard. Some must be safer than others. Thanks again for posting all this work.

Anonymous said...

This is fantastic. I LOVE that you did the actual measurements here. This's a fantastic object lesson for sustainable electronics designers / engineers.

Anonymous said...

Anyone checked this (http://www.ebay.com/itm/360593118865?var=630088056745&ssPageName=STRK:MEWNX:IT&_trksid=p3984.m1439.l2649) kind of usb chargers? Or all lowcost chinese chargers are worthless?

Anonymous said...

Since it would be impossible for you to test every charger on the market, could you produce a layman's guide to choosing a good quality charger?

rpi4all said...

I appreciate engineer style reviews of such products. Unfortunately none of the amazon marketplace sellers of the 5/5 bolt rated HP are amazon per se

http://amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/B0055QYJJM/sr=/qid=/ref=olp_prime_all?ie=UTF8&shipPromoFilter=1&sort=sip

In my 4+ years of buying electronics from amazon I've learned not buy buy unless either:

"Ships from and sold by Amazon.com"

or direct to market by the manufacturer within amazon marketplace


Since I'll be buying for family youth (a six hour drive away) I would have to buy a clone that toasts their two Raspberry Pi


I'd love to see a test of the powergen 2.4 amp
ASIN:B00BNQTIRQ


& an android guy charger
ASIN:B009K7PXZ6


& New Trent 2amp
ASIN:B009RXU59C


In a future review I hope you torture car DC to AC gizmos for sensitive gear like high end laptops.

rpi4all said...

^^
buy buy == to buy

I would have to == I would HATE to

John Decker said...

This is a really interesting article. I have heard that some chargers are not that great for the environment but maybe Apple products are? I think 2014 is a year that people should starting considering using products that are not harmful to our environment. After I learned about NA Power, I decided to switch power suppliers to get green gas. I use a lot of heat in my house so I wanted to make sure I was not harming the environment.

jason_m said...

I wouldn't knock myself out trying to get an Hp touchpad charger seeing they are getting scarce. There are plenty of other 4-rated chargers to try. Why? Many things like the Pi have onboard regulation that generates the necessary voltages for the components, as with lots of stuff like phones and laptops. Those onboard regulators can cope with a certain amount of noise and have a decent input voltage range. Laptops are a good example to use as their power supplies tend to be noisier than desktop power supplies because they too have an onboard regulator. Just stay away from the really bad ones like the counterfeit ones, they are dangerous anyway. But these things are built to be battery chargers most of the time so theres no guarantee of power quality. Although with portable touch screen devices becoming the norm and sometimes being ac powered all the time, these little chargers are getting better for such a small package. Generally most anything that is not really generic or counterfeit should be good enough most of the time.

Shreya s said...

Great information. Im using all in charger for my apple iphone.

Apple USB Power Adapter Charger

Zizu baig said...

Hi I want to measure the voltage and amperes of my charger by using my android tab or iphone. Is there any android or iphone app available that can measure voltages and amperes by just pluging the charger to the device.

prerna awasthi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Al Allen said...

I would like to offer you free access to almost every charger (AC adapter),CLA, data cable, and cellphone battery in the market. I have over two million new and used OEM and aftermarket cell phone accessories in stock.
Al Allen CEO Cellular Supply Inc
210-323-3652

prerna said...


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zahir said...

Thats Fantastic info :)
What about the lightning cable that has to be connected to this charger..
There are many unauthorised but still working cables in the market.
Does it has any such performance differences ??

Anonymous said...

I actually have a model A1385 Apple charger made by Flextronics and not Emerson Network Power.

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Anonymous said...

Thanks, now I know what don't buy from ebay!

Anonymous said...

Hi! Great article! It's clear the effort you put into this, both in the testing and in the writing. I've used this post several times myself and referred it to others as well.

What would be helpful is a second analysis focusing on carrier and phone manufacturer branded chargers. For example, comparing Sprint, Verizon, AT&T branded chargers as well as HTC and Nokia. I think it's fair to say that most of us will be using either a charger that came with the phone we bought (manufacturer branded) or one we buy from the carrier with the phone (carrier branded). Car chargers would also be nice :)

I know, I don't ask for much, do I? ;) If I had the equipment and the know-how I'd do it myself, but alas...

Brian Jones said...

Hi Ken
What an incredible article, you have truly gone above and beyond. I write the odd article for iPad Repair and many people say the “Charging is not supported with this accessory” is a conspiracy to make you buy Apple products, but it may be that Apple are also looking out for their safety.
It’s surprising just how similar the counterfeit chargers are, we’ve had a few dotted about the place, I find the UK iPhone chargers the most interesting as they can be almost identical. Even the one you have, apart from the color and that it is missing the “Designed by Apple in California”, they are almost identical, genuine ones also say “Emerson Network Power”.
I also didn’t know it could be the charger that stops the touch screen from working, I will remember that as I’m sure it will come up in the future, I’ve learned so much from this article. What are your thoughts on multi charging stations, do you think they may be risking people’s devices?
Best wishes
Brian

Anonymous said...

How about a high load vs temperature test to see if any charger would overheat.

David Brooks said...

I stopped using knockoff chargers when I read your tear downs, since I don't want this to happen to me:

Knock Off iPhone Charger Sends User To The Hospital ** Warning Graphic Images**

Posted: Mar 31, 2014 11:43 AM EDT
Updated: Mar 31, 2014 12:02 PM EDT

Minnesota -A Minnesota man's phone charger lands him a weeklong stay at the hospital.

Tim Tyrell needed a new charger for his iPhone so he turned to eBay.

The popular retail site sells knockoff chargers for a fraction of the cost of an apple original.

Tyrell was reaching for his charging phone when a jolt tripped the circuit breaker, destroying the charger and exploding in his hands.,


continued at: http://www.myfoxphilly.com/story/25117988/knock-off-iphone-charger-sends-user-to-the-hospital#ixzz2yQjTyj6m

Anonymous said...

Ahh, another article where the author says "Charger" where they really mean: "Power Supply". These days the charger is actually ON the phone. The wall wart is simply a power supply.

Other than that, this was a good read.

Anonymous said...

Really great review.

The "voltage sag" in the Apple adapters is a common technique. In the literature you'll see it mentioned as adaptive voltage positioning, line-load regulation or sometimes as non-zero load line control.

It's been around for a very long time. Here is one paper that describes it. The example is specific to CPUs but the idea holds for any power source and load. You didn't measure transient response, which is admittedly tough to do right, so you wouldn't see the advantage it provides.

http://web.cecs.pdx.edu/~tymerski/ece446/paperDroopControl3.pdf

Paul Miller said...

Hi Ken,

Great article, very informative!
I wonder if you've tested or heard anything on the higher quality generics - I saw you tested a Monoprice.

In particular, I've been using two Anker products - a two port (one Apple and one Android port) 12V car cigarette lighter adapter, and a 5 port 40W desktop model. Both *seem* to be performing very well - no noticeable heat, devices charge very quickly, etc.

Dave Acuna said...

What "hundreds" of volts are you talking about? Have residential outlets switched from 120v to 240/460v?

Anonymous said...

I just want to say thank you for your work, it is a really useful comparison.

pedro said...

excellent article, very useful.

Roger said...

Another death from fake charger, this time in Australia.
http://news.ninemsn.com.au/national/2014/06/27/09/31/woman-electrocuted-by-rip-off-charger
Thanks for excellent assessments.

Anonymous said...

great comment , this article seem to be apple biased , Samsung charges great with crap chargers and no issues

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
w.yee said...

The HP charger is exactly the same as the the charger that came with the Palm Pre before HP bought Palm. Never knew the prongs twisted off until I read your article

Anonymous said...

Have you done any research on charging cable wire gauge?

มาโนช said...

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vrillusions said...

I'm sure you have been getting requests for years but have you looked at the Anker 40w 5 port charger? It's really popular on amazon and has a lot of reviews but it would be great to have the technical details to back up their claims. Even though I already bought one and use it daily without issues. Search amazon for AK-71AN7105-B5A and that should pull it up.

Ken Mathews said...

KMS - AC04
I just went home to meet the fire department responding to a fire alarm at my home. The cause, my KMS-AC04 4 port USB charger overheated and started melting. It was so hot, the nightstand it sits on has burn marks and the smoke set off the house fire alarm.

I've had this unit for over a year and used it daily with no issues. Today, thank GOD for the alarm system and fast response from the fire department.

Anonymous said...

Hoping you'd get to review another Samsung Oblong charger for the Note 3 - the EP-TA10EWE - rated at 5.3V and 2.0A

I found images of the internals here: http://images.mysku.ru/uploads/images/01/00/74/2014/07/12/995887.jpg

and

http://images.mysku.ru/uploads/images/01/00/74/2014/07/12/688c72.jpg


Also +1 for a review of 12V car chargers - since 2 of mine emit high pitched squeals, and another gets too hot to touch (so I'm in the market for a "proper" car charger!)

Many thanks for your insight. Certainly leaves me avoiding cheap chargers in the future.

Jerry G. said...

Great article... You really went out of your way on this one!

I work in IT support and do service work on servers. I also do some support for Blackberry phones in a business environment.

I am aware about the importance of proper specifications, and the safety aspects for chargers. I have had to deal with people who had their phone damaged from using aftermarket chargers.

Anonymous said...

Did tests on my samsung travel charger with 5.0V ; 2.0A ; 10W outupts and it beats the crap in all models you tested but only if used properly; model no. ETA-U90EWE

Chule said...

Great info! Thanks! Can you recommend a good USB power tester to check for crap before injuring self or stuff?

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