MacBook Charger Teardown Highlights Dangers of Counterfeit Adapters

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Manufacturers of counterfeit Apple products often go to great lengths to make their knock-offs look genuine, which brings the added risk of concealing potentially dangerous flaws in substituted electrical components.

In the past we've covered the efforts manufacturers go to when counterfeiting iPhone and iPad chargers, courtesy of product teardowns on Ken Shirrif's technology blog. Now, a new post on Shirrif's site offers a detailed teardown and analysis of the differences between a counterfeit MacBook charger and a genuine unit, providing a great example of how cosmetic similarities can hide major safety defects.

Counterfeit MacBook charger comparison

A counterfeit MagSafe 45W charger (left) and a genuine 60W charger (right).

Shirrif notes that counterfeit chargers he's examined in the past have usually had external flaws that give them away, but that this latest MacBook charger knock-off almost had him fooled, too.

The exterior text on this charger was correct, no "Designed by Abble" or "Designed by California". It had a metal ground pin, which fakes often exclude. It had the embossed Apple logo on the case. The charger isn't suspiciously lightweight. Since I've written about these errors in fake chargers before, I half wonder if the builders learned from my previous articles.

Only when Shirrif cracks open the charger are the differences laid bare. A real Apple charger is packed full of complex circuitry, but the counterfeit contains a fairly low density board that uses a simpler power supply with a dangerously small isolation gap between the AC input and the low-voltage output.

Shirrif also identifies a distinct lack of insulation tape between the two voltages on the circuit board, a metal grounding pin not connected to anything, and a fluctuating power output. See his post for the full comparison.

Three years ago, a Chinese woman was electrocuted by a counterfeit charger while charging her iPhone, highlighting the significant dangers these products pose to consumers. Users who suspect they have a counterfeit charger can take part in Apple's third-party charger takeback program to safely dispose of the adapters.

Top Rated Comments

jayhawk11 Avatar
63 months ago
Using a fake charger is certainly a terrible idea, but so is charging $80 for a replacement MagSafe charger.
Score: 35 Votes (Like | Disagree)
zorinlynx Avatar
63 months ago
What do you people do to your chargers? Seriously?

I've only had one magsafe charger go bad in the history of my using them, back in 2007. Even then it was a known defect at the time; the springs that push the pins out failed. The cable itself was fine.

I've had my current chargers ever since then, and never has one broken since. I also see people who go through lightning cables like water; they break all the time for them, whereas I still have my original lightning cables going back to my iPhone 5 three years ago.

I suspect most people are really rough with their chargers. I treat my stuff with care. Maybe ya'll should too?
Score: 7 Votes (Like | Disagree)
randyroverly Avatar
63 months ago
Apple's version looks vastly superior compared to the knockoff but the problem is, they are just as faulty. I've personally replaced 4 power adapters in the last 3 years. Consider me unlucky, but I never had to replace any power cords on any other laptops I've owned. I didn't mind it so much until the Applecare ran out, then you have to pay retail for replacements. I love the design of the magsafe (having small children), but it definitely needs improvement on reliability.
Score: 6 Votes (Like | Disagree)
foobarbaz Avatar
63 months ago

You can grab Apple original chargers for $40 from Groupon.

https://www.groupon.com/deals/gg-apple-magsafe-2-power-adapters-for-macbook-1

No no no!

Such deals are a surefire way to get counterfeits. There are no great deals on originals. Retail margins are too low. If its even 20% off, be very suspicious.

If it says "bulk packaging" (and it does!), stay the hell away. Apple doesn't sell them in bulk. But counterfeiters want to avoid the expensive trouble of faking the packaging. But some still do, so everything other than big retailers is kinda risky.

I personally don't mind cheaper 3rd party alternatives. But if the manufacturer tries to deceive or is too ashamed to put their own name on the box, I don't trust them with my life.
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
MasterMac Avatar
63 months ago

Using a fake charger is certainly a terrible idea, but so is charging $80 for a replacement MagSafe charger.

The rest of the thread will be filled with one of the two types of replies:

I have taken care of my cables and have never had to replace them ever.

I have had to replace it 10 times in my 6 months of owning it.

Take your pick on the more popular one this time!

Edit: seems I was a little too slow to catch the first two :(
Score: 5 Votes (Like | Disagree)
coolfactor Avatar
63 months ago

Using a fake charger is certainly a terrible idea, but so is charging $80 for a replacement MagSafe charger.

I've written to Apple (via Feedback forms) about this. The price is $99.99 here in Canada. Absolutely disgusting how Apple gets away with this. If you're going to charge that much, at least make the low-voltage cable detachable and replaceable on its own, as that's the one part that is usually the reason for replacing. Why replace the entire power adapter block every time? Apple REALLY needs to fix this flawed design!
Score: 4 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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