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The Dangers of Third-Party Accessories

A few weeks ago, reports surfaced that a 23-year-old Chinese woman, a flight attendant with China Southern Airlines, died by electrocution after she answered her phone. According to journalists investigating the incident, she was using a “knockoff charger” also known as an after-market or third-party adaptor.

This is definitely not common — even with “bad” chargers — but the message is clear. When it comes to power supplies for any mobile electronic device, buy it from the manufacturer. (And if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.) I’ve said this for nearly fifteen years — starting when I provided support for IBM and Dell laptops, and various notebooks at UVM, to Macs for Small Dog as I do now.

Most desktop computers (from Macs to PCs) use standard power supply cables that are all essentially identical. But laptops and smaller mobile devices use proprietary technology developed by the manufacturers specifically for that device. These accessories are manufactured to very specific standards.

I’m not a sales person and I don’t pretend to be at the counter in South Burlington, but this is one thing that I can speak to anecdotally from doing help desk support for so long — purchasing third-party power supplies to shave dollars can spell disaster. From fried mother boards to smoke filled rooms, bad power supplies can be extremely dangerous. Please pay for the real thing.

We had a young customer come in a few weeks ago with a failed power adapter for her MacBook Pro. She had AppleCare and there was no visible accidental damage; it had just stopped working. On inspection it became clear that it wasn’t a genuine Apple adapter. She and her mother were flummoxed, as they said they’d purchased no additional adapters for the machine.

I asked if she went to school (she was college-aged) and if she had ever left her computer unattended, and she said yes. I explained that if she had not purchased it herself, it could be possible that someone exchanged her original power supply with another one without her knowledge. (Some of them are so convincing that at first glance they don’t appear to be different.) It seems that was the case, and ultimately, the customers had to purchase a replacement. At $79.99 plus tax, it wasn’t a small theft, but we were glad that it wasn’t something worse.

Ed. noteTwo words of wisdom should be taken away from this interaction. The first is to always buy genuine Apple power adapters, as the cheaper third-party ones will fail sooner and more often, costing more in the long run. The second is to never leave your electronics unattended in public places(!). This customer was lucky that her entire computer wasn’t stolen if the thief had enough time to carefully swap out power adapters.

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