August 19, 2014

Fudging It: What Happens if You Use the Wrong Adapter?

Fudging It: What Happens if You Use the Wrong Adapter?

computer on fireIdeally, you’ll have the same voltage, current and polarity on your adapter and device.

But what if you accidentally (or purposefully) use the wrong adapter? In some cases, the plug won’t fit. But there are many cases where an incompatible power adapter will plug into your device. Here’s what you can expect in each scenario:

  • Wrong polarity – If you reverse the polarity, a few things can happen. If you’re lucky, nothing will happen and no damage will occur. If you are unlucky, your device will be damaged. There’s a middle ground, too. Some laptops and other devices include polarity protection, which is essentially a fuse that burns out if you use the wrong polarity. If this happens, you might hear a pop and see smoke. But the device may still work on battery power. However, your DC input will be toast. To fix this, either replace the polarity protection fuse or get it serviced. The good news is that the main circuitry wasn’t fried.
  • Voltage too low – If the voltage on an adapter is lower than the device, but the current is the same, then the device may work, albeit erratically. If we think back to our analogy of voltage being water pressure, then it would mean that the  device has “low blood pressure.”  The effect of low voltage depends on the complexity of the device. A speaker, for example, may be fine, but it just won’t get as loud. More complex devices will falter, and may even shut themselves off when they detect an undervoltage condition. Usually, an undervoltage condition won’t cause damage or shorten the life of your device.
  • Voltage too high – If the adapter has a higher voltage, but the current is the same, then the device will likely shut itself off when it detects an overvoltage. If it doesn’t, then it may run hotter than normal, which can shorten the life of the device or cause immediate damage.
  • Current too high – If the adapter has the correct voltage, but the current is higher than what the device input requires, then you shouldn’t see any problems. For example, if you have a laptop that calls for a 19V / 5A DC input, but you use a 19V / 8A DC adapter, your laptop will still get the 19V voltage it requires, but it will only draw 5A of current. As far as current goes, the device calls the shots, and the adapter will have to do less work.
  • Current too low – If the adapter has the correct voltage, but the adapter’s rated current is lower than what the device input, then a few things might happen. The device could power on, and simply draw more current from the adapter than it’s designed for. This could cause the adapter to overheat or fail. Or, the device may power on, but the adapter may not be able to keep up, causing voltage to drop (see voltage too low above). For laptops running on undercurrent adapters, you might see the battery charge, but the laptop not powering on, or it may run from power but the battery won’t charge. Bottom-line: it’s not a good idea to use a lower current rating adapter, since it could cause excess heat.


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