Choice and Power Supplies
By webmink on Jul 05, 2007
Being a gadget guy, I find I end up with a load of power adapters. There are two basic types:
- 'Wall warts' with a build-in mains plug (or sometimes with an integrated mains flex)
- Bricks with a connector to plug in a mains flex
I generally prefer the latter, since as Sin-Yaw observed there are multiple international standards for mains connectors and I prefer not to have to use an conversion dongle for long term use. Additionally, wall warts tend to have a fixed voltage corresponding to the country whose plug they carry (since there are multiple standards even after a century of use) whereas bricks tend to accept any mains voltage. The down-side of bricks is that the connector for the mains flex can vary, but of late the majority have had 2-pin figure-of-8 connectors.
There's enough variability at the mains end, but it's nothing to the variability at the gadget end. While many devices use a 5v supply, it seems no two devices use the same connector and polarity to deliver that 5v supply. As a consequence, when I travel I used to have to carry a whole bag of black spaghetti to be sure everything was powered. There's plenty of choice, and there are standards involved, but it all serves the manufacturers rather than the customers.
I say “used to” because increasingly I am choosing things that charge from a USB lead . I don't think the group that defined USB intended to define a standard for power plugs, but increasingly I am finding that gadgets come with a mini-USB connector so that they can be charged from any USB socket. So my bluetooth headset and mobile phone both use this method, and I no longer need to carry two of the power adapters that used to be in the spaghetti bag.
I now have a growing collection of useful things that work with this USB power standard, all from different places and all interchangeable. So I have a car-socket-to-USB plug, wall-warts for US & UK that deliver USB, and each new gadget that comes with a USB/mini-USB lead makes it easier to leave a cable ready everywhere. And since most power comes through my computer, there are fewer wall-warts left plugged into power sockets acting as electricity vampires.
I hear some Asian countries agree with me and are starting to make laws standardising on this approach, making a USB connector the only approved way to supply power. That restriction on unwanted diversity has to be good for customer choice as well as for energy conservation.