I am seeing a trend in people replacing their original laptop Power adapter (Charger or Power Brick) with Universal Power Adapters . These universal ones can come with different tips or you buy the tips separate. Some also have the ability to charge the laptop from a car, boat or other 12V Dc power point. While not all of these universal adapters are bad, they can cause problems. I have lots of experience with universal type chargers, using the Kensington Wall/ Ultra, a couple different ones from Targus and a few other ‘non’ major brand types.
Let’s look at some of the problems created by Universal type Laptop Chargers-
• Tips. Universal chargers can come with many tips or can purchase individual tips. This is fine, but tips are small (size of quarter or smaller) and can easily get lost. Tips can be put on the wrong way and that causes improper voltage and can damage the laptop. Sometimes the tips are extra and not included with purchase. Sometimes they are just incorrect and the loose fit actually causes more problems.
• Fit. Sometimes they just don’t fit right. A good case of this is the HP Smart 90 W AC Adaptor sold at Best Buy. This adapter is a fine power adapter, and works well with many models. However, read the reviews. It doesn’t fit well with certain models. I had a client bring me her laptop with the thought that it had a bad DC Jack as you had to hold the adapter a certain way to get it power the laptop. She had one of these chargers and was using it with her HP Laptop. I tried my original HP charger and it worked fine. The power/DC Jack did not need to be replaced and the customer saved quite a bit. The universal power adaptors can only include so many different tips and sometimes a tip may work at one angle and not at another, leading people (and inexperienced fix it type computer guys) to believe it is the jack causing the issue. When it doubt, get an OEM or generic charger. Newer laptops may have plugs that are not available in Universal adaptors.
• Voltage and Amperage. Universal Chargers have a range of voltage and amps. Most of them have sensing units built it to detect the correct draw from the laptop. Normally this is fine and works. However in some cases, the charging circuit in the laptop will actually become burnt out due to this swing in voltage. A cheap alternative causes sometime major to die in the laptop thus costing more money in the long run. Some laptops just plain won’t work with Universal chargers due to the voltage regulator in the laptop. Some laptops need stable, clean voltage and a universal does not provide that. Dell laptops generally do not work with Universal chargers.
• Price. Universal chargers are often more pricey in stores than originals ordered via internet. Sure, it is a convenience thing to run down to Best Buy/Radio Shack/ Office supply store, but if you can wait a few days you’ll save big. The HP Smart charger I mention above costs $79. A typical HP charger on Amazon (non OEM) costs less than $20, while an original HP charger (built in the same place as the non OEM one) costs $30-40 or so.
EDIT: When this article was originally published Universals were expensive. Recently I’ve found a nice travel charger from Kensington that is reasonable priced and also has a USB port for charging phones or other mobile devices. If you’re traveling this would be an excellent charger as you also have a USB port for charging phones or other devices, plus if you lose it you’re not out much.. A USB charger at a convenience store typically costs more than this laptop charger..
Don’t get me wrong…universal chargers are OK if you are using them on a temporary basis. I have one from Kensington in my toolkit. It is a nice charger, but I know that sometimes it just plain won’t work with some laptops. 90 percent of the time I can use it to test a dead laptop. Would I use a universal power charger long term? No, but for a trip or temporary use its fine. But I still feel that overall, universal chargers cause more problems than they solve.
At least once in your laptop’s life you will experience the loss of its charger. The dog eats it, it gets lost on a flight, it gets wet, it dies or overheats, whatever. When this happens, order a new one from Amazon, EBay or your local computer shop. Do not settle for a ‘universal solution’ as one size does not fit all. If you like your laptop, do the right thing and replace that charger with an OEM or generic charger, but not a universal.