How to Choose the Best Laptop Charger for your Computer or Tablet

Nowadays, most to all portable computers / laptops and tablets will come with their own internal battery that will be rechargeable. It is because of these batteries that laptops require a (usually DC) power supply. As many experienced computer owners would know, there are near-countless numbers of laptop manufacturers with a large number of laptop models. Many of these models will require a different laptop AC adapter, even if they’re made by the same company.

Each individual manufacturer will almost certainly provide a power supply when you buy your new tablet or laptop computer – there used to be some companies that didn’t include these, but since about the year 2005 these were gradually phased out. However, as an added accessory it usually means that while it’s included for free, its quality is also quite low. It’s not uncommon to hear of laptop chargers or the tip that connects into the computer itself, break after a year or less. This is where buying a replacement and knowing what research to conduct can come in very handy.

Especially for those who don’t buy electronics often, buying a new laptop charger can be quite tricky. Hopefully, this guide can help you choose the most appropriate charger for your computer so that you end up buying one that will be both useful and compatible.

Checking the Voltage and Current of your Laptop

The most important pieces of information you’ll need about your laptop to make sure you buy the right power supply are as follows:

  • Laptop brand
  • Laptop model number
  • Voltage
  • Current

You will usually be able to find both the voltage and the current of your laptop on a sticker on the underside of your machine. There is an example below, from an Acer Aspire laptop:

Laptop model number from an Acer Aspire laptop

You can see the laptop model number quite clearly on the label. However, you should also be able to spot the voltage and current of your laptop, in the following format:

Voltage: 19.5V
Current: 4.74A

Voltage is measured in volts (V) and current is measured in amperes (A). You should be able to spot a number for both voltage and current on your laptop manufacturer’s sticker. This information combined with the model number should give you everything you need to start shopping for a new laptop adapter.

Why Laptop AC / DC Adapters are Required

The reason a laptop adapter is required in the first place is because of the different power systems in use. Batteries in laptops use direct current, usually abbreviated DC. Energy only ever flows in one direction in a DC circuit. Wall sockets, however, use alternating current or AC, which is typically how power plants generate electricity. To convert between the two, a laptop adapter is required. This usually resembles the black box that your laptop charger’s cable goes into and out of.

It’s not just laptops that use AC/DC adapters – most of your home electronics including lights, mobile phone chargers, radios/alarm clocks and your TV accessories such as CD and DVD players all use similar technology to power themselves.

The Best Laptop Charger: The Advantage of Universal

Also known as universal AC adapters or universal power supplies, the biggest benefit of a universal laptop charger is the ability to fit almost any laptop. This is especially useful if you have multiple laptops (such as one for work and one for personal use) and would rather not bring two chargers everywhere you go.

Alternatively, these would be useful if you wished to simply keep two chargers in separate locations – one at home, and one at work. This is useful because you would no longer have to carry the charger with you as you travel.

Finally, these can be especially useful for people who travel a lot, only needing the one charger to fit different computers (and potentially other electronics as well) wherever they may be.

Most of these universal adapters come with a variety of laptop tips or laptop heads that can plug into one end of the power supply. Each laptop would use one in particular, and these are interchangeable so that you can quickly switch from one computer to another. Some require specialist heads / tips, such as Apple Magsafe style heads, but the best universal laptop chargers would be able to cater for these.

Because these chargers have to fit any laptop model, they are typically manufactured to a higher standard. Some of the better ones also have advanced safety features built in to protect against phenomena such as power surges. Imperial Gadgets is one example of such a charger.

Choosing the Right Laptop Tip / Head for your Universal AC Adapter

It’s important to note that not all laptops have the same head – and this applies even to different model laptops made by the same company! For example, an Sony netbook and an Sony gaming laptop are likely to have very different power supply requirements. The netbook draws significantly less power and may have a different laptop head as a result, not needing to deliver as much voltage and current. The gaming laptop, however, will have a larger screen, processor and internal components – and generally require a lot more energy. It’s likely that it has a different laptop tip to accommodate for its larger power requirements.

For this reason, never assume that because a charger is compatible with a certain brand that it will fit your laptop – always double check with the model number as well!

If in doubt, simply e-mail the store before deciding on making a purchase. As long as they offer good customer support, they should respond to you quickly and let you know what head would fit your laptop. Be sure in your e-mails to include your laptop model number, voltage and current (how to find these is detailed above), as these pieces of information are likely to help the store find what laptop head you need quickly and efficiently.

Additional USB Connectors and Chargers

Imperial Gadgets universal laptop ac adapterSome laptop chargers and some premium universal laptop chargers also have an additional USB port built in to the AC adapter itself. This can be especially useful for those who have multiple devices to charge that accept USB, such as an Apple iPhone or an Android phone.

Those with other devices such as camcorders or other phone models may still be in luck, if their retailer offers for sale additional USB chargers. Usually there will be a “Phone tips” or “Phone leads” list where someone buying the charger can also take a USB charger for their phone alongside it. This is good because plugging into a USB port on the laptop AC adapter itself is usually a faster charge than plugging into a computer’s USB port. Another advantage is that the computer doesn’t have to be switched on for your device to charge.

Finally, there is a huge advantage for those who travel often – if your laptop charger is also able to charge your phone, then weight and hassle can be saved by only bringing a single charger on holiday rather than having to remember to bring several.

Laptop Connector Elbow (or L-) Tips

Laptop charger elbow tip from Imperial GadgetsUnlike a lot of manufacturer laptop chargers, some universal power supplies will offer elbow tips, or L-tips, if they are of a premium quality. On the surface it looks like just the shape is different, but the L shape offers a number of useful advantages:

  • Having an angle on the connector means if the cable accidentally gets tugged, it would not tug directly out of the laptop socket. As a result, you’re less likely to disconnect your laptop charger by mistake.
  • Some cables (or depending on the height of your desk) can draw down on the laptop charger because of its own weight. Having an angle in the tip deflects some of this force and preserves the charger for longer.
  • If you are using your laptop very close to a wall or another obstacle, an L-shaped head tends to require less space on a desk.

Conclusion

Because of differences in the way power is handled between your home and electrical appliances, an AC adapter is required for laptops. Universal laptop chargers tend to fit almost all laptops, and high quality ones will also have options to fit special laptops such as Apples and netbooks. These are also almost always better than a manufacturer supplied laptop power supply.

It is important to know your laptop brand, laptop model number, voltage and current when shopping for a new laptop charger. This is so if you need to ask a question about compatibility the store you are buying from will be able to check this for you effectively.

Finally, check to see if the store you’re looking at can offer additional benefits to their charger such as extra USB ports or elbow (L-shaped) heads which may make your charger last longer or charge additional electronics.

Posted on December 21, 2013 | Filed under Features & Technology

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