The difference between an Apple-made iPad charger and a cheap knock-off

The difference between an Apple-made iPad charger and a cheap knock-off

The difference between an Apple-made iPad charger and a cheap knock-off may seem obvious — price. One is almost $20 and the other just $3. What's not so obvious is what's inside the chargers that make for that difference in price. Part of it is Apple's profit margins, no doubt, which included research and development into making the original charger. But it also includes far more and far safer components, and far, far more care. Both the genuine Apple charger and the cheap knock off were taken apart and analyzed by Ken Shirriff:

Safety probably isn't something you think about when you plug in your charger, but it's important. Inside the charger is 170 volts or more with very little separating it from your iPad and you. If something goes wrong, the charger can burn up (below), injure you, or even killyou. Devices such as chargers have strict safety standards - if you get a charger from a reputable manufacturer. If you buy a cheap counterfeit charger, these safety standards are ignored. You can't see the safety risks from the outside, but by taking the chargers apart, I can show you the dangers of the counterfeit.

There's always a difference between cost and value. For some the most valuable thing is cheapness. For others it's time or quality or safety and we'll gladly pay more to get better. In some cases it may not be worth it, in other it may be absolutely priceless. It's an assessment we each of us have to make every time we choose to buy something that has cheap, average, and premium priced versions.

Personally, if electricity is involved, I may look at lower priced (or ever higher-priced, more specialized) alternatives from known and respected accessory companies, but I'm sure as hell not going to get the next-to-nothing priced knockoff.

Shirriff's tear down and analysis is incredible detailed. Check it out and then let me know — does it change the way you look at $3 chargers on eBay?

Source: Ken Shirriff via Daring Fireball

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Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, Vector, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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The difference between an Apple-made iPad charger and a cheap knock-off

18 Comments

You have to look for the UL seal to make sure it's safe? AND DON'T BUY ANYTHING FROM CHINA, or at least try not to.

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Unfortunately, one no longer rely on the UL certification to guarantee a product is safe as the knock-off manufacturers now place the UL logo on their products without actually having been approved/inspected/certified by UL. The same goes for the CE mark.

ok, mr. sterling. like others have said, everything is made in China, including multiple products that you use from Apple. Please do some research before you open your mouth again. thank you.

While the Apple charger is over priced you can't place a value on your life. Didn't several people in China die a year or so ago from using knock off chargers?

1. Too many people confuse value with cheapness. A chintzy piece of junk charger may only cost $2, but it may have low value because...it's a piece of junk.

2. +1 to shaking my head at people who can afford a $400+ iPad but can't spend a few bucks more on a decent charger.

I have an Apple corded mouse and the MagSafe connector for MBA and both coverings have split and expose wiring within. Poor design? Poor manufacturing? Poor materials? Anyone else have similar problem with thinly coated Apple wires?

The following lists and differentiates between the several certification marks:

Certification Listing Marks
This document gives details on the meaning of several certification listing marks: UL, ETL, CE and FCC.
First, here are two overview paragraphs from CSA International's document, "Certification Consolidation Program".

"Standards writing and publishing is independent from specific product testing and certification functions. Standards are (usually) created by independent committees, who then publish their rulings with the assistance of standards organizations such as CSA, UL, ANSI, or IEE. Approved standards are then made available to manufacturers as well as testing and certification organizations to assist with design, testing, and certification."

"Once a product has been found compliant to a standard, the accredited testing laboratory authorizes the product to bear that laboratories' licensed mark. So, the approval mark on the product shows consumers, specifiers, and authorities which accredited testing service has certified the product, not which service published the standard."

Now, the meaning of each Certification Mark.

The UL Listing Mark
This is one of the most common UL Marks. If a product carries this Mark, Underwriters Laboratories found that samples of this product met UL's safety requirements. These requirements are primarily based on UL's own published Standards for Safety. This type of Mark is seen commonly on appliances and computer equipment, furnaces and heaters, fuses, electrical panel boards, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers and sprinkler systems, personal flotation devices like life jackets and life preservers, bullet resistant glass, and thousands of other products.

Product testing can be verified through UL directories online at http://www.ul.com
(File No. E106377).

The ETL Listing Mark
The product with this mark on it has been certified by ITS. This certification mark indicates that the product has been tested to and has met the minimum requirements of a widely recognized U.S product safety standard, that the manufacturing site has been audited, and that the applicant has agreed to a program of periodic factory follow-up inspections to verify continued performance.

UL813 Commercial Audio Equipment: 1996 Seventh Edition.
UL6500_2 Audio/Video and Musical Instrument Apparatus for Household, Commercial, and Similar General Use.
Product testing can be verified through ETL directories online at
http://www.etlsemko.com/ProdDir/index.htm.

The CE Mark
The European Commission describes the CE mark as a "passport" that allows manufacturers to circulate industrial products freely within the internal market of the EU. The CE mark certifies that the products have met EU health, safety and environmental requirements that ensure consumer and workplace safety. All manufacturers in the EU and abroad must affix the CE mark to those products covered by the "New Approach" directives in order to market their products in Europe. Once a product receives the CE mark, it can be marketed throughout the EU without undergoing further product modification.
Most products covered by New Approach Directives can be self-certified by the manufacturer and do not require the intervention of an EU-authorized independent testing/certifying company (notified body). To self-certify, the manufacturer must assess the conformity of the products to the applicable directives and standards. While the use of EU harmonized standards is voluntary in theory, in practice the use of European standards is the best way to meet the requirements of the CE mark directives. This is because the standards offer specific guidelines and tests to meet safety requirements, while the directives, general in nature, do not.

The manufacturer may affix the CE mark to their product following the preparation of a declaration of conformity, the certificate which shows the product conforms to the applicable requirements. They must maintain a technical file to prove conformity. The manufacturer or their authorized representative must be able to provide this certificate together with the technical file at any time, if requested by the appropriate member state authorities.

There is no specific form for the declaration of conformity, but specific information is required. The declaration must include the following:

(1) The manufacturer's name and address.
(2) The product.
(3) The CE mark directives that apply to the product, e.g. the machine directive 93/37/EC or the low voltage directive 73/23/EEC.
(4) The European standards used, e.g. EN 50081-2:1993 for the EMC directive or EN 60950:1991 for the low voltage requirement for information technology.
(5) The declaration must show the signature of a company official for purposes of the company assuming liability for the safety of its product in the European market. This European standards organization has set up the Electromagnetic Compatibility Directive. According to CE, The Directive basically states that products must not emit unwanted electromagnetic pollution (interference). Because there is a certain amount of electromagnetic pollution in the environment, the Directive also states that products must be immune to a reasonable amount of interference. The Directive itself gives no guidelines on the required level of emissions or immunity that is left to the standards that are used to demonstrate compliance with the Directive.

The EMC-directive (89/336/EEC) Electromagnetic Compatibility
Like all other directives, this is a new-approach directive, which means that only the main requirements (essential requirements) are required. The EMC-directive mentions two ways of showing compliance to the main requirements:

Manufacturers declaration (route acc. art. 10.1)
Type testing using the TCF (route acc. to art. 10.2)
The LVD-directive (73/26/EEC) Safety
Like all CE-related directives, this is a new-approach directive, which means that only the main requirements (essential requirements) are required. The LVD-directive describes how to show compliance to the main requirements.

EMC Standards:

EN 55103-1:1995 Electromagnetic Compatibility Product Family Standard for Audio, Video, Audio-Visual and Entertainment Lighting Control Apparatus for Professional Use, Part 1: Emissions
ANNEX A Magnetic Field Emissions-Annex A @ 1 meter
ANNEX B Inrush Current- 10 random measurements
ANNEX E Emissions from signal, control and d.c. ports .15 to 50 MHz
EN 61000-3-2:1995+A14: 2000 Limits for Harmonic Current Emissions (equipment input current <= 16A per phase)
EN 61000-3-3:1995 Limitation of Voltage Fluctuations and Flicker in Low-Voltage Supply Systems Rated Current <=16A
EN 55022:1992 + A1: 1995 & A2: 1997 Limits and Methods of Measurement of Radio Disturbance Characteristics of ITE: Radiated, Class B Limits; Conducted Class A
EN 55103-2:1996 Electromagnetic Compatibility Product Family Standard for Audio, Video, Audio-Visual and Entertainment Lighting Control Apparatus for Professional Use, Part 2: Immunity
EN 61000-4-2:1995 Electrostatic Discharge Immunity (Environment E2-Criteria B, 4k V Contact, 8kV Air Discharge)
EN 61000-4-3:1996 Radiated, Radio-Frequency, Electromagnetic Immunity (Environment E2, criteria A)
EN 61000-4-4:1995 Electrical Fast Transient/Burst Immunity (Criteria B)
EN 61000-4-5:1995 Surge Immunity (Criteria B)
EN 61000-4-6:1996 Immunity to Conducted Disturbances Induced by Radio-Frequency Fields (Criteria A)
EN 61000-4-11:1994 Voltage Dips, Short Interruptions and Voltage Variation

Safety Standard:
EN 60065: 1998 Safety Requirements Audio Video and Similar Electronic Apparatus

The FCC Mark
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent United States government agency that is directly responsible to Congress. The FCC was established by the Communications Act of 1934 and is charged with regulating interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. The FCC's jurisdiction covers the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. possessions.
All devices that operate at a clock rate of 9 kHz are required to test their product to the appropriate FCC Code.

Title 47--Telecommunication

CHAPTER I Federal Communications Commission
PART 15 Radio Frequency Devices