How to keep Dell Latitude power supplies from dying?
January 27, 2009 10:04 AM   Subscribe

O, the carnage! Is there anything I can do to prolong the lifespan of a Dell Latitude's power brick/AC adapter?

My library has 55 Dell laptops that we check out to students. Recently, it seems like the power supplies (power brick + plug) have been dying with a surprising frequency. Is there anything I can do to stem the genocide?

We have checked the library's power outlets and there have been no strangeness or surges or the like.

It seems to be the brick itself that fails. I can detach the part that plugs into the wall, hook up up to a working brick, and it works fine.

Power supplies are stored in milk crates, wrapped with the included rubber strap, when not in use. They are not piled deeply or wrapped super tightly - that's what killed the vast variety of cords that we had previously and I drilled it into my student employees' brains to treat the power supplies with care.

While the power supplies are still under warranty, getting them replaced in a huge pain involving long waits on hold and a flurry of shipping labels.

Our laptops are used pretty heavily, so I am hoping that there is something we can do to help prolong the lifespan of these power supplies - currently I'm replacing roughly 3-5 a week!
posted by robocop is bleeding to Technology (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What's the failure mode?

Cables breaking is an abuse problem, and it's hard to fix that in a rental situation. Theoretically, you could replace them with better cables.

Just No Power implies a circuit failure. This may be abuse, or it may be a design flaw in the power supply. The most common flaw here is bad filter capacitors, this is actually fairly simple to fix (provided the whole thing isn't potted in epoxy.)

Library + Students implies school. University? If so, do you have an Electrical Engineering program? If so, give them a call, you might be able to get them fixed if it is a component failing or cords failing -- I'm sure you could find a student who'd love to break out the iron for a few bucks.

This many failures implies serious abuse, design flaw, or bad component.
posted by eriko at 10:40 AM on January 27, 2009

There is a serious design flaw with the power connector. It takes almost no effort at all to snap it from the motherboard sufficiently to kill the laptop.
posted by genghis at 10:57 AM on January 27, 2009

Response by poster: The laptops are (surprisingly) pretty resilient, despite their heavy use by our university students. Laptop failures are pretty rare. Power supply failures, on the other hand...

There is no sign of physical damage on the power cord, power brick, and so on. There is no ozone smell. I have not seen any abuse outside of normal, heavy use. The power cords/bricks just stop working.

Unfortunately, we have no electrical engineering program and couldn't void warranties if we wanted to.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 11:11 AM on January 27, 2009

I'd buy a third-party charger and see if they last longer. If they do then replace them with that brand as they break down. Sure, that's a real expense but if your time supporting these things and doing replacements costs more then its worth it.

It might be cheaper to buy little inline surge protectors and see if they help. If they do then somewhere someone is plugging these things into a surgy outlet.

You said you measured the electricity in your library. Are you sure you did this correctly? You may get surges every few days or once every few weeks. If other equipment is dying sooner than later I think it would be time to call an electrician too. If its just the laptop then its probably Dell's craptistic QA on chargers.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:19 AM on January 27, 2009

Oh, what vintage are these laptops? It might be that the equipment Dell sold you was part of the great capacitor plague. If so, a techie with some experience doing basic soldering might be able to replace them. But thats pretty time intensive and you'd be better off keep doing returns or buying third-party.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:23 AM on January 27, 2009

Maybe obvious, but does the green LED still light up on the brick? (that's what mine has, anyway)
posted by orme at 12:08 PM on January 27, 2009

Response by poster: It does not. The Green LED remains dark and the attached laptop does not charge. Of course, the green LED can look like it's on depending on the light levels of the room.

The newer iteration of chargers have a different LED - it appears clear when not plugged in, but glows green when it is. We've only lost one of them since their introduction in November, as opposed to 37 or so of the older models we've lost since August.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 12:15 PM on January 27, 2009

It's probably bad bunch of power supplies on Dell's part. I have a Dell laptop, and bought a new power supply to replace one I thought had died. Only now, the original one works again. It's like sometimes it needs a little rest, and to have the cord detached and re-attached, even though it was properly seated to begin with. Maybe you could try that?
posted by donnagirl at 1:25 PM on January 27, 2009

I've replaced four Latitude power supplies in the past three years. No pattern or rhyme or reason as to why - one day, you plug them in, and the green LED just doesn't light up anymore and it stops delivering juice to the laptop.

My guess is piss-poor quality control on the part of Dell.
posted by deadmessenger at 1:37 PM on January 27, 2009

Dell laptop power adapters are poorly designed. The ones that look like this are the worst. What usually happens is that the cord coming out of the "brick" going toward the computer (on the bottom in the pic) starts to fray and eventually crack through the rubberized coating. I've seen it dozens of times. It comes mostly from winding the cable around the brick. Even though you're "supposed" to, it puts too much tension on the cable.

My advice would be to either not wind them around the brick, or to use tape of some kind to reinforce it in that area so it holds longer. Alternatively, you could buy a batch of more durable third-party adapters. If you're brave, you could attempt to repair what you have. Odds are it's a wiring issue and not a circuitry problem... but don't attempt it unless you're 100% comfortable with that sort of thing.
posted by JuiceBoxHero at 1:42 PM on January 27, 2009

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