Tiny charger for MacBooks?
June 13, 2017 3:13 PM   Subscribe

I'd really like a very small, very light charger for my 15" MacBook Pro as an alternative to the huge 85W Apple charger and as a backup. I've been looking at the Zolt and similar, which seem cool, but I'm curious if it's possible to find something even smaller.

I'm willing to make big sacrifices in charging speed. Really, if it's small and light I wouldn't care if it takes 6 hours to fully charge the MacBook (the 85W adapter takes less than 1 hour). Has anyone come across something like this and/or do you know enough about how MacBooks handle charging to weigh in on if this would be possible to build (skills aren't a problem, just knowledge of Apple charging). Would it be possible to charge a MB Pro with (for instance) a 15W charger at the right voltage?

As a bonus question, does anyone know if you can charge a MacBook with a normal power supply plus a MagSafe connector or does the MacBook do some arbitrary communication to validate that it's a "real" Apple adapter?
posted by duoshao to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
  1. The magsafe connector is patented by Apple and they've never licensed it. It's no surprise that Zolt is out of business.
  2. This guy sells cut-off MacBook cables (among other things) with standard connectors at the opposite end, and might have some ideas about smaller wall warts you could use them with.
  3. There's a lot of engineering that goes into a decent charger, and a poorly engineered charger can be dangerous. Building a safe would would not be trivial. Building a safe, light one as a one-off project especially.

posted by adamrice at 3:51 PM on June 13 [1 favorite]

I've had my eye on this charger for a while and it seems to fit the bill. Reviews seem mostly good, but I have no personal experience.
posted by chrisamiller at 3:54 PM on June 13

There's nothing special about the cable on the Mac chargers; I've repaired them myself. The magic bits to turn the charging light on are inside the Magsafe tip. The comments on that link though suggest that swapping out a power source isn't as simple as it sounds. Plus, you'd have to cut up a Magsafe charger cord to try it.

I do know that you can get away with using the smaller 60W chargers on the 15" MBP. It just charges (significantly) slower.
posted by neckro23 at 3:58 PM on June 13

Possibly worth noting that if you run your 15" off a 60 watt adapter you do run the risk of your system running slower. Less power is less power, so things like the CPU and GPU won't spin up to their full potential if you're pushing the system. You'd have to be stressing it out pretty good, though; like, I wouldn't fire up Xcode or do massive video editing work or whatever with the smaller adapter for very long. (I have actually had my old 15" gen-2 Retina machine skip back to using the battery and the power supply under some fairly ridiculous workloads. But, then, I'm a software developer, and Xcode is a hog and so were the 6 VMs I was running, along with the 3 I forgot about.) I also wouldn't expect charge times to decrease that much between the 85 and 60 if the machine is off or asleep, given that nothing else is really running at that point, but I could be wrong.

As a side note, some power adapters do have a bit of logic in them for authentication - Dell ones certainly do, as their laptops will complain if you use a power adapter that's too small. I have no idea if the Apple ones do now but they used to - you could go into System Information and get the serial number off of the connected power adapter since before MagSafe. I don't know if they actively refuse non-Apple adapters, though, since you can't really build third-party MagSafe adapters without either getting sued or being some really shady burn your house down knockoff.
posted by mrg at 7:19 PM on June 13

Apple's chargers are pretty compact and 85 watts is not an insignificant amount of power. It requires a certain amount of hardware to be able to handle it plus a certain surface area to dissipate the heat.

Given Apple's obsession with thinness and lightness, I'm pretty sure they would do smaller ones if it were practical. The 60W ones can be used but they charge more slowly. If you work the machine hard while it's charging with a 60W charger, the battery can drain at the same time because there isn't enough power to do it all.

That Zolt review you linked to wasn't suitable for your MBP anyway, even if they were still in business. I would not use a 3rd party charger, but if you could find one that was smaller and put out 85W, I would expect it to be much more expensive than an Apple one.
posted by mewsic at 12:44 AM on June 14

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