Let’s Talk About Power

Ever since the IBM 5100 launched in 1975, we have been charging mobile computers… laptops, as they would come to be known. Somehow, we have failed to use the last 40 years (!) of mobile computing to figure out a truly acceptable way to provide power to these things.

Take this HP for example:


Somewhere in Hell, disregarding literally decades of good taste, an engineer decided the best course of action would be to have the plug sticking straight out the side of this thing. We live in a society, dammit. Have we not decided the best place to plug a laptop in is a rear corner? The only thing less convenient I can think of would be to have it plug directly into the center of the keyboard, and since this is HP we’re talking about, I wouldn’t put it past them.

I won’t just pick on HP, though. Most of the IBM compatibles have the same type of adapter – a detachable power cable attached to a brick with an integrated adapter cable with one of these monstrosities on the end of it:


The first laptop I can ever remember owning, a ThinkPad from the early 1990’s, had this exact plug. Why is it, in 2015, most OEMs still have not evolved past this? It doesn’t matter if I buy a $200 Black Friday Compaq or a $2400 Dell Precision, nine times out of ten it’s going to come with one of those for my charging pleasure. They’re horrible for a number of reasons, but the primary source of my hatred is what they do to charge ports on the laptops themselves. People are really, really bad at unplugging their adapters before they go gallivanting about with their laptops. This results in a loose, and eventually broken, charge port. Repairing these is time-consuming and expensive for the user, which translates to lots of yelling at the technician unfortunate enough to deal with the damage. If only there were some alternative…

Oh, hey Apple! What’s that you’ve got there? You call it “MagSafe”? Damn, that’s snazzy:


The port on the computer is in the right place, the plug itself is streamlined and reversible, and if I trip on the cord, it just breaks away from the laptop harmlessly. I won’t even bother checking if you patented the hell out of it (because of course you did), but the general idea of this is something it sure would be great for other OEMs to rally around. I’m going to go ahead and assume the rest of the adapter is just as well thought out as that bad ass connector … wait what the hell is this:


Missed it by thaaaat much, Apple. It’s like you put all your R&D into the actual laptop to power interface and then promised an intern a Starbucks gift card to design the brick… and then you never came through with the gift card, so the intern handed the work off to his grandmother who’s just the sweetest old lady but knows fuckall about electrical engineering. The amount of cable stress that thing can take is laughable. Mine went from “pristine” to “on fire” in the course of about a week. While I’m thankful for your urgency in replacing it, it’s just not something that should be happening.

It’s worth noting Lenovo has a similar design on their connectors. It’s not magnetic, but it is rectangular and less obtrusive than a 2″ dongle sticking out the side of your computer. It’s a step in the right direction. Now if only they could figure out an alternative to velcro for tying up the cable when not in use… you know, something like this:


Dell has been doing this for years! There are several great things about this. There’s the rubber strap which wraps around and attaches to itself… this secures the cable without using itself as a structural agent. There’s also the power cable… you’ll notice it’s actually shaped to bend in that direction! Sadly, the adapter cable on the other end is not. Because we’re Dell and two out of three is perfectly acceptable and that kind of mediocrity is okay with us.

What we need is clear: all of the major OEMs need to set their competitive shit aside and come together on this one thing to make the world a better place. Build us an adapter worthy of Mordor. Something indestructible. Something powerful. Something that would kill Sean Bean in his next movie before it would damage the laptop it’s designed for. Get Apple to design the connector, Dell to design the brick, and Lenovo to skirt patent law and make a copyable version available to less deserving OEMs like HP and Acer.

I believe in you. All of you. Please do this.


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