My L-connector MagSafe Power Adapter (85W) Almost Started a Fire

MagSafe Power Adapter

magsafe power adapter
At risk of sounding overly negative, the only way that the 85W MagSafe Power Adapter could be any worse… is if it gave people cancer.

I’m sitting at home typing on my iMac waiting for the courier to come and deliver a new 85W MagSafe adapter – because my last one tried to kill me in my sleep. I was sleeping on a futon on the floor of my study, as I often do when I have to wake up really early. My 15” 2011 MacBook Pro with the L-shaped MagSafe head was sitting on a chair next to my futon. Things must have gotten pretty crazy as I slept, because the brick fill from the chair, landed on my blanket and became enveloped in the bed cover. Obviously this is not an ideal situation for something that gets as hot as this piece of crap does on a regular basis.

Anyway, I woke up suddenly to an extremely hot MagSafe brick, and the smell of melting plastic. I immediately unplugged it and went back to sleep. A cursory inspection the next morning revealed no damage. It functioned, but the charge light would not always work. Something was amiss. I was no longer prepared to leave it unattended – which is a very good thing, because things were about to get a lot worse.

Worse came when I was sitting at work. I looked down to find the sight that you see in the image above. Obvious blackening was present and wire was exposed. At first I thought that it was just dust or grime, but when I looked closely – it became obvious that it had been burnt – from the inside out.

Not the First MagSafe to Die on Me

Interestingly enough, my last MagSafe adapter lasted all of two years before inexplicably dying. I am two for two. Admittedly, some people treat their electronics a lot better than I do, but I think that the fact that I have never had another laptop power adapter fail on me before speaks volumes.

Incidentally, my Airport Express suffered a similar fate. It abruptly stopped working, the issue was power related. Then there are the two 30-pin cables that I have had to replace because of severe fraying. With the premium that one pays for Apple products, one should probably be able to expect better.

The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same

Incidentally, Apple had similar problems with the previous generation of MagSafe – problems that the L-shaped connector of the second generation was supposed to fix. The first time around, the matter was settled with a class action lawsuit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MagSafe#Criticisms_and_defects. The title shot shows my second generation MagSafe cable, with the L-shaped connector clearly visible.

The image below is a closeup of the damaged area on my second generation MagSafe cable. The burn marks are quite obvious.
magsafe power adapter cable burnt

The image below from Wikipedia looks a lot like my failed second generation MagSafe. It is of a first generation model.
magsafe power adapter hot

Benefit of the Doubt

At this point, I was prepared to give Apple the benefit of the doubt. Part of the problem had probably been that the brick inadvertently became embedded in my blanket. I get that. So I contacted Apple’s media department to let them know that I had an issue that could have started a fire, with a hope that it would make them aware of the potential danger. Chances are that I would get a replacement for my troubles. At the time I thought that there was no need to pen some obnoxious anti-Apple rant – it would be bad for business – and would certainly jeopardize any future opportunities for working with Apple. I waited patiently over the weekend for a response, an explanation, a denial, anything at all and got… nothing. Clearly, I was too insignificant for my concerns to warrant a simple response. At this point it should be pointed out that, while the cord was clearly frayed, and while the brick had heated up, and while I head smelled melting plastic – I had never seen any smoke. As far as I was aware, the problem was a frayed cord, not a potentially dangerous fault. I figured that I could patch it up with some tape until Apple sent me a replacement.

Then the condition of my cord markedly deteriorated. I plugged it in to recharge when I got home from work and immediately noticed a smell of burning plastic. A closer inspection revealed that the frayed area was visibly smoking – then it lost power altogether.

When it comes to reviewing electronic products, my policy has always been to focus on products that I like and steer clear of products for which I have a personal distaste. The fact is that this could have happened from lack of care. I put the failure of my first adapter down to a voltage spike at my old apartment that saw a huge spark shoot out of the socket – and that melted a piece of the plug (even though it kept working well after I moved to my new place). Stuff like that takes its toll – I accept that. My new house has had no such issues – so why did my second adapter risk frying me into oblivion like so much delicious bacon?

Acceptance

MagSafe adapters are expensive pieces of equipment. I managed to find one on sale for 5,200 yen, with free next-day shipping – and I needed my computer to be fully functional as soon as possible. Yes, I could have sent it to the Apple store in Tokyo and yes, they probably would have sent me a free replacement – but I wasn’t going to let my only evidence of the cord meltdown leave my hands so easily.

I was caught between a rock and a hard place and my need for computer access trumped my desire to get the problem dealt with without spending any money. It also took me to the Apple site to check the price there, where I discovered the less than glowing reviews that MagSafe adapter had received. So I sucked up my pride and threw good money after bad – because Apple left me with no other choice.

The Disgruntled Majority

I was annoyed, but not bitter – but something happened while shopping around for a replacement for my failed 85W L-connector MagSafe Power Adapter that made me think that convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that my issue was a part of a much larger problem and that it did indeed warrant further investigation. I saw the product reviews at the online Apple Store. The adapter managed a measly two stars – despite a good number of the reviews having seemingly been written a little soon after purchase to hold any sort of legitimacy – and despite many others giving their failed hardware a generous two-star rating. The following quotes all come straight from the Apple website and have not been modified in any way, shape, or form.

John G, who gave the adapter two out of five, had this to say:

I thought the magnetic connection would solve the problem with my previous Powerbook cord fraying. It didn’t. 18 months, and I’m having to wiggle the cord around to get power. Of course, Apple will sell me another one for $79, when my problem is that $1 worth of wire broke.

Here’s an idea: why not make the portion of the cable that attaches to the transformer detachable? Then when the connector frays, as it inevitably will, you could buy a $10 cord instead of paying $79 for the whole power adapter. But I guess that would eliminate a big source of profit for Apple.

Kyle C, of Washington, apparently replaced his last generation adapter with the L-shaped version – and thought that it offered a vast improvement:

I had the old macbook pro (2009) that came with the old charger. I’ve never had problems with the charger at all other then if I were to use it on my lap then the charger would be disconnected from the computer. With this charger that is no longer the case.

I now have the new macbook pro and it came with the new charger and there isn’t anything bad i can say about it so far. If you’re looking for a charger that will work with the macbook and macbook pro this is the best choice. Somehow the charger can regulate down the amount of charge it’s putting through to the computer so it’s able to be used for both models. The overall look of this charger is pretty amazing. Before having a cheap looking white plug going into a all aluminum macbook looked stupid. With the new aluminum magsafe plug it looks a lot better when plugged in.

Overall i think this is a great upgrade for anyone looking for a new charger and for anyone who has had problems with the old model.

Give it a year Kyle, see how it is treating you then.

Andrea G, a professional photographer, found herself in a similar but less spectacular version to my own (or maybe she didn’t smell the burning plastic?) She gave it a one-star rating:

I am a professional photographer and switched over to Mac about a year ago. While I love Mac and love my laptop, I am very dissappointed that the power cable has frayed and has become completely unusable within a year. I am trying to get caught up on editing photos and can not do anything until I recieve a replacement in the mail because I live 2 hours away from the nearest Apple store. My clients are waiting on their products! I am not happy that I have to make them wait and spend $80 on a new cord!

Steve B was extremely enthusiastic, even though he was clearly talking about a different product, as the L-shaped connector was not on the market until late 2009.

Not sure what is wrong with the peeps that are complaining about this plug. We have 3 macbooks in our family, all with these cords, all in use since 2008 or 09 and never replaced one, never had any issues.

IMO, this is just another one of Apple’s excellent designs!

My first-generation MagSafe did a lot better than this one too Steve B.

Pierre B titled his comment, “Almost Caught Fire”:

Started sparking and burnt out. Started to fray within first year.

Carlie K apparently treated her MagSafe well – alas it was all in vain:

My first power adaptor that came with my MacBook Pro lasted about a year and half. Being my first laptop, I was extremely careful with bending and straining the cord. Then within a week or two the part that connects to the laptop went from perfectly fine to terribly frayed. I went to the nearest Apple store, two hours away, and complained enough to get a new one. They kept telling me that it looked like a cat chewed on it. I do not own a cat, nor did anything chew on the cable. Now, about 6 months after the new power adaptor, it’s fraying again. Still no cats, and I’ve been even more careful to not strain it in any way than I was with the first one.

David B offered precisely the same sentiments as my own:

We’re becoming a disposable society. Forget about quality, build it cheap, make money and you have captive customers. Just went on-line to order my third charge after the first two frayed. Terrible design and I’m surprised that this product still has not been redesigned. Very disappointing.

Fabian was less than impressed:

Absolutely unsafe and bad quality!!!
I have 3 MacBooks pros in my home in 3 year we went through several chargers. Apple you really need to do something about this urgently! I am sick and tire!

Christina S sounded downright litigious, entitling her post “Are they not worried about another lawsuit? – 0 Stars”. Apple doesn’t allow you to give zero stars, but this was a good little workaround. Incidentally, her problems sounded much like my own and her sentiments match mine:

As someone who own multiple apple computers I have realistic expectations when it comes to my equipment but this product meets none of them. I am about to buy my third one after having my computer just over a year. There is a dangerous flaw in the design of this product and not addressing it is downright negligent. I’m seeking off brand alternatives because it is genuinely frustrating to invest in expensive material to have it not only stop working after three months but have it pose a danger to myself and others. My first cord literally fell apart after shooting sparks out of it’s side and my second cord showed a split two days ago and in the space of a day disintegrated to the point where even taping it to the side of my laptop to keep it stationary can’t stop it from getting worse. I am disappointed, I am upset, and I am not going to keep paying for faulty equipment.

Elliot W suggests that a sneaky conspiracy might be afoot:

The wires on both of the 85W MagSafe adapters that I use on my mid 2010 15″ MacBook Pro began to fray (disintegrate) within a week of each other. At $79 each for replacement I now understand Apples growth, this is engineered obsolescence. Apple, you need to fix this!

Laura L’s apparently almost caught fire as well:

I’ve had mine for less than a year and it is already total trash. Why make the connection between the cord and the adapter so stiff? It constantly gets strained, no matter how careful you are. First the plastic outer layer developed a hole which I covered in electrical tape (about 6 months ago). This morning, it just stopped working. When I opened it up, it was completely melted/fried and the wires inside were sticking in all directions. If I wasn’t home to see this, it could have caused a FIRE. This is a seriously stupid oversight for a company so obsessed with the design of their products. Now I have to buy a new one that has the same problem as the old one?

Scott C noticed melting:

My MacBook Pro is 2 years old – and I’m on my 3rd power adapter. The keep melting/breaking at both ends – near the magnetic part and the brick part. The cable is just too thin with thin shielding.

Matthew S’s melted:

Had mine for about just over a year. It seems like the cord actually melted away from the power supply. Not cool.

Sounds like someone at Stephanie M’s lab needs to lawyer up:

After shelling out 2000+ for a computer, you would expect the 80.00 power adapter to last more than a year, especially when you care for it as if it is made of glass. For years I have known these things to be fragile and so I keep it in one place where it can’t get pulled on and it still frays apart forcing me to spend more money on a new one.

Word to the wise: when it gets frayed and the wire is exposed, don’t use it!!! My co-worker had his computer go up in smoke in our laboratory, almost burned the place down. Luckily the cord is long and could safely be unplugged, while a labcoat was thrown on top before it actually caught fire. In the end, computer was a little charred and the company decided to replace rather than risk another incident. We were the only lab with mac at our institute and now they are going to refuse to buy mac laptops, that’s what apple gets for selling garbage for gold.

Sadly, I see this is not the only account of fire hazard cords. You would think that at this price, apple would be more careful, but I guess they are waiting for someone to die and get sued… Will be an easy settlement with all this documentation on the internet already.

Verdict

I am going to have to go ahead and agree with the overwhelming majority on this one. My experience with the L-connector MagSafe adapter was only marginally worse than my experience with the model that preceded it (which also nearly killed me). I would like to point out that my problems occurred on the computer side of the adapter, not the power point side. That means that you are dealing with significantly lower voltage and the potential for electrocution is at least diminished. However, if it can melt plastic and cause sparks then it can almost certainly cause a fire. The very least that Apple could do is to license someone else to make better quality MagSafe compatible adapters.

I would be interested to see if the next generation MagSafe adapter has addressed these quality control issues, but it is probably still too early to say. If nothing else, the new product gets its own page and Apple doesn’t have to hide from all of those bad reviews.

I love my MacBook Pro, but not enough to shell out an extra $80 a year to keep buying it new cables.

0 Stars – Unfortunately this rating is meaningless, because if you have a MacBook, they are probably going to keep failing and you are almost certainly going to have to keep buying them.

The final kick in the teeth this time round: my replacement shipped without the extension cord.

 

About the author: C. S. Magor

 

C.S. Magor is the editor-in-chief and reporter at large for Uberreview and We Interrupt. He currently resides in a sleepy basin town in the Japanese countryside - where both his bank balance and the lack of space in his home are testament to his addiction to all things shiny.

Follow @csmagor on Twitter

Website: http://www.uberreview.com

 

Recent posts in Apple

 
 

From Around The Web

 
 
 

Recent Posts

 
 
 

Post of the week

 
 

Facebook