Counterfeit Macbook charger teardown

What’s inside a counterfeit Macbook charger? After my Macbook charger teardown, a reader sent me a charger he suspected was counterfeit. From the outside, this charger is almost a perfect match for an Apple charger, but disassembling the charger shows that it is very different on the inside. It has a much simpler design that lacks quality features of the genuine charger, and has major safety defects.

The counterfeit Apple chargers I’ve seen in the past have usually had external flaws that give them away, but this charger could have fooled me. The exterior text on this charger was correct, no “Designed by Abble” or “Designed by California”. It had a metal ground pin, which fakes often exclude. It had the embossed Apple logo on the case. The charger isn’t suspiciously lightweight. Since I’ve written about these errors in fake chargers before, I half wonder if the builders learned from my previous articles. One minor flaw is the serial number sticker (to the right of the ground pin) was a bit crooked and not stuck on well.

This counterfeit MagSafe 45W charger has the same ‘Designed by Apple in California’ text as the genuine charger. Unlike many fakes, it has a metal ground pin (although it isn’t connected internally). To the right of the ground pin, the serial number label is a bit crooked, which is a hint that something isn’t right.

The photo below shows the safety certifications that the charger claims to have. Again, it looks genuine, with no typos or ugly fonts.

The counterfeit power supply has all the same safety indications as a real power supply.

One flaw that made the original purchaser suspicious was the quality of the case didn’t seem up to Apple standards. It didn’t feel quite like his old charger when tapped, and the joints appear slightly asymmetrical, as you can see in the picture below.

The seams in a counterfeit Magsafe power supply are a bit asymmetrical.

A problem showed up when I plugged in the charger and measured the output at the Magsafe connector. I measured 14.75 volts output and got a spark when I shorted the pins. Since the charger is rated at 14.85 volts, this may seem normal, but the behavior of a real charger is different. A Magsafe charger initially produces a low-current output of 3 to 6 volts, so shorting the output should not produce a spark. Only when a microcontroller inside the charger detects that the charger is connected to a laptop does the charger switch to the full output power. (Details are in my Magsafe connector teardown article.) This is a safety feature of the real charger that reduces the risk from a short circuit across the pins. The counterfeit charger, on the other hand, omits the microcontroller circuit and simply outputs the full voltage at all times. This raises the risk of burning out your laptop if you plug the connector in crooked or metallic debris sticks to the magnet.

Inside the charger

Cracking the charger open with a chisel reveals the internal circuitry. A real Apple charger is packed full of complex circuitry, while this charger had a fairly low density board that implemented a simple flyback switching power supply.

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