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What is a Power Adapter?

by Natalie Schlueter

Although technology has been a part of our lives for a long while now, there are still some things about modern technology that are just not that easy to understand. There are so many different devices with different plugs, chargers, and adapters a common junk drawer can turn into the place to house all of our extra cords we don’t know where to put, right?

Many of these cords and other things have been used in our daily lives for a while now, but are we actually familiar with their names and what they actually do? “Power adapter” can be one of those names that so many people call so many other things than “power adapter” that it might start to get confusing as to what it actually is.

Read on to find out some key facts about power adapters and how they can be used in your charging solutions.

What's Another Name for a Power Adapter?

Power adapters can sometimes be called chargers, AC power adapters, or AC adapters. All of these names are correct, except for charger. A charger serves a different function than a power adapter does. We will discuss this further down the line in this post.

If you were to see any of these names on the internet or on sales materials for products you are considering, there is a 90% chance that the materials are referring to power adapters.

What is the Purpose of a Power Adapter?

The power adapter serves the purpose of converting AC voltage to a single DC voltage for your computer. It operates as an external battery for your computer so that the computer’s size does not need to be so large.

A computer uses many different DC voltages. One is provided by the power adapter and the other is provided by internal circuits in the computer itself. These combined give the computer what it needs. The power adapter serves as the battery that is providing specific energy and volts to a specific computer it is plugged into.

Is a Power Adapter One Size Fits All?

No, a power adapter does not have a one size fits all type scenario. Each power adapter is set to convert a certain amount of volts or watts to enter each specific computer. Each power adapter has a specific power rating, either in volts or watts, that it can handle and output to a certain device. Because of this, a power adaptor is not universal.

You cannot combine or transfer different power adapters to different devices. The external battery will not work. If you do not want to use a specific power adapter and need it for many different devices, you can find universal AC adapters. These adapters are designed with a greater range of compatibility with different outputs and a larger range of volts or watts to fit many different device scenarios.

Where is the Power Adapter Located?

It is located externally from the device it is charging, typically either at the end of the cord plugged into the device, like an Apple product cord, or in the middle of the cord with two different cords attached, one going into the adaptor and one coming out the other side.

Visually, it looks like a box attached to the cord you plug into the computer.

Is a Charger and a Power Adapter the Same?

No, these two are not the same. The major difference is that a charger is not an external battery for a device. A charger just feeds volts or watts to a device, no matter what the device is as long as the cord fits the port. An adapter is an external battery.

If you were to take the battery out of a phone, plug it in and try to turn it on, it would not turn on since the charger feeds the battery electricity and then the phone uses the battery. If you were to take the battery out of a computer, plug it into the wall with the cord and try to turn it on, it would turn on. This is because the power adapter is acting as the battery for the computer at this moment in time and the computer can function off of that external battery.

A charger is the means to get electricity from one place to another, a power adapter is an external battery all on it’s own.

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