Sunday, August 29, 2010

Power Supplies - The latest irritating technology stumbling block

For the third time in a week, an electronic gizmo in our house has failed in the same way: its low-bid Chinese wall-wart power supply has failed.

A power supply simply needs to take household power and turn it (usually) into either 12 volts or 5 volts DC with somewhere between 500 and, oh, say, 2000 mA of current.

This is a problem that has been solved for well over 50 years now. It's not complicated. It really, really isn't. Even if you throw in the safety requirements of UL it shouldn't cost more than a couple of dollars (when you're talking about buying in bulk). Of course, for the consumer to go out and buy a replacement, it's more like $10-$20 every time one of these damn things blows out. And they seem to last about 2 years.


Have we become that disposable a society?

The big problem is that when a device dies, the majority of consumers aren't going to be equipped or technically savvy to diagnose the problem and realize that simply replacing the wall-wart is enough. No, they'll run out to the store and buy a new device. And guess what it'll come with!

So I'll start off the hall of shame right now. Here are the devices that I've had to replace the power supply well, well prior to the end of the device's useful life:

HDHomeRun - This is now actually the second time in about 5 years that the wall wart has died. The first time, Silicon Dust had a recall program and replaced it at no cost. Apparently, they replaced it with one that was just as shitty. UPDATE: Silicon Dust says that they switched vendors a couple years ago, and that the first replacement was sent before they did so. They are going to replace the power supply free of charge, and this time using the new vendor's supply that has not been quite so problematic.

Roku - The wall wart for the Netflix player died on us this week. According to the searching I've done, this is something fairly frequent. Roku's FAQ has suggestions for diagnosing power supply failure, and their store has a replacement supply for $10 - both of which suggest that this issue has come up frequently enough for them to prepare a response.

Apple - I bought an AirPort Express from my nephew. It tested fine at his apartment, but when I plugged it in at home, it had failed. And, again, the Internet is alive with reports of these dying and suggested repair strategies. This is a much worse failure, because the power supply is internal to the unit, and it is impossible to non-destructively open the case.

TrendNet - I bought two Gigabit Ethernet switches at Fry's. Both of them experienced power supply failure within a year of purchase.

All of these companies should be ashamed of themselves. There's just no excuse for selling a device with a power supply that doesn't outlive the device by a factor of at least 5.

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