- Wrong polarity – If you reverse the polarity, a few things can happen. If you’re lucky, nothing will happen, and no damage will occur. If you are unlucky, your device will be damaged. There’s a middle ground, too. Some laptops and other devices include polarity protection, which is essentially a fuse that burns out if you use the wrong polarity. If this happens, you might hear a pop and see smoke. But the device may still work on battery power. However, your DC input will be toast. To fix this, either replace the polarity protection fuse or get it serviced. The good news is that the main circuitry wasn’t fried.
- Voltage too low – If the voltage on an adapter is lower than the device, but the current is the same, then the device may work, albeit erratically. If we think back to our analogy of voltage being water pressure, then it would mean that the device has “low blood pressure.” The effect of low voltage depends on the complexity of the device. A speaker, for example, may be okay, but it just won’t get as loud. More sophisticated devices will falter, and may even shut themselves off when they detect an under-voltage condition. Usually, an under-voltage condition won’t cause damage or shorten the life of your device.
- Voltage too high – If the adapter has a higher voltage, but the current is the same, then the device will likely shut itself off when it detects an overvoltage. If it doesn’t, then it may run hotter than normal, which can shorten the life of the device or cause immediate damage.
- Current too high – If the adapter has the correct voltage, but the current is greater than what the device input requires, then you shouldn’t see any problems. For example, if you have a laptop that calls for a 19V / 5A DC input, but you use a 19V / 8A DC adapter, your laptop will still get the 19V voltage it requires, but it will only draw 5A of current. As far as current goes, the device calls the shots, and the adapter will have to do less work.
- Current too Low – If the adapter has the correct voltage, but the adapter’s rated current is lower than what the device input, then a few things might happen. The device could power on, and just draw more current from the adapter than it’s designed for. This could cause the adapter to overheat or fail. Or, the device may power on, but the adapter may not be able to keep up, causing the voltage to drop (see voltage too low above). For laptops running on undercurrent adapters, you might see the battery charge, but the laptop is not powering on, or it may run on power, but the battery won’t charge. Bottom-line: it’s a bad idea to use a lower current rating adapter since it could cause excess heat.
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In a nutshell :
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- The following will cause damage to your device:
- Reverse polarity
- Higher voltage adapter than device rating
- The following will cause harm to your power cord or adapter:
- Reverse polarity
- Lower current adapter than device rating
- The following might not cause damage, but the device will not work properly:
- Lower voltage adapter than device rating
- Higher current adapter than device rating