IEC announces universal laptop charger standard

December 17, 2013 | 10:37

Tags: #charger #laptop #netbook #notebook

Companies: #eu #iec

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) has announced a new specification for laptop chargers, designed to banish incompatible devices from the market in favour of a one-size-fits-all solution to getting power into next-generation portable computers.

As anyone who has ever had a laptop from more than one manufacturer - or, in extreme cases, even upgraded from one generation to another with the same manufacturer - will know, laptop chargers are fickle things. Between incompatible plugs and the requirement for different voltages, upgrading your laptop typically means replacing any spare chargers you have at the home or the office. Even so-called 'universal' chargers typically work with only a sub-set of the most popular manufacturers' models, and come with a dizzying array of tips that get lost almost as soon as the currently-required tip is connected to the charger cable.

It's a problem that the IEC claims generates a lot of waste: the standards body claims that electronic waste from discarded laptop chargers equals around half a million tonnes per year globally.

The solution: a new standard, building on the group's work on a micro-USB-based universal charger for data-enabled mobile phones first published in 2011. 'The IEC International Standards for the universal charger for mobile phones has been widely adopted by the mobile phone industry and is already starting to help reduce e-waste.' claimed Frans Vreeswijk, general secretary and chief executive of the IEC, at the announcement. 'A single power supply covering a wide range of notebook computers is the next step in lowering e-waste and its impact on our planet. I am proud that the IEC has yet again managed to make the best possible technical solution available.'

The standard, which is available only to IEC members, covers various functions of an external charger for laptop devices including standardisation of the plug and connector, interoperability, performance and - given the group's focus on electronic waste reduction - environmental considerations. Should the standard be adopted, the group claims, it would make it possible for consumers to share chargers between multiple laptop models from different manufacturers while also making it easier to replace faulty or end-of-life chargers.

;The IEC is all about bringing concrete, feasible solutions to the market place,' claimed Vreeswijk. 'We welcome input from many sides to make our work as broadly relevant as possible. The result are state-of-the art tools that allow policy makers to initiate achievable and effective energy-efficiency and waste-management programmes. They also enable industry, research institutions and other stakeholders to consistently develop better, more environmentally friendly products.'

While Vreeswijk may state that his company is focused on providing concrete solutions to the market, there's one thing missing from the IEC announcement: confirmation that any manufacturers have expressed interest in adopting the new standard. That said, the group has form: its micro-USB charging standard for data-enabled smartphones and tablets was adopted by the European Union following its publication, and the IEC claims around 82 per cent of EU standards in electrotechnology are either identical to or based upon standards it has published.

This time, however, the company may have a swing and a miss on its hands: the new standard will be directly competing with the rival USB Power Delivery Standard, allowing compatible USB cables and ports to carry up to 100W of power - easily enough to charge a laptop without the need for a traditional DC socket like that proposed by the IEC.

The IEC has not given a date for when the new universal charging standard will begin to appear in the market.
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