Tag Archives: battery

Apple Believes in “Magic…” Perhaps Too Much?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had a couple clients reach out to me, complaining that the wireless mice that came with their brand new iMacs had “died.” Since these new mice are meant to be recharged, I explained the process of plugging them in with their included recharging cables, and letting their batteries refill, “resurrecting” the mice, as it were. I also suggested we get a backup, wired mouse for such occasions; a mouse that could be plugged in to one of the iMac’s USB ports while its wireless cousin recharged. I suggested that we could also pick up a wired keyboard, as a backup.

And then I went to the Apple Store to pick up these wired devices. To quote the poet Biz Markie, “Oh, snap! Guess what I saw!”

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All the wired devices had disappeared… like “Magic!”

I had to confirm with the Apple employee helping me out: could it be possible that they were no longer selling wired mice or keyboards?

Not only was it possible, they told me after checking their system; that’s exactly what had happened.

Unlike Apple’s controversial moves in the past (which you’re welcome to review here), this one was done without any fanfare. Nobody announced the retirement of the wired peripherals. One day they were on the store shelves; the next day, gone.

This really is a bigger deal than you’d think. Apple had included a wired mouse with every Macintosh from its first 128K model in 1984; until 25 years later, with the Mid 2009 20-inch iMac, the last to ship with a wired “Mighty Mouse.”

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No, not you! (Source: Wired.com)

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“Here I come to save the day?” Not after 2009, you don’t! (Source: Apple.com)

In October 2009, the 21.5 inch iMac would debut with an Apple Wireless Keyboard and the new, less-trademark-threatening “Magic Mouse.” It was the first time Apple gambled that new users would prefer a wireless keyboard and mouse—although the option was still available to swap out those peripherals for their wired equivalents at purchase.

The Magic Mouse connected via Bluetooth, and it took two standard AA batteries. Not long after, Apple started selling—you guessed it—AA batteries.

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Take THAT, Energizer Bunny! (Source: pindelski.org)

Not only was the Magic Mouse sleeker, but it had the same scroll functionality as the Mighty Mouse, without requiring a separate button. Indeed, the smooth scrolling surface of the Magic Mouse put the Mighty Mouse’s fussy, easily gummed-up scroll ball to shame. It was an upgrade in every sense.

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The Magic Mouse (lower) improved upon the Mighty Mouse (upper) across the board. (Source: Macworld.com)

Apple also launched the Magic Trackpad in 2010, for desktop users who preferred a laptop-like interface, as opposed to moving a mouse around on a desk. This, too, took two AA batteries. Unlike the mouse, there had never been a wired version of the Trackpad.

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The first Magic Trackpad. (Source: Amazon.com)

The tale of the keyboard was fairly straightforward. The first Apple wireless keyboard debuted in 2003, taking four AA batteries to run. Over the years, Apple was able to streamline the keyboard’s design as well, ending up in 2007 with a low-profile Aluminum model (and this one only needed three AA batteries!)

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What a difference four years make! (Source: morrick.me)

The biggest drawback to the keyboard, other than the need to replace batteries every few months, was the lack of additional USB ports. Apple’s wired USB keyboards had included extra ports on the back or sides from 1998 until 2009, when the last new wired keyboard was introduced. It was a nice feature, not having to reach around to the back of your iMac to plug in a random USB device like a flash drive (or, say, a wired mouse). But I suppose Apple’s logic was, if your keyboard is wireless, that’s one more available USB port on the back!

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An iMac keyboard, ca. 1998. Note the USB port on its side, lower-left. (Source: Pinterest.com)

Another advantage to the wired keyboard was its usability during diagnostic tests. I’ve run into many circumstances where I had to boot a Mac into Safe Mode (holding down the Shift key); Target Disk Mode (holding down “T”); or the Apple Hardware Test (holding down “D,” or sometimes “Option-D”); and a wireless keyboard just didn’t send the right signal to the computer in time.

Or how about when my own Mac mini’s Bluetooth antenna failed, and my wireless mouse and keyboard were rendered outright unusable? On that occasion, I was very glad to have a wired backup for each.

Alas, …

After the success of the Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad, Apple doubled down in 2015 with the Magic Mouse 2, Magic Trackpad 2, and the new Magic Keyboard. Unlike their wireless predecessors, these three models did away with the need for AA batteries (which Apple would stop selling in 2016). These were now sealed systems with internal batteries, rechargeable via included Lightning cables, the same as those used to charge iPhones and iPads.

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Apple’s Lightning cable. (Source: Apple.com)

It was a welcome upgrade in most cases: the Magic Keyboard was the slimmest yet, resembling the flat form factor of those found on Apple’s MacBook family of notebooks. The Magic Trackpad was wider and offered more functionality over its earlier version. And best yet, these devices did not need to go through a tedious hit-or-miss Bluetooth pairing process. Instead, one simply connected them to their computer via the included charging cables, and the device was paired, charging its battery the whole time. And while their internal batteries were charging, they could still be used—not unlike their wired equivalents from years gone by.

Except for the mouse.

For reasons known only to Apple’s Design Team, they put the charging port for the Magic Mouse 2 on the underside, rendering it unusable during pairing and charging.

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Hope you’re not planning on USING that thing while it’s charging! (Source: 9to5Mac.com)

The troubling part of this is that if an Apple user doesn’t pay attention to the mouse’s battery levels, that user could be rendered mouse-less when they need it most–as was the case of a client of mine who was in the middle of a time-sensitive writing project. We ended up getting her the Magic Trackpad 2, which she can use while it, and the mouse, are charging. I suppose there’s a sick logic on Apple’s part: instead of getting $29 for their AA battery kit back when the mouse just used AA batteries, now they got $129 for the trackpad.

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With the charging port on the back, the Magic Trackpad 2 can be used while charging. (Source: Gadgetmac.com)

So yeah, I’m not thrilled with how this went down. People shouldn’t have to buy a second pointing device to use while the other is recharging. Frankly, Apple shouldn’t be surprised if many of their users pick up an inexpensive third-party wired mouse for those occasions when the Magic Mouse runs dry.

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It may not be “Apple pretty,” but it WORKS. (Source: Amazon.com)

I’ve heard rumors that Apple’s working on wireless charging for all their devices, and I’ve even seen a mouse from Logitech that recharges wirelessly while you use it! But it’s not a perfect technology yet, and it certainly isn’t cheap. It requires a special charging mat, which still has to be plugged in somewhere.

It’s still unknown what powers Linus.

I’m also concerned by Apple’s unwavering faith in the Bluetooth standard. As I mentioned before, I had the Bluetooth go out on a Mac years ago, and I was lucky to have wired peripherals that I could rely on while troubleshooting.

It’s also not great that the rechargeable batteries aren’t removable, but Apple’s been slouching toward completely sealed systems that users can’t service for years, now. For example, the last Apple notebook with a user-removable battery was 2010’s 13-inch MacBook. I realize that ship has sailed.

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This is from Apple’s “About Mac notebook batteries” page, linked here.

It bugs me that there’s no simple solution. You can no longer request wired peripherals when buying a new iMac (the Mac mini and Mac Pro, in addition to being woefully out of date now, don’t include peripherals). It’s also too soon since the 2015 debut of the Magic Mouse 2 for them to release a new design, with a more intelligently-placed charging port.

And we’re at the mercy of Bluetooth, a technology that’s always struck me as “just good enough” since Apple first incorporated it in 2003.

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No offense, King Harald, but no technology is perfect; not even technology named after a Viking. (Source: DidYouKnowBlog.com)

Now, just watch: any day now, they’re going to release the Magic Keyboard and Mouse 3, with wireless charging and better-than-Bluetooth connectivity, and other features we can’t even imagine. After all, you can’t call it “Magic,” without having something up your sleeve!

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UPS, I Love You (And I Don’t Mean the Shipping Company!)

On Saturday night, my area of Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley experienced a large blackout. The L.A. Department of Water and Power (LADWP) experienced an explosion and fire at one of their power stations in the Valley neighborhood of Northridge. To aid the fire department’s efforts to put out the fire safely and quickly, LADWP shut off the power to and from that station altogether. Thus, a blackout.

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The Northridge LADWP Fire. Source: Twitter, @avangerpen

During the outage, some thoughts occurred to me: I hoped nobody was hurt; that those who needed power (like hospitals) could rely on generators until electricity was restored; and on a personal level, how grateful I was that all my electronics were protected by a few UPS units.

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No, not you! Source: Seeklogo.net

For the purposes of this blog post, whenever I say “UPS,” I don’t mean the United Parcel Service; but instead, an Uninterruptible Power Supply: a battery backup for connected electronics. It primarily functions like a large surge protector, allowing multiple plugs to share the electricity from one wall outlet. Unlike a surge strip, however, a UPS contains a battery inside that would kick in during a blackout, brownout, or other dip in the electricity to a home or office.

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The many shapes and sizes of UPS units. Source: Cyberpowersystems.com

Most UPS units that support desktop computers also connect to those computers via a data cable, so the computer can know when it’s running off of battery power. In the event of a prolonged power outage, the UPS can provide minutes, or even hours, of electricity—time enough at least to shut the computer off properly. Some setups even include software that would automatically shut off the computer while on battery power, should the user not be present to turn the computer off him or herself.

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CyberPower’s Windows-only PowerPanel software. Source: Cyberpowersystems.com

In my home, I have three UPS units: one in my office for my desktop computer, and two in my home theater. Here’s what I’m using:

1. Desktop: CyberPower 1500VA

The two main players in the UPS space are American Power Conversion (APC) by Schneider Electric; and Cyber Power Systems, AKA “CyberPower.” I prefer CyberPower for two reasons: it is a little more Mac-friendly in my experience; and the data cable it uses is a standard A-B USB cable, whereas APC, until relatively recently, used a proprietary USB-RJ45 cable. Newer APC models now use standard USB cables, but they missed the “brand loyalty” boat with me when it counted.

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CyberPower’s 1500VA UPS (Note the handy USB ports in front for charging phones and other small gadgets). Source: Cyberpowersystems.com

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“WHAT AM I?!” Thankfully, most new APC UPS units don’t use this abomination anymore. Source: APC.com

Half the outlets in my desktop UPS are backed up by its built-in battery. This is important to bear in mind, when shopping for a UPS: not how many outlets total it has, but how many of that total can run off the battery when the power from the wall dies. I naturally have my 27″ iMac and external monitor plugged into the UPS’ battery outlets, as well as essential devices like my cable modem and wireless router. The devices I have plugged into the non-battery half of the UPS include my iPhone charger and my speakers.

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The back of the 1500VA UPS. Note that only the outlets on the left can run off the battery during a blackout. Source: Amazon.com

The key thing to keep in mind when deciding what gets a battery outlet, is what would happen to that device if it abruptly lost power. In the case of a desktop computer, a sudden power loss could be fatal. Not too long ago, a client of mine killed her computer just by hitting the power button while its hard drive was spinning. We forget that a computer can be an extremely sensitive machine, and if any facet of its operating environment changes without warning, it could spell disaster. Anyone who’s ever spilled liquid on their laptop’s keyboard can attest to that.

This kills the laptop.

The other devices that should be backed up on battery are the networking hardware. In my case, that’s an Arris SurfBoard (remember?), and an Apple AirPort Extreme.

I recently upgraded a client’s network in their home’s attic. In addition to a new modem/router combo from Arris, I also installed a Netgear switch, feeding data lines throughout the house. Both of these units were backed up by the same CyberPower 1500VA UPS model I used in my own home. When the house was hit by the big Saturday night blackout, all of their networking gear stayed powered-on. Unfortunately, the home’s internet provider, Spectrum, wasn’t so lucky. When I spoke with the client about the blackout, she informed me that, according to Spectrum, only 9% of their users were still online in her area. It was frustrating not to have internet, but she and I agreed that given our very recent installation of that UPS (as well as one on each of her three iMacs), the timing could not have been better.

I imagine this is what it’s like at Spectrum headquarters.

If you have a desktop computer, and if you’ve never had a blackout or brownout in your home or office, I’d say you’ve been lucky… but you’re on borrowed time. Here’s a link to Amazon’s selection of CyberPower UPS units. You can determine how many outlets you’ll need (remember: typically, only half of the outlets get the battery), as well as how much electricity you’ll need that battery to provide. In the case of my desktop UPS, 1500VA means 1,500 Volt-Amps.

According to Australian battery vendor APCRBC:

VA is an abbreviation of the electrical term volt-amps, and indicates a capacity of power. For example 240 volts x 12.5 amps = 3000VA. It is used by UPS manufacturers more often than Watts because it makes the UPS sound bigger.

What is the difference between VA and Watts?

Put simply

VA is a measure of power supplied

Watt is a measure of power consumed

Not really very simple is it?

The main thing you have to remember is that the Watt rating will always be lower than the VA rating.  As manufacturers market their equipment based on the VA rating you should look closely at the Watt rating of your prospective purchase.

When shopping for a UPS for your desktop computer, it’s a good idea to research your computer’s power needs, starting with the manufacturer if at all possible. My iMac, for example, consumes upwards of 195 Watts when working its hardest. Most mainstream UPS units can certainly deliver that much power; it then comes down to, “for how long.” My UPS, for example, advertises a capacity of 1500 VA / 900 W, and a runtime of 14 minutes on half load, 2 minutes on full. Not a long time; but certainly enough, during the recent blackout, for me to run into my office and properly shut down the computer. CyberPower also stands by their product with a 3-year warranty and $500,000 “Connected Equipment Guarantee.” Thankfully, I’ve never had to put either to the test.

About that three-year warranty: UPS batteries, like all batteries, have a limited lifespan. After those three years, you may want to consider replacing the battery, either from the manufacturer, or from a third party battery seller (which is why companies like the aforementioned APCRBC exist). I always make sure to note, when first installing a UPS, the date the battery went online. I don’t have to rush out to replace the battery precisely three years later, but it’s good to know how old the battery is. With this information I can decide, when I’m prioritizing my household gear upgrades, whether I want to get a new battery; whether I want to replace the UPS altogether (sometimes no more expensive than just a new battery); or whether I’d press my luck and leave the UPS alone with its diminished battery power.

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A replacement UPS battery. Source: Cyberpowersystems.com

But let’s move on downstairs…

2. Home Theater #1: CyberPower OR700

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The wide, flat OR700 UPS. Source: Cyberpowersystems.com

Unlike the upright “tower” form factor of the 1500, this model is a flat, rack-friendly “pizza box” shape. I currently have mine sitting at the bottom of my AV rack, under my PlayStation 3. This UPS provides power to those home theater devices that, like a computer, contain hard drives that could potentially be damaged by a power outage: the PS3, my TiVo, its external expansion hard drive, and my Nintendo Wii U.

During the recent blackout, my UPS did indeed kick in, but the news reports indicated that the outage would likely last longer than the 11 minute maximum “half-load” runtime this 700VA / 400W UPS advertised. Since my PS3 was already off, and since there isn’t a power button on the TiVo or its external drive, I held my breath, turned off the UPS, and waited for power to return to the home. Luckily, when the lights did turn on, rebooting the TiVo was a painless process. But I do wish there were a method of safely powering it off, relying on more than the power of prayer.

This brings us to my last UPS:

3. Home Theater #2: CyberPower LE850G

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The LE850G UPS. Source: Cyberpowersystems.com

I keep this one directly under my TV. It only supplies power to three devices: a 55″ Sony flatscreen TV; a Philips Hue Lightstrip that runs behind the frame of said TV; and my JBL subwoofer. In theory, I could have run everything off the OR700 “pizza box,” but the location of the TV and subwoofer made it both impractical and aesthetically unappealing to attempt to run their power cords all the way to my AV rack. This third UPS wasn’t very expensive, and I was happy to have a dedicated unit for those few devices. Less strain on any one power system that way, too.

One “pro tip” when getting your UPS: many times, your electrical devices will use those blocky transformer plugs that hog so much space on a surge strip, and even on a UPS. Now, many UPS models do accommodate these large bricks with one or two generously spaced outlets; but if you have more than a few plugs like this that you need to connect, I recommend small extension cords from brands like Monoprice (one of my favorite cable manufacturers, anyway). This one-foot extender will let the brick plug in to the narrow outlets on all UPS units—and if you have a brick you need to plug straight into the wall, this will let you use both outlets on the wall without anything getting crowded out.

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Short extension cords can prevent outlet blockage. Source: lisasfreestuff.blogspot.com

As of this writing, I am happy to say my power is back on (truth be told, I was only in the dark for about 90 minutes). I’m composing this on a laptop, so even if the power went out again, I would have at least a couple of hours of internal battery life I could count on, while finishing up here. But of course, even if the wifi and modem stayed on long enough for me to submit this entry to the WordPress server, there’s no guarantee that during a blackout, the internet provider (Spectrum in my case, same as my client) would stay online during that period.

But at least I would be secure in the knowledge that I had protected my valuable technology during this inconvenient episode.

And knowledge, after all, is power.


Products Mentioned in This Article:

Mophie’s new Magnetic Case is Attractive… Maybe TOO Attractive!

Last October, I complained about iPhone case maker Mophie’s lackluster iPhone 7 support. I wanted to follow up; in the interim, Mophie has added iPhone 7 support to its Juice Pack line of battery-equipped cases. Specifically, they have launched the Juice Pack Air for iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. According to Mophie, “The protective juice pack air battery case has the power to extend the life of your iPhone 7 to a total of 27 hours,” and “the life of your iPhone 7 Plus to a total of 33 hours.” Please note that this is not an additional 27 or 33 hours; it simply adds backup battery life to the iPhone’s built-in battery.

The iPhone 7 case includes a battery with 2,525 milliampere hours (mAh) of charge, and the iPhone 7 Plus case has a surprisingly smaller 2,420 mAh battery. According to bgr.com, the internal battery of the iPhone 7 holds 1,960 mAh of charge; and the 7 Plus has a 2,900 mAh battery.

These numbers, while a bit arcane, can be more useful than promises of however many hours of life. Nobody uses their smartphones for just one thing, so promising a certain number of hours to do just that one thing doesn’t make sense. Howtogeek.com discusses battery health, and an iPhone app that can check it. They explain:

Finally, there’s an option to see how long your battery will last in an array of the phone’s states, whether its 3G talk time or 3G browsing, Wi-Fi, LTE, video, and more. Being able to check how much time you can expect the phone to go between charges can help you better gauge how you can use your iPhone if you find yourself far removed from a power outlet.

I’m always happy for extra battery life (road warrior that I am), but I do wish Mophie offered as many battery case options for the iPhone 7 as they do for the 6S: from the 1,560 mAh Juice Pack Wireless; to the 1,840 mAh Juice Pack Reserve; to the 2,750 mAh Juice Pack Air and waterproof Juice Pack H2PRO; to the 3,300 mAh Juice Pack Plus and storage-equipped Space Pack; all the way to the 3,950 mAh Juice Pack Ultra. Maybe they’ll add these larger-battery models for the iPhone 7 in the future, but given how Apple keeps redesigning their phones every other year (if not every year!), they seem doomed forever to play catch-up. DOOMED!

Ahem.

In the meantime, I’m very happy with the newest feature of the Mophie Juice Pack: wireless charging. Now, this isn’t quite the “charging over the air” technology dreamt up  by Nikola Tesla (and demonstrated in this 2009 TED Talk from “Wireless electrician” Eric Giler):

In order to recharge the new Juice Pack, you place it on a suitable charging mat. What’s exciting is that Mophie has adopted the Qi wireless charging standard, so it works with ANY manufacturer’s Qi-enabled charging mat. In my own home, I use Mophie’s Charge Force Desk Mount in my office; but in my living room, I have a Qi™ Wireless Charging Pad from Belkin; and in my bedroom, I have Anker’s PowerPort Qi 10. And they all work with the Juice Pack, as long as they get enough power from the wall. Mophie recommends at least a 1.8-amp output. For reference, the standard iPhone wall charger puts out only 1.0 amps: enough to charge an iPhone directly, but not enough to deliver the necessary power to the iPhone in a Juice Pack case, and certainly not wirelessly. To be sure the phone will get enough steady power, I plug my Qi mats into USB ports at least powerful enough to charge an iPad (2.1 amps).

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Anker’s PowerPort Qi 10 Wireless Charging Pad. Some day, you may not even have to put the phone down on it to recharge. (Source: Anker.com)

 

The Belkin and Anker Qi mats just sit on the table passively, lighting up when I place my Juice-Packed iPhone 7 on them. Sometimes it’s not a bullseye, and the mat won’t charge the phone. It can be a little frustrating, trying to line up the case with the charging mat, but I’m optimistic that the technology will continue to improve. There’s one promising technology out there: WiPAT (Wireless Power Charger Position Alignment Technology) from South Korean developers SNPowercom.

The alignment problem does NOT occur, I’m happy to say, with Mophie’s own Charge Force mounts. This is because they auto-align the Juice Pack with magnets. These are sufficiently strong magnets in both case and dock, so that the phone can be held up entirely upright (and even lean forward!) without risk of falling or losing the necessary alignment. But the strong magnets do have a downside.

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Mophie’s Charge Force Desk Mount. It’s all done with magnets. (Source: Mophie.com)

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I didn’t put out a post last week. That’s because I was celebrating my birthday in Las Vegas. But without fail, inspiration hits, even when I’m on vacation. You see, I always keep my iPhone in its magnetically-enhanced Juice Pack case, and that combination is always in my pocket when I’m on the go. Unfortunately, this does not bode well for any magnetically-sensitive items I may also have in my pockets from time to time: namely, hotel room keycards.

While exploring Las Vegas, I kept my keycard and iPhone in the same pocket, only to discover upon returning to the hotel that the Juice Pack’s magnetic case had erased the strip on the back of the keycard. After getting a replacement keycard, I made sure to keep it in a different pocket from the iPhone.

So this is my warning to hotel travelers who have, or are thinking of getting Mophie’s Charge Force-enabled battery cases, such as the new Juice Pack for iPhone 7. Bear in mind the age-old question posed by the Insane Clown Posse:

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They work well. Very well. Perhaps a bit TOO well. ◼︎

Is it Plugged In? No, REALLY, Is it Plugged In???

In my adventures helping people to get the most out of their home and office technology, from time to time I’ll run into issues that I’m happy to resolve, but the client ends up a bit embarrassed by the simplicity of both problem and solution. Here, as a public service, are a few items to check, before calling tech support.

(Apologies in advance if any of these tips seem so obvious that you feel I’m insulting your intelligence. All of these have come up in real-world scenarios with very smart, mentally-sound clients. The fact is, from time to time, technology makes fools of us all.)

1. Is That Cable Stable?

Always start by checking if all the cables are securely plugged in. It seems obvious, but this wasn’t always as necessary as it is now. Many years ago, computer data cables would be secured to the PC via small screws on the sides of the plug. VGA and DVI monitor cables still utilize this method, but old parallel printer and serial mouse cables are no longer in vogue with computer and peripheral manufacturers, having moved on to USB cables. However, for all its advantages, it’s harder to secure a USB cable to the computer; so if enough tension is applied, it can get wiggled loose. And a loose cable is just as bad as—and often worse than—an entirely unplugged cable.

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This, for example, is MUCH WORSE than being all the way unplugged. (Source: electricalsafety.lbl.gov)

As far as monitors, many have moved on to HDMI cables, which—you guessed it—have no method for staying secured to the device. Interestingly, another high-resolution alternative to HDMI is DisplayPort, which uses a push-button method for securing it. If your computer and monitor support it, I recommend DisplayPort over HDMI.

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That button on top, and those two “teeth” on the connector, keep the DisplayPort securely connected. (Source: displayport.org)

Incidentally, even if the cable is fully plugged in and secure on both ends, there could be issues somewhere in between. Before thinking of replacing a computer or attached device, consider swapping out the connecting cable to see if that fixes it. Cables are typically the least expensive elements in your setup, but that’s a double-edged sword; they’re the cheapest to replace, but being so cheap, they could be prone to failure sooner than the other components.

Also, inspecting your cables during the troubleshooting process can be beneficial in other ways. I recall one client who hired me to solve her internet outage, only to discover that her pet rabbit had chewed through the phone cable.

2. Switching Things Around

Just because a device is fully plugged in (and don’t forget to check BOTH ends of the cable!), doesn’t mean that’s the only link in the chain. More than one client has contacted me to repair an internet connection, only to discover that the modem was switched off. Many hardware manufacturers use push-button power switches, and it’s hard to tell at first glance whether the button is in the “on” or “off” position. It’s especially frustrating on devices that either don’t have any lights indicating power, or they have only one, very small, dim power light.

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Look closely at that “ON/OFF” button. Would you say it’s “on,” or “off”? Are you sure? (Source: community.plus.net)

If you can confirm the device is indeed switched on, look at its power source, going all the way to the wall. If your device connects via a surge strip, think back on my first tip and confirm that the strip’s power cord is firmly plugged all the way in to the wall outlet. Then, make sure your device is likewise plugged all the way in to the surge strip. You should also check the outlets, both on the wall, and in the surge strip. Get a small lamp that you know works, and plug it in to each of the outlets in question. If it doesn’t turn on when plugged in to the wall directly, it may be time to contact an electrician.

Once you’ve established that the wall outlet is putting out electricity, you can check the surge strip. Make sure that if the strip has its own power switch, that it is in the “on” position. Often these strips live under the desk, where an errant foot can accidentally kick a plug out, or the power switch off. I personally recommend keeping the power strip on top of the desk, for easy access to plug new items in, or to remove power cords as part of the troubleshooting process. In addition to avoiding all the dust and lack of ventilation under the desk, placing it on top also eliminates the risk of an accidental kick.

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An all-too-common sight under many desks. Careful with your feet! (Source: techdekproducts.com)

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Poweradd’s Desktop Surge Protector Power Strip. (Source: ipoweradd.com)

 

3. A Battery of Tests

If your device has a built-in battery, checking the power cord to the wall may not help. Notebook computers are designed not to run off wall power, so if you keep yours plugged in all the time, you’re not doing its battery any favors. Go ahead and unplug it and let it drain all the way down. You can then plug the charging cord back in so it can get back to 100%. Once it’s full, disconnect the charging cord again, and carry on until you get low, then recharge it, back to 100%, then disconnect again. That’s how it’s supposed to work. But when the notebook doesn’t power on, the issue could be its battery. If your model allows it, remove the battery and plug in the power cord. If you can start up that way, you may need to replace the battery or bring it in for service. Pay attention to the shape of the battery: a bulging battery needs to be removed and replaced immediately.

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Lithium batteries come in many shapes and sizes, but it should be easy to tell an unhealthy battery (left) from a healthy one (right). (Source: atbatt.com)

If the computer doesn’t turn on whether it’s plugged in or not, consider this possibility: if that charging cord wasn’t working, or if it wasn’t correctly connected to both outlet and computer, then the battery was draining and not getting recharged. This is why it might not work unplugged. Try removing the battery as I said, then plugging in to a different outlet in your home or office via the charging cord. If that still doesn’t work, try replacing the charging cord. If even THAT doesn’t work, you may have bigger issues (and I’ll get to that with item #5).

If your notebook does not allow you to remove the battery, don’t do anything that might void your warranty—or worse, that may cause you any harm.

4. Who’s Got the Button?

If you’ve determined that everything that should be connected is connected; that no cables have been chewed through; and that everything that needs to be in the “on” position is indeed in that position, there may be an issue with the actual physical integrity of your power buttons. In extreme cases, if your computer is “vintage,” the plastic used to make its buttons (e.g. the power button) may become brittle and break with normal use.

Youtube DIY host Ian “Druaga1” Anderson recently discovered how old plastic can prevent powering up properly, when the power button on a Power Macintosh 7500 fell apart on him:

Luckily, he was able to replace the power button with a 3D-printed replica, as seen in this follow-up video:

(CONTENT NOTE: Druaga’s videos contain NSFW language, and he opens each video with the greeting, “Hey, smokers.” He’s not referring to tobacco. Viewer discretion advised.)

5. When It’s Actually Broken

So you’ve gone through all the steps. Your power cord is intact and connected fully to both ends. All batteries are healthy and capable of holding a charge. All power buttons are intact and in the “on” position. You’ve confirmed that electricity is coming out of the outlet. And still, the computer doesn’t turn on. At this point, I recommend reaching out to tech support. I recall a client having me check his desktop PC that wouldn’t turn on. It was out of warranty, so asking the manufacturer for free phone support was out of the question—and I was able to provide some answers without having to ship the computer away.

Upon my inspection, I could see that all elements were fine, from the wall outlet all the way to the power cord plugged in to the back of the computer. As it turns out, the PC’s Power Supply Unit (PSU) had died, a common cause of death in the PC world. Luckily, it is possible to replace most desktop PC tower PSUs, so we were able to swap in a new unit, saving my client the cost and hassle of buying a new computer. If, however, even THAT hadn’t solved the problem, then I would have felt confident, knowing that we had tried all avenues, in recommending a brief period of mourning, followed by the purchase of a new PC.

computerpowersupply

Not all PSUs look like this, but if you’re going to replace yours, why not add a little pizzazz? (Source: pctips3000.com)

It’s trickier with notebooks and all-in-ones like iMacs, as those power supplies aren’t separate components you can buy off the shelf. In cases like that, where the machine still won’t turn on and it’s out of warranty, my advice typically is to salvage as much of your data as you can (usually by removing the hard drive) and transferring it to a new computer. But every scenario is a little different, so this advice is generalized. If you have a specific issue that doesn’t quite line up with what I’ve described so far, I would be happy to hear from you. You can contact me and let me know how things are looking for you.

But, sorry, I am going to ask if it’s plugged in.