Counterfeit power supply units in the UK

Whenever a Raspberry Pi is sent back to the distributor as a faulty unit, someone in the chain (we at the Foundation, the distributors, and now the factory in Wales) tests the unit to see what was wrong with it, so we can try to eliminate any problems in later production runs. We get very few returns, and I’m very happy to be able to say that nearly half of the returns we do get involve Raspberry Pis which don’t actually have any problems at all; in these cases what’s usually going on is that the user hasn’t flashed the SD card correctly (or, sometimes, at all!), or hasn’t connected it to a display device properly.

But occasionally it’s been challenging to find out what’s up with a broken unit. In these cases, we sometimes ask the customer to send us the power supply they’ve been using (and, from time to time, some other peripherals too) so we can dig a little deeper.

Everybody testing returned units used in the UK has noted a problem out there with some power supplies, all of which appear to be counterfeit Apple chargers. We’ve all compared notes, and we’re all seeing the same thing: some of you are using chargers you’ve bought in good faith which are not the real thing, and which don’t behave like a safety-tested, properly engineered piece of hardware.

We’ve found that there are three specific, different kinds of fake Apple charger popping up and causing trouble in the UK. We know that Trading Standards are already aware of these fake PSUs; apparently raids on suppliers have been carried out, but there are still plenty of them out there. Here’s some video which should help you check that yours is the real thing. If you find that your charger is a fake, take it back to the seller and raise a stink: and most importantly, stop using it immediately. You could damage your Pi or yourself (and anything else you plug into the PSU).

Updated to add: some very helpful links are appearing in the comments with technical details about these and similar PSUs, teardown pictures and video and so on. It’s worth swinging by to read them if you’re interested in learning more.

63 comments

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For what it’s worth, my UK spec Kindle 3 charger works fine as does my HTC Desire S phone charger and my Samsung P1200 camera charger. All are rated at 1A or higher.

I don’t have any Apple kit in my house, so these fakes are not a problem – for me. But they do sound nasty if they manage to damage monitors as well as the Pi. Ouch!

Oh, my new USB Hub from ModMyPi works perfectly in powering the Pi as well. That just arrived today and I’m over the moon with it. (I need to get out more?) ;-)

Cheers,
Norm.

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I use a UK Kindle charger too. :)

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As I have noticed, Apple fake chargers make a lot of noise to the power lines. Please avoid using fake chargers. A normal cellphone charger may cost $15, and you will eliminate all suffering!

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Here is a technical look at these chargers and why you should not use them a very interesting read. Could help if you put in a link to this in the main article.

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I forgot the link so here it is again http://www.arcfn.com/2012/03/inside-cheap-phone-charger-and-why-you.html a technical look at a fake charger internals, might be helpful to update the article with this to really scare the people

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On the other hand, a disassembly of a real Apple usb charger reveals what it should be like: http://vimeo.com/18893979

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A writeup on the teardown – http://www.arcfn.com/2012/05/apple-iphone-charger-teardown-quality.html , the video above was great.

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That particular one takes the prize I think. Even worse than badly designed, all the working parts are missing!

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Having had to put up a friend and his wife after their house burnt down with all their possessions and pets, and they had only the clothes they’d gone out in, after a fire caused by a cheap charger, I can strongly vouch for this false economy.

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It isn’t just Apple chargers – the power supply that came with a (supposedly) genuine Logic Link powered usb hub was also a fake and VERY dangerous. I dismantled it and found NO isolation inside the wall wart, and spatters of solder around the inside of it. The hub itself wasn’t much better, with lots of evidence of poor rework. I notified Trading Standards in the area where the vendor was, and they were raided, with a successful seizure of a considerable amount of fake equipment.

campi

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Here you can see another example of a disassembly of a fake power supply, and why it can be dangerous, even lethal, to use them!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T88ej64aXUM&feature=plcp

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That’s the very USB hub that I got for my Pi that didn’t work. I think one of the two Pi suppliers is selling a very similar model. I wrote up my own findings at http://qdosmsq.dunbar-it.co.uk/blog/2012/08/the-dangers-of-cheap-usb-hubs/.

Cheers,
Norm.

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Yep – that’s the one – sold on Amazon by a few vendors who, when you trace who-where they are, are all the same company based in Birmingham. That was where the Trading Standards raids took place and prosecutions are being made.

Campi

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Wow, I’ve got one of those hubs myself. Didn’t realise how dodgy they were! Got mine off an ebay seller based in Ealing though, not Birmingham as Colin said below.

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Exactly the same piece of garbage is being sold all over the world with a dodgy psu, I had 2 of which the psu just died, one withing the first minute I connected it to the mains, very dangerous piece of crap.

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while the hub may be of substandard – it will still work fine [probably YMMV] – it’s the PSU that is problem.

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Morning RaTTus,
my own mileage did indeed vary. It flatly refused to work at all. Thankfully, as it appears I had been supplied with one of the very 1A power supplies featuring in the video.

Cheers,
Norm.

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Yeah, the hub seems to be fine. Any idea where a decent place to buy replacement PSUs would be? I’ve got a bunch of Chinese electronics that work perfectly, except their PSUs are very very dodgy looking. Would like to avoid using them if at all possible!

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It’s probably worth pointing out the difference between CE as an EU approval mark and CE as a China Export mark. Wikipedia has comments on the difference here:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CE_marking

Basically, the spacing between the C and E is much closer on the fakes. As far as I can tell, it’s a mark applied to stuff in China to identify it as something destined for export so it doesn’t have to meet any Chinese approvals. In other words, it probably hasn’t been tested apart from possibly a brief functional test. It is found on all sorts of stuff, I’ve got a USB GPS device with such a mark, and I’ve just noticed an old lead-acid battery with the mark.

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We had all *kinds* of adventures with real and pretend versions of the CE mark earlier in the year. It’s worth a read.

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I thought that the conclusion was that the China Export mark is a myth. Some goods from China (and probably elsewhere in the world) just don’t use the officially sanctioned European Union CE logo but they are still claiming to be compliant with the European standard. Of course there is no guarantee that they actually are, but the fact there is an incorrect CE logo on a product doesn’t mean it is unsafe.

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Yes… in the specific case of Liz’s toilet picture, the CE mark has underneath the number 0120, which is a Notified Body number and means the machine was certified by SGS United Kingdom Ltd of Weston-super-Mare (presumably since it’s a vending machine of medical devices it comes under medical device regulations). It might have an incorrectly printed CE mark, but it is one of the few devices to have been through a rigorous third-party testing programme to achieve its CE mark. So there’s no doubt of the certification in this case (and if there was, ring up SGS and ask).

Theo, who in a previous life did the paperwork for sending medical devices for CE marking at SGS.

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This is exactly the same model as I purchased with my Pi from Farnell. I was lucky as it failed totally as soon as I plugged my hard drive into the hub (as opposed to bursting into flames). I spoke to Farnell this morning and they weren’t really interested. I used to have the perception that they were a trustworthy company and what they sold would be good quality. Well at least now I know the truth.

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The general rule with Apple stuff is that if it didn’t cost £30 then it isn’t genuine.

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While we’re at it…

I have a broken Raspberry Pi that I haven’t bothered debugging yet and I didn’t want to send it back because they’re so cheap that I don’t think it’s worth it.

The symptoms so far are that neither USB nor ether net show any signs of working. i.e. Keyboards and WiFi-Dongles don’t lighten up their LEDs and Ethernet shows no “link” when plugged in.

I think I can rule out power supply and disc image as both work on a different pi. I suppose a power line to the USB chip and/or the chip itself are broken. Next thing I’d do is get my multi meter and measure the power levels. But maybe you have a better idea where to start? :)

Again, I don’t want to send it back to get any refund or so. When I want another Raspi I’ll just order one. I’d like to think of it as my next project and it would be cool to fix this on my own :)

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Do you get any LEDs on the board lighting up near the Ethernet connector?

They’re useful for debugging. When I tried to use a cheap PSU they quickly went into a very noticeable loop.

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The only LEDs that light up are PWR (red) and OK (green) flashes during disc access. FDX,LNK and 10M stay dark.

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You could compare the log files between working and not-working Raspberry Pi’s if available. If you find useful info, please post in the forum. It would be fabulous if we could identify this problem from symptoms in the log files. See the info (not a solution yet…) at http://www.raspberrypi.org/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=13563

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That sounded like a good way to go but the results are not very helpful (though I may have overlooked something).

What I did is the following:
* Took the latest image from the download page and put it on 2 SD cards and loaded the each pi with one of them
* powered them on with only ethernet (and power) plugged in (PSU is a Sony Ericson phone charger with 1.5Amps)
* wait until OK stops blinking and a little more (I could ping the working one from my notebook but not the faulty)
* Took both /var/log/syslog-files, stripped the timestamp and diffed them.

This is the difference:
2c2
raspberrypi rsyslogd: [origin software=”rsyslogd” swVersion=”5.8.11″ x-pid=”1650″ x-info=”http://www.rsyslog.com”] start

Yup, the only difference is the process ID of the rsyslogd.

Should I look for a different logfile maybe?

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That’s a good question. I ended up looking mainly at the /var/log/kern.log file. I think the /var/log/messages file has most but not quite all of the same information.

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Did you connected serial cable to it?
something like that
http://www.adafruit.com/products/954

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Interesting stuff and an excellent warning not to use CHEAP imported PSUs. on your pride and joy!

What does bother me is the use of the term “counterfeit” for these devices. If they’re badged up as Apple and sold explicitly as an Apple iDevice then yes, they’re a “fake” or “counterfeit” article. If they just LOOK like a similar apple charger, then calling it a fake is not on. My Kindle 3 charger, badged by Amazon, looks similar to that collection of Apple/not Apple USB PSUs, but is it a “fake”? I think not.

Its more important to label cheap chargers as “Unsafe” or even “Lethally Dangerous”, IF they actually are constructed in such a way as to be a danger to the end user. It would have been more useful to see some electrical tests (overvolt safety, output power/voltage under load and so on) to demonstrate their inadequacy. Weighing them isn’t much use, for all we know, the apple plug might have a lump of lead inside to improve the tactile feeling of worth, a practice not unknown with less ethical (eek, did I say that about Apple?) manufacturers!

I agree, don’t use cheap USB chargers, you don’t know whats inside them, but calling them “fake” is just raising the emotional temperature.

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If it doesn’t comply with the CE regulations, then it is illegal to sell in the EU – end of story, Trading Standards can prosecute on that alone.
They will raid and prosecute in the case of dangerous goods like many of these are.
You could still legitimately call such a PSU ‘fake’, because it’s faking compliance with the safety requirements.

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If you want to get an idea about dangerous items sold in the EU (yes, I know, the UK and the EU …), not limited to electric devices, see http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/dyna/rapex/rapex_archives_en.cfm

This is just the tip of the iceberg, stuff which happens to be detected.

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Not a post about fake supplies, just official ones. I’ve tried a few chargers and found the Samsung ETA0U10UBE (as supplied with the Galaxy SII) to be the best. It gives 5.08v at the test points for an idle Pi.

The Samsung ETA-P11X from the Galaxy Tab, the LG STA-U13UV from the Optimus Black, and the Amazon A01620 from the Kindle (UK keyboard version) all give out-of-spec voltages.

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A good warning to all. I posted a similar warning in the forum last month – http://www.raspberrypi.org/phpBB3/viewtopic.php?f=59&t=17160&p=178842#p178842

My initial attempts to start up my first Pi were attempted using a no-label 5v 1A USB wall-wart, and unsuccessful. Until then all it had done was charge my phone.

I then switched to the genuine charger supplied with my Nexus 7, and my Pi launched into life.

I really get round to putting the scope on the cheapy adapter, I’m sure it’s pumping out untold cr*p on the DC line.

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FWIW: I’m in the progress of measuring the “under load” behaviour (load regulation characteristics) of a number of USB hub P.S.U.’s and similar ‘phone chargers. These were originally purchased to charge/power MP3 players or as a possible replacement P.S.U. for an old Linksys NSLU2 (Slug) re-configured to run a Debian-based (local) webserver. One of the reasons for buying a Pi was to upgrade that setup. Whilst checking voltages on a hub, connected to my netbook, with or without it’s P.S.U. I noted that the netbook appeared to provided the higher voltage and, maybe, little or no current may have be supplied by the P.S.U. Also, when using the same hub with the Pi, not being able to turn both devices on simultaneously, I observed the LED of the hub P.S.U. glowing dimly before the hub was powered up a second or two later. These observations prompted my present investigations – the preliminary results can be found at http://www.cpmspectre.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/raspberry_pi/MoinMoinExport/index.html if of interest. Thankfully none, so far, have exhibited “dangerous” symptoms but a couple were not capable of supplying the stated 1000mA at 5V.

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FWIW I’ve relocated my webpages, here’s the new link to follow to find the latest data: http://www.cpmspectrepi.webspace.virginmedia.com/raspberry_pi/MoinMoinExport/index.html

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Fakes of an expensive brand may get all the attention but there are lots and lots of really dodgy USB power supplies out there.

Buying from reputable vendors helps but even they sometimes have to recall products because their suppliers don’t maintain quality standards. For example CPC had a recall recently because the lids on their power supplies were not adequately mounted.

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Thanks for this, it probably saved my Pi from an ignoble death.

I did buy a cheap usb charger for my Pi which turned out to be “Designed by Apple in California” but it does appear that it is the California in China rather than the one in the USA. The 1mm between the traces carrying 340v peak live and the USB ground / shell, the large blob of solder on the back of the neutral pin being a good 0.5mm above the metal top of the 5v output smoothing capacitor and the 3mm long random bit of solder left loosely attached to a transistor pin were all very special design points.

Thankfully,I hadn’t actually got around to using that one rather than the more handy, and I assume genuine, HTC charger got with my phone.

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Oh. Dear. God. (Eben and I are chuckling and gasping in horror alternately.)

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We had problems here locally (Melbourne AU) with power cables. Cheap or over long cables had a huge impact on how well our Pis run

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Now with my Pis I a had a problem with the first one getting the OS to load. I tried it over and over again, and finally after reading the wiki I found that the cheap power supply I was using did not put out enough power. (500mA) After finding that out I used my cell phone charger (2 amp that is mini usb) and an adapter cable to go to micro usb. After trying for a while longer, I finally got the OS system loaded. Now to my surprise that after doing that, my TV usb port can even power it. Both of them work the same way, after the OS got loaded the first time, I had no problem at all with the computers basically running with any power supply or even changing the OS. I am running one of them now 24/7 for testing for over 4.5 months now without problem using a 500mA power supply. The other one goes off and on with the TV with no problem also. I am guessing it has to do with flashing the bios for the first time?
I do have another question for you, and I am wondering that if you may consider offering a little more expensive Rpi with a larger processor and more memory for around twice the price?

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I once purchased a “iphone” charger from a pound shop. Being a pound i wasnt expexting much, the build quality was very poor however i was expecting it to charge my sons ipod. It was a plug in usb mains adapter and a very poor quality charging lead. After being on charge for around 30mins i noticed a strong burning smell and the charger was too hot to even touch! I returned it to the shop and expressed my concerns that if i had left it unatended for a longer period im sure it would have caught fire! Luckly it did not cause any damage to my sons ipod.

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I’m not sure if this was a good idea.
I have a usb hub which I weren’t sure about its quality but still needed to externally power it (with a quality psu off course), so I just disconnected the vcc (+) from the usb cable which connected to the computer and it seems to work flawlessly.

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Hrm, costs are undoubtedly an issue, but if the RasPi included a RPF vetted and approved power supply, this would be a non issue. Unfortunately, many resellers are bundling rather cheap ones which may cause you support issues down the road. The exception is Adafruit which sells a very high quality 5.25v unit. Prehaps you could recommend an appoved power supply to your sellers or provide a bundled unit down the road. Most big name dev boards sold at mouser etc, come with them. For cost issues I imagine, most hobby dev boards do not. The Raspi is rather worth a quality PSU though.

Thanks for designing such a great product!
Cheers

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Probably not very easy to do as different parts of the world have different mains sockets and voltages. A logistics nightmare.

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Agreed, but putting a huge, brightly-coloured sticky label attached to the Pi anti-static bag which it is delivered in warning people not to use cheap power supplies is possible.

There’s no way that the foundation can ‘force’ people not to use a dodgy supply, but big warnings would probably help…

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Voltage and frequency are not an issue for modern switched mode power supplies. Pretty much all of them are designed to run off a sufficiently wide voltage and frequency range to cover pretty much every mains supply in the world.

Plug types are more of an issue. A non-earthed low current product* really needs to cover at least the british 13A plug, the europlug, the american plug and the australian plug. That means either shipping four different power supplies or somehow finding a way to make a single product cover all four.

Interchangable plug heads are an option but presumablly they increase the cost and I worry about how safe some of them are. Another option is to use a “soap on a rope” style power adaptor which can be used with a local mains lead (this is what most laptops do) instead of a “wall wart” style one but again I expect this increases the cost.

*For earthed or high current products it’s even worse.

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I’m using the USB port on the side of our Samsung B7000 42″ LED TV. That’s always worked really well on my particular system.

As with any report on system though, it should always be put in the context of what I’ve tested my Pi on. So some notes:

* The most CPU/GPU intensive application that I run is the Raspbmc port of XBMC, for streaming HD and SD Freeview video from my PVR. It’s rock solid though in terms of stability.

* I’ve run the latest build of Wheezy (set to the 1GHz Turbo mode) and that seems perfectly stable too. Chromium browser is the most intensive thing that I run on that.

* The only USB device I have connected to the Pi is a Logitech “Unifying Receiver” for a wireless keyboard and trackpad. I’m not running a wireless dongle, because I’m sufficiently close to an Ethernet socket.

Hope that helps somebody.

Thanks

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Fake Aple iPhone chargers are very dangerous in my experience and best avoided at all costs – http://www.dreamgreenhouse.com/reviews/2011/apple_charger/index.php

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AIUI it is EXTREMELY difficult to make a power supply that small while complying with the safety regulations. So the official chargers end up barely compliant and the cheap copies end up seriously noncompliant.

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It looks I did well when I ordered from RS RasPi with recommended power supply (which was not so expensive). It really saved me from power problems.

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If you have a requirement for multiple USB ports, most of us do, then consider the Cambrionix PP16 multiport USB charger. the ports are protected against overcurrent, ESD and offer a tightly regulated voltage suitable for use with a Raspberry PI. Its also UL listed for safety and meets CE (NOT China export!) and FCC requirements. (Steve our CTO and Dominic our Senior Engineer have tested them to oblivion!).

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Genuine sellers should be ashamed of charging $20 for a genuine charger.. with those kinds of prices, the world is getting polluted with fake Chinese garbage and mains is no longer clean like it used to be

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Unfortunately I lack the electrical knowledge of whether a particular power supply is going to be good or bad. Where could I find a “good” one? Ideally with an AU/NZ plug…

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I lost my charger cale to my IPhone5 and is now deperately lookinu for an lepalcement, Appel does not have any.

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I have used several Pi’s and one is actually in production use now. I just returned one, because it had a problem with one USB port. There was a bend pin and it caused a short and Pi did not work when I connected something to that port.

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I don’t know about everybody else, but I often use a USB cable and my TV to power the Pi. That way I don’t need an extra plug at all. I was surprised at how many TVs have USB sockets and can charge iPods & phones.

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I used a very small charger delivered with the kids ipods. Result was an unstable raspberry. Then I used my tomtom charger which works fine. The other day my kid was able to break the thing while plugging it in, exposing his fingers to the main voltage. While it was apart I checked the pcb and found a single rectifier, one transistor design which I would not have believed was possible before. This charger even has CE marking which apearantly does not mean anything

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Am I the only one old enough and cynical enough to realise that items are cheap for a reason ?

Apple are a massively wealthy corporation who doubtless make an obscene margin on their chargers but by that very token they are also a prime candidate for litigation if they endanger anyone in the process. It pays them to rigorously test their products safety. If you ski off piste and buy cheap charges from non Apple suppliers then frankly don’t be surprised that they’re dangerous.

P.S – No, the EU isn’t going to save you, since they can hardly manage to save whole countries from going bankrupt what are your chances of them saving you from burning your house down with a dodgy Chinese USB charger ?

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I had an ‘apple’ charger from a friend which started making an ominous buzzing sound, which I only noticed just before the quiet of falling asleep. I was using it to charge my iphone (not a pi) during the night. A week later I awoke in the morning to a loud crackling and smoke to find a slightly charred charger with the remains of a fried diode inside.
Kind of an obvious point but if your charger starts buzzing stop using it immediately!
Another sign I should of picked up on was that the iphone touchscreen played up whilst on charge.
Hope the advice here helps others to avoid similar some rude awakenings!

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