You have probably been charging a device before and realized that your charger was getting hot. Something like a laptop adaptor might get so hot that it could catch fire. What makes a charger get so hot? Why do some chargers get hot and others don’t? If you want to learn the answers to these questions and a lot more, keep reading.
What Causes Heat?
When you are drawing power from the wall, some heat generation is inevitable. Heat is a byproduct of any energy transfer. For chargers and other similar devices, the goal is to limit the amount of energy that is lost to heat. This helps the chargers last longer and also makes sure the charger is charging your devices efficiently.
The power that comes out of a wall outlet is much stronger than your devices would be able to handle. An American wall socket typically provides 120 volts, which is quite powerful. This would be so powerful that it would severely damage a battery. So, adapters and wall plugs need to lower the voltage to a level that is more suitable for charging. However, cheaper chargers have trouble handling the massive amount of energy and some of the energy is released as heat.
Why is Heat a Problem?
As long as the charger is not catching fire, you might think that it is not a big deal. However, chargers that get extremely hot will not last as long. While modern failsafe measures can prevent a charger from damaging your devices, the charger may stop working. This could be due to damage or a safety measure to protect your device.
How Does Your Charger Control Heat Generation?
There are a number of different ways that a charger can help mitigate heat generation. Manufacturers generally attempt to combat the heat with high-quality components, but some designs can affect heat dissipation as well.
GaN integrated circuits are a new type of computer chip that has gotten more popular in recent years. These chips are made of gallium nitride, instead of the traditional silicon chips that are commonly used. GaN chips are widely used in fast chargers, EVs, databases, and more. This is because GaN chips are faster, smaller, and greener than silicon for processes that deal with control voltages.
Not every charger comes with a GaN chip. It is likely to become more common though, as chargers push to charge devices faster and faster. If you want to learn more about GaN chips and how these chips improve fast charging here.
Have you ever noticed that quality electronics are made of aluminum? They used to be made out of plastic, but hard plastics don’t dissipate heat well and can even melt in extreme cases. This isn’t to say plastic is inherently bad, but if you are noticing your charger is getting very hot while charging, a plastic body could be a contributing factor. Aluminum on the other hand dissipates heat very efficiently. This is why it is used in cellphones. In cases where you are drawing a lot of power from the wall, it can help. If you want to learn more about why aluminum is taking over the electronics industry, you can click here.
When we say transformer, we are talking about the electrical box attached to a powerline, not a robot. However, transformers are not just found on powerlines. There are transformers in every charger you buy. The role of the transformer is to lower or increase the voltage of an AC electrical current. For your charger, that means lowering the voltage that is coming from the wall because it is too powerful for your device. Cheaper chargers occasionally try to save money by buying transformers with lower capacities. This can make the charger hot because excess energy will be lost as heat.
4. Conductive Adhesive
You might be surprised by this, but your charger is likely filled with a grey goo called conductive adhesive. When it goes into the charger it is a liquid, but it solidifies shortly after. It is a mixture of metals and an adhesive agent that allow it to conduct electricity. It also prevents components from being dislodged, so if you drop the charger you don’t have to worry about internal components breaking. If you have ever been surprised by the weight of a high-quality wall charger, you should consider the fact that it is essentially full of metal. The parts of the charger that aren’t metal are very small. The cheap chargers that feel plasticky and light are going to be more likely to heat up and wear out.
How Does This Affect You?
It is important to consider the real problems heat causes, which is excess wear and tear on your device. Buying a cheap device in an emergency is unlikely to do significant damage to a device. It is possible, to be sure. But, in most cases, your phone or tablet can identify a charger with insufficient protective features. The problem is that these chargers may only last a couple months of daily use, particularly if they regularly overheat.
If you choose a higher-quality device, it will last longer. Over the life of the device, it will likely save you money. A light charger that is just a plastic shell with a circuit board shoved inside will get the job done, but it won’t last very long. You could get into a cycle of buying cheap chargers every 3 months or so, not realizing that you are overpaying.
At any rate, if you find that you have a charging brick that gets hot enough to fry an egg, you know why. It is probably due to the charger having cheaper components. Even if you drop your charger, if it has conductive adhesive, there shouldn’t be a problem charging.