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What Is a Power Adapter?

Standard U.S. power outlet.
Power adapters are used to connect electrical devices to an electrical outlet.
U.S. battery chargers will need adapters if used in Europe.
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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2014
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Power adapters are devices that make it possible to connect different power sources to a variety of devices. In some cases, a power adapter can make it possible to use an electrical device like a laptop computer in a foreign country, with no adverse effects to the device itself. Depending on the purpose and function, power adapters can be relatively inexpensive or quite costly.

One of the most common types of power adapter is the laptop adapter. Models designed for use by international travelers make it possible for a businessperson from the United States to use his or her laptop computer while on a trip to Europe or the United Kingdom. Some solutions are actually adapter sets that not only provide a selection of prongs for use with different types of outlets, but also transformers that help to convert alternating current to direct current. These kits can help trim travel expenses considerably, since there is no need to pay for expensive conversions during the stay, or to rent equipment for the duration of the trip.

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There are other examples of the external power adapter that are used with different types of electrical equipment. Cell phones and handheld devices often come with a simple power adapter that make it possible to draw energy from a car battery by plugging one end of the adapter into the vehicle’s cigarette lighter. There are also adapter models that can be connected to small appliances and allow them to make use of electrical current stored in external batteries. Some designs are configured to allow the standard power cord to plug into the adapter on one end, and attach the opposite end of the adapter to an alternative power source, making the adapter an ideal solution during a power outage.

Depending on the particular scope of function, a power adapter may be somewhat expensive. Devices designed to work with a wide variety of electrical equipment, especially those designed to help convert current, are usually the most expensive. Simpler devices, such as those that make it possible to use and charge a cell phone while in a moving vehicle, are usually available at very little cost. With all types of the adapter, it is important to make sure the products are thoroughly tested and meet minimum safety standards. This is especially important when the adapter is intended for use with expensive equipment, like a laptop, or will be used during a trip abroad.

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Discuss this Article

wander
Post 6

@manykitties2 - I didn't know that some power cords didn't require a full converter until I accidentally blew up my converter. Apparently if you plug one of those electronics that has a range of volts on it into a converter it can be really dangerous. I actually ended up knocking out a few circuits in the building I was staying in.

My rule of thumb now is to always read my cords and see if they need a full converter or just a cover for the prongs. If you are in doubt, either e-mail the company who made your electronic for details or just don't use it.

manykitties2
Post 5

An interesting thing about power adapters is that you don't always need a full power converter to get them to work when you travel. Generally if the power adapter has a large box that displays a range of volts, for example from 120-220 volts, you can use it in a lot more countries. With these kinds of power adapters you only need a small prong cover so that it will fit into the wall socket of the country you are in.

For those electronics that you bring with you on your travels that only have a cord, you will have to invest in a full power converter which gets a lot more expensive.

David09
Post 4

@nony - Yeah, I bought a universal power adapter when I traveled to Australia. It adapts its prongs to a whole variety of formats. It doesn’t change the voltage however. As you said, you need a transformer for that.

nony
Post 3

@starrynight - I bought a Toshiba laptop when I lived in Asia. When I returned to the states I had to get a Toshiba power adapter to make it work with our outlets here. The power cable had round prongs and my adapter converted it to the straight prongs that we use with our outlets here.

I also have a transformer too that I bought so I could get some other devices to work as well. I think that you can get a step up transformer or a step down transformer.

The step up transformer will increase the power current for devices needing something like 220 volts instead of 110 volts, and the step down transformer will do just the opposite.

Eventually I just quit using the devices and bought the American counterparts but the transformer was extremely handy at the time.

starrynight
Post 2

@indemnifyme - Car chargers are pretty handy! The international power adapters sound like a good idea also. I actually didn't know that other countries used different outlet configurations until recently.

A friend of mine went to Europe, and when she got there she was flabbergasted that she couldn't plus any of her electronics in! And this a girl who likes her styling implements too. Luckily, she was able to buy an adapter and she got to blow dry and curl her hair for the rest of the trip.

indemnifyme
Post 1

I love my car power adapter! I always forget to charge my cell phone, and I have to drive 40 minutes to get to work, so the car charger is a life saver.

I really like the charger I got because you can also plug USB chargers into it. I have an e-reader that I absolutely love and I can charge that in the car too. I think the best power adapters are the kind that you can use to charge more than one type of device with.

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