This scenario should be familiar: Your MacBook charger snaps, breaks, frays or just stops working. Apple wants $109 for a replacement, but you found a knockoff charger online for a lot less. What do you do?
We've all been in this situation, and it's tempting to go with the cheaper alternative. There are plenty of times when this advice makes sense - when you're buying HDMI cables, for example. However, a closer look at the tech inside these MacBook chargers suggests it might be worth it to pay the Apple Tax if you need a replacement.
A few years back, Google software engineer and general tech enthusiast Ken Shirriff opened up his MacBook charger to compare it with a knockoff, and the difference between the two is pretty astounding.
Visually, it's clear that Apple packs a ton of technology into its chargers, while the cheaper version features a bunch of empty space. More importantly, Apple also puts a big focus on safety, while the knockoff cuts corners that could put you at risk of an electric shock - or worse.
A quick tour of the official MacBook charger reveals triple-insulated wires, grounding and magnetic fields to safely transmit power. There's a small processor inside that regulates power, automatically shutting off the charger if the wattage gets too high. Apple's charger also knows to shut off as soon as it disconnects from your laptop to reduce the risk of sparking.
By comparison, the cheaper knockoff skips the filtering, ground connection, and the more complex circuitry used by Apple to regulate the power flowing into your laptop. The third-party charger isn't totally unsafe (it includes insulating tape and a few other precautions), but according to Shirriff, it could still give you a nasty shock.
Apple's chargers aren't perfect. The cables tend to fray and they're definitely overpriced (even with all that extra tech inside), but this is one purchase that you might not want to cheap out on - if you do, caveat emptor.