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What's the point of the 60W Apple MagSafe change charger?

One of the cable tabs on my MagSafe charger for my MacBook came undone, so I took this as a sign to retire the charger to home use and to purchase another for travel. When I went to my local Best Buy, they had two chargers for sale, 60W and 85W, that looked the same size, sold for the same price, etc. The only difference was that the 85W supported the MacBook Pro, while the 60W only supported the MacBook.

Even though I am a MacBook owner, I figured I might, sometime in the future, purchase a MacBook Pro and I went with the 85W charger. When I opened it up I found it was slightly larger than the 60W charger it was replacing, but for all intents and purposes there's no real difference between the two. So why does Apple sell a 60W replacement (or even manufacture the 60W at all)? Are there enough people that want to save 25W?

You definitely don't need to worry about your laptop being fried by the higher-capacity power adapter, because the laptop will only draw what it needs.

My 6-year-old laptop came with a 65W power supply. When I bought it, I could have gotten it with a 90W power supply, but I opted for the smaller power supply. The docking station that I purchased later came with a 90W power supply which can also plug directly into the laptop. I've noticed that the 90W supply charges the laptop faster, but I prefer it mainly because it has a much longer power cord.

The efficiency figures Ranger has hypothesized are not necessarily accurate; it depends on the design of the specific power supply and the optimal load range. A given power supply may be more efficient under your own typical usage scenario, but the only way to find out for certain is to test each power supply's power draw yourself under different loads. For example:

  • Plugged into the wall, but not into a laptop
  • Laptop fully charged and turned on (idle)
  • Laptop fully charged and maxing out power draw (e.g., transcoding video while burning a CD)
  • Laptop charging but turned off
  • Laptop charging and turned on (idle)
  • Laptop charging and maxing out power draw (e.g., transcoding video while burning a CD)

You may find that the higher-wattage power supply is actually significantly more efficient under a high load than the lower-wattage power supply, because it is not near its maximum capacity. In fact, you may find that the higher-wattage power supply is more efficient across the board, and the lower-wattage power supply only beats the bigger supply under a narrow range of loads. Or perhaps the smaller supply is never more efficient, and its only advantage is its smaller physical size.

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Sounds like it does work just fine. You cannot use the smaller charger with MBP of course. This is also the case with the MBA which uses a 45watt version.

In addition to what rangerpretzel said, which is the main technical reason:

But also, size matters to some, MBA users want portability. the 45 watt version is much smaller and the 60 is smaller then the 85. Some people want the smallest one compatible with their computer. Also, the original 85 watt magsafe power supply used to be even larger then it is today and was a concern at the time of release. Apple eventualy re-engineered it to the size it is now.

Cost wise, it might make more sence to just make one power supply, but apple does offer its users a "few" options. haha.

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Most switching power supplies are most efficient when operating at 50% capacity. And they're definitely pretty inefficient at less than 20% capacity.

Since the MacBook draws less power than a MacBook Pro, I would suspect that an 85w power supply would work just fine, but the larger power supply for the MBP probably would draw more power from the wall socket than is necessary when connected to a MB because it is operating in a suboptimal capacity range.

Here's an example: Take for example the 45w power supply for the MacBook Air. Sure you could hook up the 85w power supply, but since the MBA might only draw 20 watts, the power supply is operating at less than 25% capacity. At this capacity, the power supply may only be 60% efficient (an educated guess), that means the power supply has to draw 33 watts of AC power just to supply the laptop with 20 watts of DC power.

Long story, short: It's a power conversion efficiency thing. I'd say buy the one that is designed for your laptop so that you save energy.

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