What Is a Power Brick?

A Kaminsky

When a computer user unpacks a notebook computer, one of the first components he will see is the power brick. This large, rectangular piece weighs a pound or two (0.45 to 0.9 kg), but is essential to the machine's operation.

A plug on one end of a power brick.
A plug on one end of a power brick.

The power brick is part of the external power supply and also provides the power for the computer to charge its batteries. Plugging straight AC from a wall outlet into a notebook would blow the circuits, so lower-voltage DC powers the computer. The power brick accomplishes the conversion. The computer is plugged into the brick, while a cord runs from it into a standard AC plug.

In many cases, a power brick will have a light on it to alert the user that it is functioning properly. If a notebook computer will not recharge its batteries, then this device may be at fault. They are manufactured by the computer companies themselves, however, and what runs one notebook may not power another. A user will have to look for a brick that is designed for his particular computer model.

Since power bricks are so heavy and bulky, they should lie flat at all times. The weight, if suspended, could pull the outlet from the computer, damaging both the notebook and the brick.

The device will also become warm when it is used, so it should rest on a non-flammable surface. It should be placed on a desk or on the floor, not on a rug or blanket. A user should never try to open or repair the brick, as this is a task best left to professionals. It should also be protected from being dropped and from spills, as with any electrical device.

Most computer supply stores and Web sites stock power bricks, so if a user needs one, they are readily available. They are available in a range of prices, but usually aren't too expensive. Comparison shopping is a must, because some stores will have differences of up to $20 or $25 US Dollars (USD), depending on the brand. It will always benefit the computer owner to check out several Web sites and call local stores to get the best price.

What Is a Power Brick?

A power brick in the context of notebook computers is a part of the external power supply that allows the notebook computer to receive power and charge its internal batteries. It resides on the AC power cord somewhere between the AC power interface and the computer. It is easy to identify because it is large, bulky, and heavy.

A power brick acts as a mediator between the AC power supply and the computer. If there was no power brick and the computer was directly connected to the AC power supply, the circuits would immediately blow out. The power brick thus allows for a lower-voltage DC to reach the computer.

While power bricks are replaceable and can be purchased at computer parts stores, one power brick may not function the same way as another, as notebook computers often use different types of power bricks. Make sure the power brick you buy is compatible with your computer.

A power brick should rest flat on a hard, non-flammable surface. If the power brick is suspended in the air when plugged in, it can rip the power connector from the computer, which can cause severe damage to both the computer and the power brick. The type of surface it rests on is also important because a malfunctioning power brick can be a fire hazard, and even a properly functioning power brick can still be warm to the touch. Keep the brick away from liquids and protect it from spills. Never try to repair a power brick on your own, as they're a serious electrical hazard, even when unplugged.

Power bricks typically have a light that turns on when plugged into the AC outlet. This light indicates that the brick is functioning properly.

What If My Notebook Computer Doesn’t Have a Power Brick?

With the introduction of the USB-C interface, powers bricks are becoming less necessary for a notebook computer to function, and even top-end notebook computers may not require a power brick.

You are likely already somewhat familiar with USB-C, as it has quickly become the predominant standard for many electronics for its versatility. Your smartphone may have a USB-C interface for charging and data transfer. Older versions of USB had limited capacity for power transfer and could only be plugged in one way; it would not fit if it was upside-down. USB-C suffers from neither of these issues and so is becoming increasingly popular on notebook computers.

However, not all USB-C interfaces are the same. Some laptops may come with older versions of USB-C that are not meant as power connectors, instead being used merely for data transfer. Many laptops, while utilizing USB-C, may not work with any USB-C charger except the one that came with it.

The most powerful type of USB-C is called Thunderbolt 3. Even compared to other versions of USB-C, Thunderbolt 3 is incredibly powerful. If a laptop has a USB-C Thunderbolt 3 port, you may be able to use the laptop with multiple high-end monitors at once or even connect the laptop to a graphics processing unit for added power. It can chain up to six different devices together while simultaneously charging your computer with power capacities up to 100W. Data transfer speeds are also vastly superior on a Thunderbolt 3 interface than other types of USB-C.

However, not just any USB-C cable will work with a Thunderbolt 3 interface. These interfaces require special high-powered Thunderbolt 3 cables.

Wireless Charging May Overtake Wired Charging

With the advent of USB-C charging interfaces, power bricks may soon become obsolete. USB isn’t the only new standard threatening the power brick, however. Wireless charging is a rapidly advancing technology that may someday overtake wired charging completely, removing the need for a power cable at all.

There are many advantages inherent to wireless charging. For example, many wireless chargers are universally compatible, meaning virtually any wireless charger will work to charge your device. Qi charging is the most common wireless charging technology used for consumer electronics today, and all Qi chargers will work with any device that supports Qi charging, even if the wattage is different. Qi charging is a worldwide standard, so you will never need an adapter if you travel.

Wireless charging also generates minimal heat, making it safer than standard wired charging. In addition, because wireless chargers are universal, the complexity involved in choosing the right power interface or the right power brick is simplified. You will not need to differentiate between the various types of USB or power bricks when looking for ways to charge your notebook computer or other devices, and you can use the same charger for different devices besides your computer.

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Discussion Comments

GenevaMech

@ Amphibious54- It is actually easy to find a new Xbox 360 power brick. You can find them for $15 to $30 dollars on sites like Amazon and eBay. Best Buy also sells them, but it will cost you twice as much as other stores. Just search for Xbox 360 power adapter. Make sure the brick you buy is for the US version, or whatever country's version Xbox 360 you own.

Amphibious54

I recently moved and I lost my Xbox power brick. Where can I find a new power brick for my game console? I would hate to have to get rid of a nearly new Xbox 360 because of a dumb mistake.

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