To recap, here are some quotes from our initial review:
One particular frustration that has vexed me for over three years now is that there is no “official” way to power any MagSafe-equipped Apple laptops directly off of 12v power. As full-time technomads living in a small solar-powered trailer, we have ample access to 12v DC, while 120v AC is a rare luxury for us. Sure, we could use an inverter – but (as you will see) that inserts a lot of overhead and inefficiency. We would much rather run our lives directly off of 12v as much as possible.
We checked out the (Mikegyver modified) Kensington All-In-One, and it has quickly become one of the most indispensable items in our technology arsenal. We have been particularly thrilled with no longer needing to power up our DC-to-AC inverter to power our laptops.
Our love of the Kensington soon faded however, as we discovered the downside of one of the All-In-One’s features – the dreaded low-voltage cutoff.
Low-Voltage Cutoff – More Bug Than Feature:
To protect you from draining and damaging your vehicle battery, the Kensington power supply automatically shuts down (and stays shut down) whenever its input voltage drops below 12 volt. At first glance, this seems like a smart thing to do – a battery bank that is reading less than 12 volts has already been 50% drained. (And ideally, you should never drain most vehicle batteries below 50%!)
But… Things aren’t always that simple.
If you are drawing a lot of current out of a battery (such as when you are charging a depleted laptop), it will register a lower voltage even if it has not been drained nearly that far yet. And if you have a long relatively thin gauge wire between your battery and your 12v jack (which is very common), this voltage drop will be even further exaggerated.
In our case, trying to charge a drained MacBook Pro off of even 75% charged RV batteries would sometimes draw too much current and trigger the Kensington power supply to shut down.
It was extremely frustrating – the Kensington became useless to us at the very time that we needed the increased power efficiency it offered the most.
And though most car batteries will suffer damage if drained below 50%, the true deep-cycle batteries used in solar and RV setups like ours can handle up to an occasional 80% discharge without problem. We hated being prevented from fully taking advantage of our off-grid electrical system.
For our needs, the Kensington increasingly kept failing to live up to our expectations.
Fortunately – when he realized the nature of the problems we were having, Mike of Mikegyver.com sent us an iGo Everywhere130 power supply to try as an alternative. It worked wonderfully.
NOTE: The iGo Everywhere130 is an older model than the iGo EverywhereMAX linked to above. The primary difference is that the EverywhereMAX is physically smaller.
The iGo Everywhere130 is significantly chunkier than the Kensington All-In-One, and it weighs twice as much. But… It doesn’t cut out when voltages drop – which makes it vastly better suited for some types of use.
Mikegyver currently offers both the Kensington All-In-One and iGo EverywhereMAX modified to support Apple’s proprietary MagSafe power connector for $229. Normally Mikegyver steers customers towards the Kensington because “the Kensington is lighter and slimmer”. Though the EverywhereMAX is reportedly smaller than the Everywhere130 we were testing, I can imagine that the small size of the Kensington is indeed a better option for a road warrior who needs to carry a go-anywhere power supply with them all the time.
But if you are planning to run off of deep-cycle batteries or solar, do NOT get the Kensington!
We have been using the iGo Everywhere130 for the past month, and we have been extremely pleased with it. Testing it head-to-head against the Kensington All-In-One, it was easy to create situations where the Kensington would shut off (and not come back until it is physically unplugged and plugged in again) while the iGo just kept on charging.
Just like the Kensington, the iGo is a combination AC & DC power supply that can power your laptop off of traditional wall current, a car power jack, or an airline power jack. They both have a minimal 0.1A no-load current draw, meaning that it can be left plugged in all the time without fear. The iGo and Kensington seemed to perform equivalently while charging too – both offering up overall power consumption vastly lower than if we had to power up our inverter to use Apple’s AC power supply.
If you need to run an Apple laptop off of solar or deep-cycle batteries, the iGo Everywhere offered by Mikegyver is a great way to do it. If you just need to charge your laptop in an airplane or your car while in transit, the smaller and sleeker Kensington All-In-One is the way to go.
There are other emerging alternative however… The comment thread (37 comments and counting!) for my previous post has generated some “spirited” discussion, with representatives from HyperMac and Power My Mac both espousing the benefits of their own MacBook 12v power supplies.
We’ve gotten in a Hypermac power supply that we are testing now, and hopefully we will get a Power My Mac supply to throw into the mix soon too.
It wasn’t long ago that it seemed as if there were no alternatives for powering an Apple laptop off of 12v. Now there are options galore. In a future post, I will try and dissect the tradeoffs between them all.
February 2010 Update: Our Mikegyver iGo Everywhere has bit the dust as of a couple months ago. Currently, it’ll run our laptops but not charge them. Our Mikegyver lasted less than 6 months of usage, which we don’t find all too impressive. Our HyperMac however is still running like a champ. And yes.. a review of the HyperMac is overdo. Perhaps someday. Power My Mac never followed through with a review unit.