Moore’s Law and Grey Velcro

Moore's law has come to refer to the rapid advancement of computing power -- originally the doubling of transistors on an integrated circuit every 18 months -- good news for users who get twice the bang for their computing dollar and an interesting challenge for PC designers.

There's one aspect to Moore's law that we engineers try to delay and deny as long as possible:and that's power consumption, arguably one of the least sexy elements in a notebook's design. The tail. That pain-in-the-neck, must-have-it appendage that once forgotten proves to be the difference between a ruined business trip and just another slog through the airports.

Moore's Law and its demands for faster processor speeds, better video performance, and peripheral support all drive the need for more electrical power.  There comes a certain point where a change in voltage is the only efficient way to squeeze more and more from a power supply.  Unfortunately, voltage changes require different circuitry, which in turn requires use of a different power supply. 

Our customers do not like to deal with different power supplies.

Neither do we.  That is why we try to standardize and stick with a particular voltage and power supply as long as possible.  Unfortunately, there comes a time when we have to change and when that happens we try to time the shift to the introduction of new generations in our products in the hope that the move to a new generation will more easily allow adoption of new power supplies. For the faithful owners of previous models, it's definitely irritating to find out that their investment made in spare power supplies won't carry forward to a new machine.

This is not a conspiracy to make them break out their credit cards. 

There was such a tipping point in power supply with the most recent generation of ThinkPads.  You may have noticed. Tom Giovanetti, the president of the Institute for Policy Innovation, and blogger at GioBlog noticed. He wrote:

“My first and biggest complaint may seem trivial, but it's not. For some reason Lenovo has changed the form factor of the power adapter, which means your old ThinkPad power supplies won't work with the A60p, and your A60p power supply won't work with your other ThinkPads.

"This is extremely annoying. If there was a technical reason for doing this, I'm not aware of it.

"For small businesses, this is very annoying. One of the virtues of ThinkPads has been the interchangeability of parts. It's been great to be able to move laptops around to different workstations and just be able to snap into the docking station at that workstation, or if someone needs a DVD burner, just to pop one out of Machine A and pop it into Machine B. But when you change form factors, you wreck this ease-of-use.

"Now, we'll have to be making sure we have the RIGHT ThinkPad power supply, instead of just grabbing one out of the closet. Needlessly annoying, and a case of not knowing your user, I think.

"This means all of my power supplies, both the AC and DC power supplies, are useless for my new machine. And it's been my experience that every laptop actually requires about 5 power supplies. You need one at the office, two at home, one in the bag for travel, and a DC power supply for airlines and vehicles. So by changing the form factor, I've got to replace 4 more power supplies. Thanks, Lenovo.”

Sorry Tom. We hear you and we're sorry.

The new power connector will not physically fit in the power jack on an older generation ThinkPad.  This was purposefully done to prohibit use of the wrong voltage in the wrong notebook; which, to drastically oversimplify, is not a good thing. 

Other notable changes include the end of the power connector and the Velcro cable strap, which are now grey.  The previous generations of connector and strap were all black.  Our large customers store tens or hundreds of extra ThinkPad power supplies for the next sales manager who needs one for the road.  Imagine the frustration, possible hysteria, if that sales manager realizes he was given the wrong power supply while hastily running out the door for the airport.   The grey connector and Velcro strap help to quickly differentiate new from old and ensure the right power supply is grabbed for the right time.  Unfortunately, we can only hold Moore's law at bay for so long when it comes to power supplies.  When we have to change, we try to smooth the transition as much as possible.  When it comes to Velcro, grey is this generation's black.

 ThinkPad Power Adapters