Dell, a Texas-based computer manufacturer, uses its "PA" numbering system to indicate a particular products wattage. The PA-10 laptop computer power adaptor puts out 90 watts, and the PA-12 65 watts. The plugs are identical, and they once shipped with some of Dell's most popular laptop models. The PA number and wattage information are located on a sticker on one side of the adaptor.
Choosing an Adapter
All Dell laptop computers show the voltage and power adaptor requirements on a sticker on the underside of the computer. If this sticker is missing or illegible, go to Dell's website and run a search for the laptop's model name followed by "specifications." The laptop's specification sheet and user manual will show up in the search results, and these will contain adaptor information.
In most cases, you may use either adaptor for your laptop. However, if the spec sheet for your particular computer model indicates that the laptop may use either the PA-10 or PA-12, the 10 may be required for optimal performance if you want to use the laptop with a docking station. Otherwise, the computer's basic input-output system (BIOS) will display an power adaptor alert message when the machine is booted.
While you can bypass this alert in most newer Dell laptops, older units may not offer this option and you will be forced to boot the computer undocked. In either case, the lower-wattage adaptor won't charge the battery on an older computer, and it will slow down to reduce power consumption.
Where to Buy
Either of these adaptors is available on Dell's website, but they are often obtained more cheaply on third-party sites. Brick-and-mortar stores often carry laptop power adaptors as well, but often at a higher price than an online shop. New, used and generic "Dell-compatible" models are widely available through these venues.
All Dell-branded power adaptors contain an ID chip that the BIOS reads during boot-up. If this chip malfunctions or doesn't exist, the computer will display a "AC adaptor not recognised" alert message, forcing you to take the same workaround steps to resolve as with a docking station compatibility issue. Anyone buying a generic or universal adaptor should choose one made by a reputable manufacturer with a good return policy.
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