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I have a 220V to 12V adapter. According to the adapter label, the max current can reach 1.5A. But I want to measure the max current it can reach without depending on the information written on the adapter. How can I do it?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Good question. I just got some cheap 12V "2amp" wall warts from china. Plugged them into 1.3amp loads, and they blew within a minute or two. I suspect they're actually 1amp supplies, rebranded. Would be good to be able to test for that kind of thing in the future. \$\endgroup\$ – naught101 Dec 31 '14 at 0:20
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The correct way is to analyze the schematics of the power supply, noting the max current/voltage/power that each device is being subjected to. Make sure you look at these numbers over the entire operating range (Vin, Vout, Iout, Temperature, Humidity, airflow, etc) as well as over the tolerances of the components that are used.

Once all of the component maximums (and your operating margin) have been figured out, you know the absolute maximum rating of the device. But that is not the end. You next figure out how to properly "derate" components. For example, it is common to derate a resistor by 50%. Meaning that if a resistor is rated for 1 watt, you will only allow 0.5 watts. Same goes for caps, transistors, MOSFETs, etc. Also, some components like electrolytic caps will have a significantly increased lifespan if derated (Voltage, current, and temp!).

At this point you can calculate the actual maximum power rating for the supply.

What you absolutely do not want to do is to put the supply under a high load and see if it "can handle it". Even if it does handle it for that moment, it might be permanently damaged-- and damaged in a way that will only show up later when you are away and your house burns down.

If I received a power supply that wasn't marked, I would never power it up. Instead I would throw it away. Electrical Engineering has some hazards that are not worth tempting. This is one of them.

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Important: always use recommended maximum load - do not do what you want to do. Do not burn yourself - load will dissipate about 20W of heat! Most of the time current limitation is above long-term current capability - the psu can ignite after longer period of abuse. Current limitation can change, e.g. because of the temperature. In fact you need real-lab testing to determine max. current. Remember that typical 20A multimeter cannot conduct high currents (e.g. 5A) for extended periods of time. It can melt, starting internally.

Just to satisfy your curiosity, not as advice:

  1. For a switching mode supply (possibly it have a current limiting circuit - otherwise bum!): Very quick and inaccurate check: connect amperometer. Multiply reading it by 0.7

  2. better test for any type of power supply, including above: Select a load you like to use. (12V car bulb set, calculated resistors) connect it and check if voltage is what you need and above 11V. Check for couple of hours if the psu is not melting or stinking.

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