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I live in a hostel where there is no grounded/earthed connection. Will it harm my laptop or charger?

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I really hope your laptop doesn't have a metal enclosure (like my Macbook Pro). You will be the earth. –  Daniel Beck Aug 15 '12 at 10:00
@DanielBeck That'll only be an issue if the laptop's enclosure happens to be at non-zero voltage, which it normally shouldn't be. And even then the voltages are too low and the resistance to earth too high for the user to feel anything more than a tingle. –  Indrek Aug 15 '12 at 13:17
@Indrek Got it measured once, 80 something (volts?) between the metal notebook enclosure and the grounded heating when using the Apple duck head Europlug for the power adapter (which has no ground wire). Touching the laptop sometimes produces a weak tingling sensation as well. When using the cable with German CEE 7/4 Schuko plug instead, no sensation and no measurable difference between heating and laptop case. While I only measured my 2010 MBP, the pinching sensation was there for the 2005 and 2008 MBPs as well. Since then I haven't used the ungrounded Europlug adapters anymore. –  Daniel Beck Aug 15 '12 at 14:18
@DanielBeck I'm not aware of anything inside a laptop that works at 80 V (most components use 20 V and lower), so most likely you were measuring one of (or a combination of): static, some sort of inductive current generated by the laptop's internal circuitry, or leakage current from the mains adapter to the DC cable's negative lead. In all cases the current is too low to be dangerous, though the effect can understandably be uncomfortable or even unsettling. Bottom line: laptops are Class III appliances, so a metal enclosure is not a shock hazard. –  Indrek Aug 15 '12 at 15:08

4 Answers 4

Your laptop is almost certainly of a "class 2" design. Meaning it is electrically double insulated. You can Identify this by checking for a symbol which looks like a square, within a slightly bigger square.

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Appliance classes

Alternatively, a European GS or VDE standard may have been attached, covering class 2 implicitly.

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This covers all Class 2 appliances in europe, and means that the appliance does not need a circuit protective conductor (Green/Yellow earth wire) in order to be used safely.

You will find this on your transformer block between the mains plug and the laptop DC jack. Meaning that both parts are protected from "Direct contact" fault conditions. Now known in Britain as "Basic Protection", as of IET Wiring Regulations 17th edition (2008).

You may find that the earth pin in your plug is there only to facilitate the interface with the socket, and is not actually wired to anything. The cable running from it may also be of a 2-core double insulated design (Phase and Neutral only).

Your laptop is safe. But the building itself is another story entirely. I suggest you avoid having a shower.

I would like to add a comment to Daniel Beck's conversation in the question comments, but do not have sufficient privillages.

The voltage you have measured is the result of a reference point differential, and is unlikely to be capable of carrying a current. This is why the apparent voltage would disappear if you connected the extraneous conductive part of your mac book to the local earth (A grounded reference point).

The metal case of your mac book is separated by two layers of insulating material from any electrical parts by design.

You will also find the Class 2 logo somewhere on your macbook's transformer block.

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This is fantastic information. I was just browsing for questions to answer and stumbled upon this. Today I learned! "Appliance classes" -- adding to my knowledge for future use. Thank you! –  allquixotic Aug 15 '12 at 18:07
You are welcome :) Although I must say that this is the first time my knowledge has be useful outside of working as an electrician! –  John David Ravenscroft Aug 15 '12 at 18:16

The ground or earth is there primarily to protect you from electrocution.

So long as your laptop and charger are in good condition, are of double-insulated design, and are used safely (not in the bathtub or shower) you and they will come to no harm.

If the equipment is designed with the expectation that it be earthed, by connecting it to a non-earthed supply you are running a small additional risk that a fault or damage in the equipment may lead, in the worst case, to something exploding in your face or catching fire while you are asleep. These are the sort of risks of death and injury we take every day when crossing the road.

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I remember in the past I was using may laptop which is connected to the internet by Ethernet and the charging cable disconnected.

Once I was walking back to my laptop as soon my hand touched the laptop it discharged electrostatic charge.

After that, the LAN connection was damaged. I think that would have never happened if I had connected the power cable which was earthed.

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As an electronics designer I'm confident in saying that very many well known makes of laptop supply (dell, lenovo among others) are certainly NOT double insulated. The VDE mark CERTAINLY DOES NOT mean double insulated, class 1 kit can be VDE approved too. The negative side of the output jack is grounded to mains earth- hence they use a 3 pin cloverleaf mains input. In turn this appears on exposed metal connector shells like USB and VGA. Yes the voltages between the parts within the laptop are low, but fed from an unearthed socket the whole assembly has no direct connection through the power supply to either pole of the mains. Now, if the stray capacitances plus any filter capacitors between the two poles of the mains and the secondary side are roughly equal, then to AC the output will 'float' to about half mains voltage, but this voltage will fall away as soon as much current is drawn (e.g. by a meter). 80VAC from 220V 50Hz is very believable. This 'earth leakage' is certainly enough to damage some powered CMOS USB hubs for example, and you may just about feel it. Please take care when connecting together devices and peripherals fed from a mixture of earthed and un-earthed supplies, if possible its much better to be either all one or all the other.

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Can you try to rephrase your answer so that it can be understood by non-electricians, please? –  Thomas W. Jan 22 '14 at 21:17
Also, use more than one paragraph. –  Kevin Panko Jan 22 '14 at 21:36

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