I've read existing questions and answers on noises coming from laptop chargers (e.g. https://superuser.com/a/104860/112639 and https://superuser.com/a/832501/112639 and have learnt that there are two very different phenomena - one serious, one harmless - which cause observably different noises to come from a charger:
- A "hum" or "whine" is relatively normal, and likely an innocent by-product of the transformer using electromagnetic plates to convert current.
- A "crackle" or "sparking" noise is potentially a sign of a failing transformer, and a potential fire hazard. There's a comment that a "charger that generates coil noise especially when under load may be defective" (which I believe means, if the noise occurs when the laptop is connected, but not when the charger is connected to the mains without being connected to the laptop).
So, one type of noise can be safely ignored, the other is very serious and is a reason to stop using that particular charger.
Useful information - but existing questions and answers have focused on explaining the why and have not gone into detail on what to look for when diagnosing and distinguishing the two. I'm looking for some expert guidance on what key distinguishing criteria there are.
In my case, it's not obvious which phenomena this is: the noise is somewhere between a "hum" and a "crackle", so I need some more precise criteria to assess it. These are some observations I've made - I'm sure an expert could judge which of these signs are normal or irrelevant, and which (if any) are cause for concern:
- The sound is a low "buzz" or "fizz", sawtooth sound, a little like crickets (cicadas), or like a lower-pitched constant version of the sound of a fizzy coke bottle being opened.
- It is much louder when the laptop is connected. When the charger is connected to the mains but the laptop unplugged, I can hear a fizzing sound only with my ear very close to the charger. When the laptop is connected, I can hear it from 5 metres away.
- There are occasional random "click" or "tick" sounds. If these were more frequent, they'd sound like a crackle. They happen once or twice every 10-30 seconds.
- It seems to get very slowly louder the longer the laptop is plugged in.
- The sound changes when the laptop is turned on - It stops being constant (like crickets) and becomes quieter, lower pitch, and more erratic.
What are the characteristics of the dangerous crackling of a failing transformer, that set it aside from the benign whining of a safe transformer?