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TinotopiaLog → Sony PCGA-AC5N ( 8 Apr 2001)
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Sunday 08 April 2001

Sony PCGA-AC5N UPDATE: A reader has informed me that the PCGA-AC5N is available in the USA through their cleverly-hidden service parts website. As of 8 April 2001, it’s on this page, listed as the "PCGA-C5N", a typo that means that this page will never come up on a search for "PCGA-AC5N" (which is the model number that actually appears on the thing).

Functionally-identical power supplies are also available from Laptops for Less in the USA for $65, or The Power Up Shop in the UK for €88.39 including tax and free shipping anywhere in the EU.

This means, of course, that nearly everything else on this page is obsolete; I am leaving it up for historical purposes, though, because I believe that most of the points here are still valid.

(The electronic-looking thing behind the computer and to the right is the guts of a PCGA-AC5N.)

I have, among other computers, a Sony Vaio PCG-N505VX laptop. It’s a great computer in general, but it’s powered by the dreaded PCGA-AC5N.

The PCGA-AC5N is an AC adapter; you plug it into the wall on one end and into the computer on the other. All laptop computers have something of the sort (except some older Toshibas, but we’ll ignore that for the time being).

The adapter that came with this computer is broken; it stopped working when the computer was about 91 days old (Sony computers, unlike nearly all others, have 90-day warranties). No problem, right? I just go down to Radio Shack or get on the web and order a new one.

Not so fast. Sony has long been enamored of creating their own standards for connectors (the mini-phono jack on a Walkman was an early ‘innovation’ of theirs; these used to be called Sony plugs, and they used to use them on everything, including places, like the audio-out or -in on VCRs, where everyone else used a different standard, and where the little tiny plug didn’t really offer any advantages).

The DC connector on the adapter is pictured at right. Unless you own one of these computers, you’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a little smaller than an ordinary coaxial DC plug, and a hell of a lot more fragile.

What’s more, it’s patented (I am told) by Sony. While Sony has decided that this plug is not the way of the future (their current computers use more normal plugs), and that (apparently) it’s not in their interest to manufacture these power supplies any more, they also refuse, it seems, to let anyone else manufacture them. (I was told this by someone at Digital House Communications, who generally seem like a good outfit despite their practice of advertising via Usenet spam. They offered to fit my old plug onto a new power supply, though — but hell, I can do that myself.)

After being told that, I called everyone I could find who listed the thing on their website. Nobody had them in stock (contrary to what their websites said). I even called a few outfits in the UK. No dice. Nobody in the USA or Britain had one. The Sony USA on-line shopping website doesn’t even list the thing. I conclude that Sony has stopped making them.

(I wound up borrowing another PCGA-AC5N from a friend who had a spare. I’d like to have my own, though, and I’m sure the friend would like his spare back.)

Which means that if you need a replacement power supply for this computer, you’re SOL. The best you can do is find another 16 volt DC power supply and graft the original plug onto it. (Good luck finding a 16V power supply; Radio Shack doesn’t stock them, except for a huge variable-voltage one that costs the earth.) I have cobbled one together from a Toshiba laptop power supply, and it works fine. I have a lot of spare Toshiba laptop power supplies, and I’ve attached a standard coaxial DC jack to the wires that formerly terminated inside the power supply case. The Toshiba power supply then plugs into that, giving me a very long DC power cable with a bolus of electrical tape in the middle. This powers the computer, but it certainly isn’t pretty.

I thought of putting a standard coaxial power jack in the computer (so I could use just about any power supply). Then I thought better of it; there’s just not a lot of room:

The jack sits just under the bottom row on the keyboard, and in a pretty visible location. (For a laugh, compare the relative sizes of the power connector, IEEE-1394 connector, and USB connector in that photo.) Replacing the jack would require screwing around with that panel, not to mention managing to fit the back of the thing into the fairly crowded case.

Note (13 August 2001): I used to have some information here about the PCGA-AC16V2. A Japanese website called VAIOethics — easily the best all-Vaio resource out there — had a page (with photos, no less) that hinted that the PCGA-AC16V2 might be effectively interchangeable with the AC5N. Actually, it might have more than hinted at this. My Japanese ability is terrible, and everything in that language only hints at information to me.

While I was writing this up, the page there with this information disappeared. I had a copy of VAIOethics’ photo of the AC16V2 and AC5N side-by-side, and I put it on this page.

I recently got e-mail from the guy who runs that website, complaining that I’d used his picture without permission. I apologized and asked whether I could continue to use it, and he refused, puffing himself up with moral indignation and citing the fact that it says (with some justification, I think) "I hate Sony" at the top of this page. Considering the amount of money I’ve given to Sony over the years, I think I could stand to be on the receiving end of that kind of hatred.


If you’d like to see the picture and the information, it now seems to have moved here. You can get a fairly bad English machine translation here.

The AC16V2 and the AC5N have the same electrical characteristics (actually there’s about a 5% difference in the quoted output, but if you know anything about these doodads you know their output varies by a hell of a lot more than 5% from what’s written on the label anyway), and the AC16V2 in the photo at VAIOethics (the 16V2 is on the left) has the same oddball plug as the 5N.

But the page for the thing on the Sony USA website — taht link is now defunct, of course — hints that the AC16V2 (and the Picturebook) changed designs in fall of 2000, though, so it’s possible that there are two entirely different things running around calling themselves AC16V2s. (There’s also an AC16V1 available; it looks to be exactly the same thing, but in purple and silver instead of charcoal gray.)

The whole experience has certainly put me off buying another Sony laptop, despite the fact that I’m completely happy with it, otherwise. I think in the future that I’ll look for something with the same characteristics (in this case, extreme portability) from a company that focuses on manufacturing computers, not consumer electronics. This $2000 machine is on the verge of uselessness because of a $0.25 piece of plastic that Sony isn’t making (or at least selling — it’s not available on Sony’s website, so even if they still make it, they’re falling down on the job) any more. I don’t expect the same kind of support for a computer from Sony that I do from, say, Toshiba or IBM, but this is absurd. If Sony wants to be taken at all seriously in the computer business, they need to better understand how the business needs to work. Just creating neat machines (which they do) isn’t enough.

Sony product pages (in Japanese):
Sony seems to sell all of these in Japan; at least they list prices for them all.
Sony Notebook Accessory Compatibility Chart
Does not list the N505VX.

Posted by tino at 10:07 8.04.01
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