Why is the Arduino able to accept ~5V from the USB, but requires a min of 7V when using an external power supply?
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The design assumes USB provides a regulated 5v so no further regulation is necessary. The power connecter is meant to accept a wider range of voltage and regulate it to 5v, and the kind of regulators used on the Arduino board need that much higher voltage to provide regulation. If you already have a regulated +5v source you can supply it to the 5v pin. You'll bypass the on-board regulator this way, so just know that it will then be up to you to provide clean power.
Above is an AA Battery voltage curve. Many people assume that 5* 1.5V AA batterys would be enough to power the Arduino. As you can see the 1.5 is the maximum voltage and it quickly drops. Different brands have different values and sometimes this can drop below the value of the voltage regulator input. I usually tend to aim between 7 and 9 Volts for running from batteries, ie the nominal voltage of the batteries, eg 6 x 1.5V = 9V.
For wall socket charges, Buy a cheap one and hook it up to a volt meter, Many that say 5V actually have a range of values. Raspberry Pi users often have problems with power caused by manufacturers saying its 5v and it actually delivering something like 4.85 and fluctuating beacuse of the power demand of the pi