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September 15, 2017

Charging via USB-C for laptops: Here’s what you need to know

by John_A

USB-C isn’t just a new generation of USB ports, it’s a revolutionary way of looking at computer connections. “Wait, hasn’t Type-C been around for a few years already?” you may ask. Yes, it has, but now we are finally seeing this latest USB innovation fulfill its potential—and one of the best examples is charging your laptop.

If you’ve been a little wary of this “universal charger” business, we’ve got all the info you need on the whys and hows of charging via USB-C. Take a look!

USB Charging and laptops

Maurizio Pesce/Flickr

You have probably already used USB connections to charge smaller devices either from your computer or from an outlet. That works well because past USB connections had enough wattage to successfully power up those smaller batteries. However, prior versions of USB could handle a limited amount of power, which is why laptop chargers have remained larger, bulkier cables.

USB-C changed that. This type of connection now provides enough power to juice up most laptops (particularly the Type-C 3.0 version). That’s why laptop charging is a new topic of conversation for USB connections, especially now as more laptops are entering the market with USB-C charging compatibility. Eventually, you can expect the majority laptop chargers to use the USB-C option (Microsoft is taking its time).

What does Type-C look like?

So, how do you know if your current laptop has a USB-C port that also works with charging? You could always look it up, but the easiest way is to simply examine your charger. You can identify a Type-C charger by its unique features. USB-C’s connector is small and rounded, significantly different from the old USB version. It also works no matter which way you connect it to the right port, so there’s no need to flip it the right way around. If your charger uses this connection and plugs into your USB-C port, you have a winner!

Will any port work with any charger?

USB-C is a universal charging standard. That means that, technically, it doesn’t matter what USB-C charger you use, it should be able to power up a laptop with a USB-C charging port and power bank.

In the real world, this is taking a while to come true. Today the majority of laptop USB-C chargers are interchangeable, but it’s not guaranteed.

Some laptops come with USB-C ports that don’t charge. As you might expect, this is most common on laptops that always come with their own, proprietary charger. However, in some cases, we’ve run into laptops that can charge over USB-C even when they have a separate power jack. The Samsung Notebook 9 is an example of that. If you’re not sure, check the manufacturer’s website, or look up a review of the system here at Digital Trends.

Laptops that rely entirely on USB-C, meanwhile, might not charge with any charger. PCWorld, in its testing, found that HP’s Spectre x2 wouldn’t charge with any USB-C charger besides its own. HP says this intentional, because a bad charger could damage the device, or cause it to malfunction. Other devices, like the Apple MacBook Pro, don’t have such tight restrictions.

While we haven’t personally heard of any damage from using a USB-C charger other than the one came with your laptop, there’s always a slim risk when plugging a laptop into an unknown power source. Faulty cables can also be a problem. In short, it’s a good idea to buy cables and chargers from reputable sources, and think twice about using that cable you found laying on the ground in a conference room.

You can buy additional USB-C cables for your own security.

Your settings are important

You will also want to watch your USB-C power mode, which you can find in your laptop settings, usually in the power/battery section. Here, you may find that you can switch Type-C’s output, choosing whether to receive power or send power. If your USB-C laptop charger isn’t working when by all rights it should be, check your settings to make sure it is set to receive power.

Complex charging arrangements

Because USB-C is universal and can do multiple things at once, this allows for some unique charging circumstances. Two worth nothing are:

Charge-through: Let’s say you have a portable screen for presentations, and a laptop, both with USB-C connections that include the ability to send or receive power. Sure, you could just use that connection to send your presentation to the screen. But with the right setup, you can also use that connection to charge your laptop battery. The screen gets its power from a traditional outlet, and sends a charge out to your laptop. That means your laptop would never run out of juice in the middle of a presentation.

Portable chargers: Maybe you have a portable charger with an old USB connection, but a phone that only has a USB-C connection (which is not compatible with older USB ports). You can link the charger to a laptop that has both types of ports, and use it to power up your phone in a roundabout way. The reverse is also true, if you have a portable charge that only works with USB-C connections. It’s important to keep an eye on your settings in these laptop-to-phone connections, but with the right arrangement many exchanges are possible. It’s not the most efficient method of charging, but it does work in an emergency. Do not try to use your laptop Type C charger to charge your phone directly. The voltage requirements are too different, and multi-device chargers are still a nascent part of the market.

Adapters and limitations

The right adapters and USB-C-to-other-port cables can makes all sorts of magic happen—here’s a list of what you can do on MacBooks alone. But when it comes to charging your laptop, stick with the simplest configuration possible. The other adapters are useful for transferring data in older drives or supporting HDMI, etc., but don’t have a place when it comes to charging. Also keep in mind that not all USB-C ports can charge. The laptop must be configured for charging via Type-C for this process to work.




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