If you’ve been a little wary of this “universal charger” business, Inviolabs got all the info you need on the whys and hows of charging via USB-C. Take a look!
USB Charging and laptops
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 typically retained their 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 that more laptops are entering the market with USB-C charging compatibility. Eventually, you can expect the majority of laptop chargers to use the USB-C option.
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. This is most common on laptops that come with their own, proprietary charger — although a number of laptops can be charged either way, only the propriety charger tends to power up a laptop more quickly. The Samsung Notebook 9 is an example of that, as is the 2019 HP Envy 13. If you’re not sure exactly how to charge your laptop, 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 just any charger. PCWorld, in its testing, found that HP’s Spectre x2 wouldn’t charge with any USB-C charger besides its own. HP said that that was 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 — a new USB-C authentication system could help with this issue in the near future.
While we haven’t personally heard of any damage from using a USB-C charger other than the one that 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 noting 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 then 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 charger 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 make 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.
Two additional notes are worth mentioning.
First, there’s a variant of USB-C that’s a lot more powerful — Thunderbolt 3. Choose a laptop with at least one Thunderbolt 3-enabled USB-C port and you can connect multiple 4K monitors at 60Hz and greatly increase your laptop’s gaming performance via an external GPU enclosure. Second, there’s a brand-new version of USB on its way that will be even faster and provide even more standardization. Dubbed USB4, we can expect laptops with the new ports to start arriving in 2020 or so.