USB-C charging laptops: Here’s what you need to know

The arrival of USB-C and USB-C laptop chargers has been a game-changer for many electronic devices. You can use the connection to charge devices and transfer media, and it’s easily reversible. The best laptops no longer need a big power unit — you can just use USB-C. But there are some precautions to take when charging via USB-C. Here’s everything you need to know.

USB charging and laptops

Close-up of the USB-C ports on a Macbook Pro.
VVVproduct / Shutterstock

You may have already used USB connections to charge smaller devices either from your computer or from an outlet. This works well because earlier USB connections had enough electrical energy to successfully power those tiny batteries. Previous versions of USB could only handle a limited amount of power, which is why laptop chargers usually kept their larger cables.

USB-C is not that. This type of connection now provides enough power to power most laptops (especially 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.

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

USB-C chargers run on many different devices, so they aren’t strictly ported to laptops. Newer phones use USB-C charging, car chargers may come with USB-C ports, and portable chargers (discussed below) can have USB-C options. But laptops tend to get USB-C more frequently than other devices, at least for now.

Will any outlet work with any charger?

Close-up of the USB-C cable.

USB-C is a global charging standard. This means that technically it doesn’t matter which USB-C charger you use — it should be able to power a laptop with a USB-C charging port and power bank. In the real world, this takes a while to materialize. Today, the majority of portable USB-C chargers are interchangeable, but not guaranteed.

Some laptops come with USB-C ports that don’t charge. This is most common on laptops that came with their own charger – although a number of laptops can be charged either way, only the right charger tends to power up the laptop more quickly. The Samsung Notebook 9 is a case in point, as is the 2019 HP Envy 13. If you’re not sure exactly how to charge your laptop, check the manufacturer’s website, or find a review of the system here at Digital Trends.

At the same time, laptops that rely entirely on USB-C may not charge with any charger. PCWorld, in its testing, found that HP’s Specter x2 wouldn’t charge with any USB-C charger besides its own. HP said that was intentional because a bad charger could damage the device or cause it to malfunction. Other devices, such as the Apple MacBook Pro, do not have such strict restrictions – a new USB-C authentication system may help solve this problem in the near future.

While we’ve never personally heard of any harm from using a USB-C charger other than the one that came with your laptop, there’s always a small risk when plugging a laptop into an unknown power source. Faulty cables can also be a problem. Microsoft acknowledges this by telling you Can Charge your Surface using the USB-C port, but it is highly recommended to use the Surface charger that came with your laptop because a USB-C charger will end up running very slowly due to how power is measured inside the device. In short, it’s a good idea to buy cables and chargers from trusted sources and think twice about using that cable you found lying on the floor in a conference room.

You can purchase additional USB-C cables for your security.

Your settings are important

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

complex shipping arrangements

A USB-C U Cable (Ravpower C to C Cable) connects to your MacBook and an external battery power bank.

Since USB-C is universal and can do multiple things at once, this allows for some unique charging conditions. Two noteworthy are:

passes through: Today’s shipping centers also offer something called pass-through charging. This refers to a hub that can connect multiple USB peripherals to a laptop computer while also charging that laptop’s battery. Basically, it’s a mix between a hub and a USB-C charging cable, so you don’t need two different USB-C ports for every task. The HooToo 6-in-1 USB-C Hub is a good example of this technology. There are other innovative options as well, such as sending the video to an external monitor while also making sure to charge the laptop during the presentation.

Portable chargers: Maybe you have a portable charger with an old USB connection but you have a phone that only has a USB-C connection (which is not compatible with older USB ports). You can hook up the charger to a laptop that has both types of ports, and use it to power your phone in a roundabout way. Do not try to use your Type C laptop charger to charge your phone directly. Voltage requirements vary widely for most devices currently available, and multi-device chargers are still an emerging part of the market.

USB-C and USB4.0

USB-C describes the physical standard for creating USB cables (as did USB-A, etc.), while the standards follow Preparation Instead of messages describe the data capabilities of the connection. The latest standard here is USB4, which dictates many of the current capabilities of the latest USB-C devices. This includes a minimum charging power of 7.5W, up to 100W, support for a variety of displays with no minimum requirements, 20Gbps data speeds, and more. This is a significant improvement over USB3, which had significantly lower charging power and data speeds.

USB-C and Thunderbolt

Thunderbolt 3 USB-C cable input and output ports.

There is a variant of USB-C that is much more powerful – Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 4 technologies are usually indicated by a small lightning bolt logo by the port or cable. Thunderbolt uses additional technology to amplify the capabilities of USB-C in a number of ways.

Thunderbolt 3/4 is up to 2 times faster than the latest USB standard at 40Gbps. Thunderbolt 3 can also support multiple 4K displays at 60 frames per second (fps), “tether” up to six devices together, and offer other useful additions for gamers, teachers, and many other devices. Thunderbolt 4 increases the number of external monitors supported, the cable length with which Thunderbolt can maintain its speeds, and uses DMA (Direct Memory Access) security protection, among other useful upgrades. When it comes to charging, Thunderbolt delivers at least 15W and up to 100W of charging power, which is a higher threshold than USB4.

So why isn’t every USB-C port considered a Thunderbolt port, too? Well, this is not always practical. Not everyone needs Thunderbolt, and not all devices support it. The hardware included costs more and can drive up hardware prices, which manufacturers may want to avoid. But if you want the best USB-C performance, it’s definitely a standard worth looking into.

for Apple users

An Apple Lightning cable connected to an iPhone.
Nomad Lightning Cable

Apple users should know that they aren’t immune to the USB-C transition we’re seeing. Currently, Apple uses Lightning cables to charge iOS, which is a special design that is separated from all Apple mobile phone charging accessories. The company has already switched to USB-C charging for its MacBooks, and today’s iPad Pro also uses USB-C charging. iPhones and iPads are currently unique in their reliance on the Lightning cable.

Apple will have to reimagine its current Lightning cable situation to meet the EU’s latest requirement that phones use USB-C charging globally, which should be in place by the end of 2024. Apple isn’t going to give up the European market, and the iPhone 15, in turn, is likely to shift away. Just like Lightning cables and a USB-C connection. It remains to be seen if that will affect Apple’s charging capabilities.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do all USB-C ports allow charging?

Although USB-C is becoming more popular as the go-to standard for charging, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all USB-C ports allow charging.

There are certain laptops—generally systems that come with their own charger—that feature USB-C ports that don’t offer charging capabilities.

Can I charge my laptop via USB-C?

Generally speaking, if your laptop has a USB-C charging feature, you should have no problem charging your system via USB-C. However, some mobile phone systems (laptops and netbooks) require you to use a specific cable that is designed exclusively to be compatible with that system.

Is USB-C charging better?

USB-C charging is better than any other alternative charging platform. Because of the standard’s advanced technical capabilities, using USB-C charging for your system means that it will generally charge it faster than, say, a regular power cable.

For example, a USB Type-C cable that delivered up to 240W of power was unveiled last year, which is unheard of for USB-C. It just goes to show the possibilities that USB-C brings with it.

Could USB-C let you charge your laptop without a charger?

Yes and no. Equipping your notebook or laptop comes with a specially designed USB-C port to provide charging support, then you can charge it without a regular charger. However, as we mentioned above, not all laptops offer USB-C ports that you can use to charge your device.

Editors’ recommendations

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *