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The USB-C cable makes it easier to charge across different devices. Cronislaw/Getty Images Plus
I've Always Wondered ...

Why charging your laptop is getting easier 

Janet Nguyen Apr 19, 2024
The USB-C cable makes it easier to charge across different devices. Cronislaw/Getty Images Plus

This is just one of the stories from our “I’ve Always Wondered” series, where we tackle all of your questions about the world of business, no matter how big or small. Ever wondered if recycling is worth it? Or how store brands stack up against name brands? Check out more from the series here.

A listener who declined to give their name asks: 

Why do laptops not have a universal power cord? Even within the same brands the power cords are different.

It’s become a lot easier to charge your laptop over the past five years. You can thank the nonprofit USB Implementers Forum and European regulators for that. 

Laptops from Apple, HP, Dell and Microsoft allow USB-C connectors, which have become a standard connector in the industry to transmit both data and power

“You can use a single USB-C cable, and that USB-C cable can charge most laptops that are on the market,” explained Avi Greengart, president and lead analyst at the market research firm Techsponential. 

For years, you’d have to lug around different cords to charge multiple devices. But the USB-C can be considered “a game changer,” said Howie Huang, a professor of computer engineering at George Washington University. The USB Implementers Forum introduced the USB-C connector back in 2014. USB-C connectors can transfer your data quickly and can connect to your device from either direction — no flipping the plug around.

Huang said it’s become easier to charge different types of devices, not just different laptops, and the USB-C can arguably reduce the amount of e-waste consumers produce (most of which does not end up recycled). 

He noted that can now use one charger for his phone, iPad and laptop. If you don’t have a power cord on hand, you no longer have to hope your friend or co-worker has the exact same type of phone as you. 

Even Apple released its first iPhone with a USB-C port late last year after new regulations from the European Union forced its hand. The old proprietary Lightning connector kept customers using Apple products, or paying extra for third-party accessories that licensed the plug Lightning port. 

The EU mandates that all mobile phones, tablets and cameras that are sold in the region need a USB-C port by the end of this year. This rule will go into effect for laptops beginning in the spring of 2026. 

Greengart said PC manufacturers didn’t adhere to a universal standard prior to the introduction of USB-C, so they used proprietary connectors out of expediency or to lock in their customers (as we can see with Apple’s Lightning products). 

“Typically, each brand would try to stick with a single connector type, but that varied when power requirements differed greatly among different laptops in the line, or if they used different sub-contractors in the supply chain,” Greengart said.

The USB-C isn’t all-powerful, though. Greengart said that in cases where your laptop is completely dead, you might have to use the company’s own charger to revive it. Some laptops by HP, Lenovo and others require the company’s own charger to revive them. 

A 65-watt charger is good for most laptops, but some high-end models might need more than double that, said Greengart. 

To power up your laptop, Greengart said you should make sure that the charger’s wattage is compatible with your laptop. 

You can also buy chargers from third-party sellers, like Anker, or more well-known brands. 

Leave it to Big Tech to find a way to wring money out of a universal standard. Apple has its own USB-C cable, Thunderbolt 4 Pro, which comes in different sizes and can cost between $69 and $159, far more than your typical $13 USB-C cable. But those high prices also come with benefits, allowing you to transfer data and charge your devices at high speeds 

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