PD 3.1: The Next Generation of Chargers

Each year technology progresses, but the way it progresses is different every year. Next year will be the year of the chargers. These improvements to charging are largely thanks to the increased adoption of GaN chips and the new PD (Power Delivery) 3.1 standards.

This article will outline how chargers have evolved, what PD 3.1 is, and advancements are in store for the next two to three years.

USB Basics

USB, or universal serial bus, is the standard for ports, cables, and connections with which most of us are familiar. What some people don’t know is that there is an organization called the USB Implementers Forum, or USB-IF, and this group sets the standards for all of our USB devices. USB-IF separately sets standards for charging and data transfer speeds.

This article is going to focus on charging, but if you want to get more information on USB connections, you can click here. 

USB Types

Where We Have Been 

USB devices were originally envisioned primarily as a connection for peripheral devices like keyboards and mice. So, at first USB connections provided very little power. Battery Charging was the first charging protocol that USB-IF released, but it was only able to charge 25W even after two revisions.

However, USB-IF replaced Battery Charging with USB Power Delivery, which is what makes your chargers and cables work now. Most of the chargers on the market currently are PD 2.0 and PD 3.0, and this standard offers a maximum of 100W.

This has been enough for almost all electronic devices. However, in 2021 USB-IF published the PD 3.1 specifications and it is truly a game-changing update. 

UGREEN 100W GaN charger

What’s New?

This article is going to focus on three major innovations that are made possible due to the new PD 3.1 updated specifications: higher voltages, reverse charging, and more efficient charging

Higher Voltages

The biggest and most eye-catching change that comes in PD 3.1 is that it will be possible to charge at 240W. There will be fixed voltages that will supply 140W, 180W, and 240W. This means you will see more high-end devices, like gaming laptops, that will feature USB-C ports for charging.

Traditionally, if you lost a laptop charger you would be in for a frustrating time trying to replace it. That shouldn’t be the case anymore. 

Power delivery 3.1 support 240W

Reverse Charging

Something that might be overlooked is that power delivery may soon be bidirectional. Have you ever had a laptop with a full battery, but a cellphone that is running on empty?

Soon you will be able to charge your phone with your computer. It should be noted that charging a device with another device is not ideal, and a power bank is probably a better option. However, this could be very useful in an emergency. 

More Efficient than Ever

The USB-IF’s announcement about PD 3.1 demonstrates their focus on providing your devices with the exact wattage they need without any waste.

The new specifications promise to make charging multiple devices easier than ever. Multi-port chargers currently have max wattages assigned to each port when multiple ports are in use, and this can affect a device’s ability to fast charge.

Example

Let’s say you are using the UGREEN 100W GaN Charger with three USB-C ports and one USB-A port. You are charging three devices using the USB-C ports. The first port will provide 45W, the second port will provide 30W, and the third port will provide 22.5W for a total of 97.5W.

Currently, this is the way companies that make chargers arrange power distribution. This setup would be great for a MacBook Air, Google Pixel, and iPhone. But, what if you want to charge two iPhones and use the extra wattage to power a bigger computer? Right now it is impossible, but PD 3.1 should change this.

Related article: Gallium Nitride (GaN) Tech 101: Everything You Need to Know

GaN Charger charging 4 devices at once

Use Cases

Sometimes it is hard to think about how advancements in technology can impact our lives. So, we are going to supply some examples of how PD 3.1 will change charging. 

High-Performance Laptops

Most laptops do not need more than 100W, however, there are a number of laptops that are designed with graphic design or video games in mind.

The most expensive laptops currently on the market use an AC-DC adapter to charge and their chargers have a max output of 240W. The new 16” MacBook Pro comes with a 140W charging brick, but chargers at 100W.

So, the new standards will make it possible to use USB-C chargers to charge the next generation of gaming laptops.

Related article: Unleashed: Apple’s October Event All Wrapped Up

Apple Macbook 140W power adapter

Multi-port Chargers

As demands for performance and power increase, so do the capabilities of USB chargers. Soon you will see an increase in the number of chargers capable of supplying more than 100W.

These chargers will be able to supply power to multiple computers and will be great for working in small groups. In addition, these multi-port chargers should be able to supply power to smaller devices like phones and tablets as well.

Phones

According to GSMArena, the next Snapdragon chipset and Qualcomm QuickCharge will allow cell phones to charge at 150W. OPPO has also been consistently pushing the boundaries with its fast charging technology as well. The hurdle is that charging at high voltages has the potential of damaging a battery.

Still, PD 3.1 presents the possibility of faster charging and it seems like that is an area that cell phone companies see room for improvement.

More to Come

With the new specifications, there is a whole host of possibilities for devices that could use USB cables to charge.

Now that higher powers are available, it is possible that new devices related to the metaverse, the new buzzword of the year, will be developed. New items for AR, VR, design, and any number of disciplines could be improved by the ability to charge and transfer information at the same time. 

Why Has It Taken So Long?

Early we said that USB-IF released the new specifications for PD 3.1 in early 2021. So, why haven’t we seen any major products that feature 240W charging?

The truth is that there are still a lot of engineering hurdles to overcome and new specifications are just the start of the development process. There is no sense in producing a 240W charging cable if all the computers that use a Type-C charging port also charge at 65W or 100W. As high-performance computers are produced featuring USB charging, there will be new charging accessories created to complement them.

Related article: USB C vs A vs B: Which One Do You Need for Your Product?

PD 3.1: The Next Generation of Chargers

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One Reply to “PD 3.1: The Next Generation of Chargers”

  1. Some devices require current in excess of 3A. This “should” require the use if a 5A-capable “e-marker” equipped cable. Using those e-marker cables can confuse multi-protocol supplies, causing QuickCharge to not work, etc. So universal use of 5A cables may be a problem.
    Beyond that, even expensive high-end supplies often only support some arbitrary (cheap-to-build) max current capability beyond 3A, such as 4A or 4.2. Finding supplies (or power banks) that can deliver full 5A (even at modest voltage and thus power) is RARE. E.g. very few chargers or power banks can deliver the 10v and full 4.5A requested by 45w Samsung clients.
    To top it off, no source (or client that I am aware of) tells the user what charge profile or PPS values have been successfully negotiated, and DO NOT indicate when the source is failing to meet the client’s request.
    PD is supposed to allow universal charging. But that is truly hit or miss. And unless a customer buys a USB inline power meter, they will never know they are being shortchanged.

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