Technology Explained

USB PD Explained: How Power Delivery Chargers Work

Simon Batt 29-01-2020

There are plenty of different charging methods for phones and gadgets, and USB-PD is one that’s catching on quickly. In fact, very soon, the Android phones you find on the shelves will all be using this technology to charge faster.

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So, what is USB-PD, and how does it help you?

What Is USB-PD?

The USB part of USB-PD stands for “Universal Serial Bus.” It should be familiar to you because this is the same technology that lets you plug in mice, keyboards, and other peripherals into your computer. The PD part, however, is the new bit that stands for “Power Delivery.”

So, what is power delivery, and what does it do? Its goal is to charge your gadgets faster than regular USB. It uses the USB-C format, which a lot of modern-day devices currently use. If “USB-C” means nothing to you, be sure to read about the different USB cable types and how they differ Understand USB Cable Types and Which One to Use Why are there so many different USB cable types? Learn the differences between USB connector types and how to buy the best cable. Read More .

A USB-PD charger can charge devices with requirements up to 100 watts, which can power some pretty heavy-duty USB-C devices. Of course, if you plugged a 100-watt cable into your phone, it’s likely to do more harm than good! That’s why the cable “listens” to the device’s wattage needs and adjusts its energy flow to suit.

With USB-C’s universal standard combined with USB-PD’s adaptable power output, you get a cable that can plug into and adequately charge a wide range of devices.

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Why USB-PD Is Important

So, why are we talking about USB-PD specifically? After all, if you take a look at the other fast charging technologies out there, you’ll see there’s plenty of competition. USB-PD will have to contest with Qualcomm’s Quick Charge, Huawei’s SuperCharge, and Samsung’s Adaptive Fast Charging technologies—to name but a few.

Removing Proprietary Barriers and Reducing Waste

The problem with these technologies, however, is that they’re proprietary. The manufacturers made them to charge their own devices, and nothing else. For example, a Qualcomm Quick Charge charger will do a great job with a phone designed to use it, but it won’t play nice with a Samsung device that uses Adaptive Fast Charging.

Things get messier if your Qualcomm-enabled phone breaks, and you replace it with a Samsung phone. Now your Qualcomm charger doesn’t fit your new phone’s specifications, so you use Samsung’s fast charger instead. You don’t need the Qualcomm one anymore, so you throw it away.

This is a significant problem with having a market flooded with proprietary charging methods. As technologies come and go, people throw out the old chargers and cables that don’t work anymore, which adds to the amount of technological waste generated.

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USB-PD aims to put a stop to this by introducing a new standard. You use a USB-PD charger to charge your phone quickly, then use the same charger to power a phone made by a different company, or even something bigger like a portable games console.

It doesn’t matter how small or large the device is, or who manufactured it, because the charger always adjusts its output to meet the device’s demand.

USB-PD Uses Two-Way Charging

Now let’s take one step further and imagine that the cable can direct power either way. Instead of having devices that only charge and devices that only receive a charge, any USB-PD device can either accept or give out energy. This handy feature means less messing around with different charger types, and more devices “piggybacking” off of other USB-PD devices.

In the video above, Josh Averyt covers an example of a monitor connected to a laptop via USB-PD. The USB-C cable also has DisplayPort, which allows transmission of screens. When the monitor is plugged into the mains then connected via USB-C to the laptop, the monitor displays what the laptop is showing and also charges the laptop’s battery.

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This is why USB-PD is so essential; it has the potential to de-tangle the world of fast-charging technology and make a single, simple solution for consumers and manufacturers alike.

Will USB-PD Take Off in the Future?

This all sounds well and good, but it is another charging standard in a sea full of proprietary chargers. As XKCD succinctly puts it, what’s stopping USB-PD from being lost in the sea of chargers?

If you like the sound of USB-PD, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s not just a fad. Proof of this comes from a Digital News article, which reveals that Google wants all future Android phones to support USB-C PD out of the box.

As such, USB-PD won’t just be a luxury charging method—it’ll soon be a standard across Android devices.

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How Do You Utilize USB-PD?

So if you want to use this new technology, how do you get started?  To get USB-PD recharge speeds, you need both a charger and a device that supports USB-PD. As such, you need to double-check that everything can use USB-PD before you get started.

For your devices, check their manuals and specifications to check if they support USB-PD. It’s worth doing some research into your device’s compatibility, as some will support USB-PD but aren’t compliant with USB-C.

For example, the Nintendo Switch uses USB-PD and plays well if you use its official dock or branded charger. However, as a Reddit post points out, it’s not compliant with the USB standard. As such, third-party chargers using USB-PD may burn out the Switch, as reported by Ars Technica.

A USB charger with USB-PD ports
Image Credit: Aaron Yoo/Flickr

As for your chargers, you may already own a USB-PD compatible charger. If you own a USB hub and wonder what the “PD” charging ports are for, they’re unique ports that fit USB-PD’s specifications. You can use these ports to charge your USB-PD devices faster.

If you don’t own one, they’re easy to find in electronic stores. Just look for a charger with a port labeled “USB-PD” or only “PD” and use that port to charge your devices.

Are Fast Chargers Safe?

With all this talk about proprietary chargers and different power levels, you might worry about mixing and matching USB charging cables. If you accidentally plug in a Samsung fast charger into a phone that doesn’t accept it, will it fry the electronics?

There’s a lot to take in about fast chargers. If you’re confused, try the best USB-C chargers, what’s safe, and what’s dangerous The Best USB-C Chargers: What's Safe and What's Dangerous? What are the best USB-C chargers? Benson Leung and Nathan-K's roundup of the best chargers on today's market can be complex to read. Fortunately, we've simplified it for you! Read More .

Embracing the Future of USB-PD

USB-PD seems confusing at first, and perhaps even unnecessary. However, if developers adopt this standard on their devices, we’ll soon see a future of fast USB charging that works on the majority of gadgets and can charge either way.

If you want to try USB-PD right now, take a look at the best Thunderbolt 3 docks for a MacBook Pro The 8 Best Thunderbolt 3 Docks for Your MacBook Pro Need a MacBook Pro docking station? These Thunderbolt 3 docks turn your laptop into a productivity powerhouse. Read More , some of which have USB-PD ports.

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