Gaming laptops that use USB-C PD 3.1 for power?

Nerva72

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Feb 18, 2016
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It's long past time to retire my 10+ year old PC, and I'm considering replacing it with a gaming laptop that connects a 4k monitor and HDMI surround sound, but I'd really like to do it all via Thunderbolt 4 and powered thru USB-C PD 3.1 rather than yet another proprietary powerbrick with a DC connector. I'm wondering are there any gaming laptops that do that yet, and if not, how far away are we from finally ditching DC power connectors in favor of standardized USB-C PD?
 

Nerva72

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Feb 18, 2016
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So do you want us to look for you, or you do it yourself?
I'm asking if there are people in this forum who have been following the gaming laptop market enough to be able to weigh-in on whether there are laptops with the USB-C charging I'm talking about, and if there aren't many options yet, based on their knowledge of the industry, do they think such laptops are on the way, or do they think the industry has no incentive to actually bother with making anything like that. I have not bought a "serious" computer in 10 years (although I upgraded the GPU, RAM, and SSD about 5 years ago), and I've only owned a single "laptop" in my life, which is a simple 2-in-1 that's just for web-browsing and watching TV shows, nothing that requires any processor/GPU power. So, I've started from scratch and have read about half a dozen "best gaming laptops of 2022" articles to try and get a feel for where the tech is at, and looked into USB-C charging (which my 2-in-1 has, and I find convenient), and discovered that rather than the limit being 100W (like my 2-in-1) the new PD 3.1 can go up to 240W, which would seem to be more viable for a decent gaming rig. But, I'm not seeing it mentioned in the articles I've read so far, so I'm wondering if that's because it just doesn't exist yet, or if it's in the process of being introduced, or if it's a flop.
 

GotNoRice

[H]F Junkie
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Jul 11, 2001
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11,391
This really sounds like a recipe for trouble. USB is great in terms of maintaining general compatibility, but it's usually more difficult than it should be to get things working with latest standards. You would not just need a laptop that supported it, but you would need a cable and charger that supported it also, both of which are still pretty rare at this point. 240w requires 48V!, mostly because the tiny cables can't handle more than 5 amps so the only other way to get more power is to increase the voltage. And even if every link in the chain supports the latest standard, it's still not a given that it would always work properly. USB can be pretty finicky and is very quick to back down to an older/slower standard to ensure compatibility. The need for a special USB-C PD 3.1 complaint power adapter (almost certainly larger than a phone/tablet charger) and cable means that you really aren't any better off than if you used a regular laptop power adapter. And if you are thinking about trying to do all of this through some kind of USB-C/Thunderbolt docking station, then you just quadrupled your chances of things not working correctly at the newest/fastest standard.

While many/most new laptops do support being able to be charged over USB-C, I think it's best to think of that as a backup charging method, for when the laptop is turned off, in sleep mode, or perhaps during light usage. It's nice to be able to top-off the battery on a laptop using a USB-C phone/tablet charger instead of having to get the big brick out for every little thing, but I'd hate to have to rely on that while gaming. I don't see 240w charging becoming too common because most devices (including laptops) don't require that much power, so USB chargers that support 48v 240w charging will probably be rare. But the ability to charge at ~100w should be increasingly common.
 

Nerva72

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I appreciate you taking the time to write a well-thought-out response to my question. I understand your concern with 240W, and that's sort of what my question was getting at -- OK, the standards group has declared it, but is it actually practical enough that manufacturers are relying on it? The standard came out last year, and it often takes a year for component suppliers to make compatible hardware and for laptop makers to integrate them, so it's probably too soon to judge.

Regarding 100W, I've been running my current 12" 2-in-1 off USB-C for several years now. The stock DC charger is 45W, which I never use anymore. Instead, I have two 90W USB-C chargers (home and office), along with a 100W power bank I carry, since the laptop's battery has become unreliable. What I love about the USB-C chargers is I can charge-up the laptop and then plug the cable into the power bank to recharge that (or anything else USB-C) as well. And the chargers keep getting smaller. So, USB-C at 20V definitely works. The question is the 48V standard, as you say.

I see there's an Asus gaming laptop that is 100W USB-C with a Thunderbolt docking station. What I have in mind is a higher-power version of that, where you use the docking station at home to connect your Bluray drive, big monitor, and HDMI surround-sound system, then when you're on the go, you can charge the laptop with standard USB-C chargers and power banks. Not all of them will support it, but the same was true for 20V charging. I think most car chargers don't support it, but there's probably a few now. What's nice though is my power bank has both USB-C and microUSB-B, so I can trickle-charge the power bank anywhere with microUSB and then use the power bank to extend the laptop's battery. So I'm thinking long-term, with the broader support coming years down the road, but the question is whether such a 240W gaming laptop is on sale today or even in the pipeline.
 

Bookmage

Gawd
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Sep 2, 2004
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678
The spec is too new for manufacturers to jump on board with that especially when thunderbolt 4 is just starting to roll out. TB4 spec was finalized in late 2020 and we're barely seeing TB4 laptops and devices coming out.
TB4 only supports 100w, but Dell does make 130w USBC power adapter that it's laptops can use. Dell also makes a Thunderbolt 4 docking station that puts out 130w of power. it works with the Dell G15, but it doesn't keep it completely charged... just drains slower.
I've been wondering if u could plug 2 x TB 4 @100w into a laptop could supply the power in spec...

We're probably another 1-2 years out from laptops to start supporting 240w laptops and having chip makers make specific compatible chips to handle the new USBC PD 3.1 spec. IT might not even show up until TB5 gets specd out.
This also might not really happen until 2026 because of the EU USBC law that will require laptops to have usbc chargers. This gives manufacturers 4 years to figure out how to do this for all their laptops and devices.
It's safe to say you probably want to look at a TB4 gaming laptop for all the TB4 reasons and still plan on a big power brick.

Lots of details to figure out and the industry needs to get a better handle on USBC cable quality and versions to separate out usb2/3 cables that don't support 100w or tb3+
 

Nerva72

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Feb 18, 2016
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Thanks, that's the sort of detailed, knowledgeable answer I was looking for. Have you noticed whether laptops will typically (besides the Dell example you listed) charge via USB-C if it isn't as powerful as the supplied DC charger? I ask because the one example I'm familiar with is the little 12" 2-in-1 I have, which charges just fine with a 45W USB-C charger, but it seems like it doesn't even "trickle-charge" if I plug it in all day to a car charger (typically 2.4A * 5V = 12W) with a USB-C connector -- even after a long day of driving, the battery hasn't charged at all. But that might just be my particular chintzy laptop.
 

Bookmage

Gawd
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Sep 2, 2004
Messages
678
So my experience has been more with the recent dell laptops and MacBooks. Manufacturers have gotten better about making the laptops "smart charge". IIRC, trickle charging isn't better so I don't know if that's something they really want. To maximize battery life, they say it's charge less and charge slower so it doesn't heat up as fast, or charge fast enough w/o overheating. it's a thin imaginary line...
Newer Macbooks/Mac OS will automatically only charge up to 80% of the battery and Dell laptops have a bios setting to select the type of charging/use. This lets you pick express charge which will charge quickly for users always on the go, or slow charge for always plugged in or "adaptive" where it learns and auto adjust between the 2. You can also manually set what % to charge and stop in the bios. If you install the Dell power Management software, u can change this in windows. I haven't found the same features in linux/ubuntu. (but haven't dug that much into yet. most of our linux users are grounded all the time)

All the Dell/lenovo/Apple USBC charging laptops I've used will charge via USBC power if the port is listed as such. Some of the dell gaming ones had usbc that didn't charge from it, but could be used to charge a cell phone/device (powershare). These were few since I make thunderbolt a minimum requirement now. Having thunderbolt means it can charge via usbc pd, but it might not be at full power ie 130w vs the needed 180w.

All the legacy non TB laptops I've used will charge in some fashion if its got the USBC power logo. there's a couple I have that don't, but I think the single usbc port is bad cause they're 4+ year old laptops.

I usually use a USBc power bank on the go and let that slowly drain down over leaving it plugged into the car when I do need to use it on the go. i try to let things run down to %40-50 before plugging in to charge. Some of the noname car charges I've used don't work unless there's an actual power draw or something, so it doesn't trickle...




One other tidbit... TB3 docking stations were a hit and miss of the Thunderbolt 3 chipset that was used at first. It only supported TB3 so they needed another chipset to do USB 3.x. So the earlier TB3 docking stations would appear to not work on non TB3 laptops. some laptops also only used 2 lanes instead of 4 lanes so when they connected to a TB3 dock, they were limited and users thought it was broken (ie only monitor worked instead of 2). Lots of TB3 docking stations got returned as defective when they were probably working.
Some of the USBC cables also only worked with the logo facing upwards, ie top of the plug, so we got confused looks from people when we told them to flip the cable upside down...

But I know our helpdesk team had to deal with a lot of docking station issues between the different brands, but it mainly worked for us on our test devices...
The later Thunderbolt 3 7000 controller could physically switch between USb3, Thunderbolt ,and displayport so the later TB3 docking stations always worked even on non TB3 laptops. way happier, fewer issues, spent less time asking them to reboot and more time rearranging their desktop icons :-p

So the current Thunderbolt 4 controller has incorporated these lessons and has more stuff built in. https://ark.intel.com/content/www/u...2/intel-jhl8440-thunderbolt-4-controller.html
I'm hopeful they'll figure out to power the video cards over one cable, but i feel like nvidia/amd needs to make more power efficient video cards or have adaptive video cards that throttle based on power...
I feel like the compromise is still to get a just good enough gaming laptop and attach to a TB4 External GPU.

some laptops do that now, but its behind the scenes and u don't know until u benchmark it.
 
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