TechStage | Multi-USB chargers: Charge notebook, headphones and smartphone at the same time

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a mobile phone, headphones, a new Macbook, Amazon Echo or e-cigarette – more and more devices are getting their power from power supplies with a USB port. So instead of occupying the sockets everywhere in the apartment, you can use a power supply unit with several USB-C and USB-A ports. Not only are they significantly smaller than many of the supplied power adapters (if they are still included), they now manage 65 watts to 100 watts and can sometimes supply several power-hungry devices.

We show what you should pay attention to when buying, when you should use devices with a USB-C port including GaN technology and when you simply have many USB-A ports. In addition to the dedicated power supplies, we also take a look at flush-mounted sockets and multiple sockets with integrated USB ports.

GaN initially stands for gallium nitride. This is a semiconductor that has advantages over classic silicon, such as higher efficiency and lower temperatures under load. These are one of the reasons why you can use small USB power supplies with outputs of 65 or 100 watts without the devices having to be actively cooled.

After the semiconductor was mainly used in LEDs for a long time, the term is increasingly used in power supplies. Especially when the charging power is between 65 watts and 100 watts – for example to charge a newer Macbook quickly – you should use a USB power supply with GaN technology.

The most important criterion is the overall performance. If you want to charge a new Macbook Pro or a high-end Thinkpad via USB-C, you need reasonable performance. In short: The more power the notebook delivers, the more watts the power supply unit has to offer. A current Macbook Pro with an M1 chip and 8 cores comes with a 67 watt power supply, the version with a 10-core CPU comes with a 96 watt power supply. A ninth-generation Thinkpad X1 Carbon also requires 65 watts. If you have even more power, for example in a mobile workstation like the Dell Mobile Precision 3560, you will quickly reach your limits – Dell includes a 130-watt USB-C power supply with this computer.

Most “normal” notebooks with USB-C should be well supplied with a 65-watt device. However, it is worth taking a quick look at the technical data. Because the USB adapters with multiple ports cannot drive every socket with full power. That Ugreen GaN X100 is a good example. It promises 100 watts, has three USB-C and one USB-A socket. You can easily connect four devices at the same time, but then the charging power is shared between all ports. If you only plug a notebook into USB-C1 or USB-C2, you can access the full 100 W. If two ports are occupied, up to 65 watts are still possible on USB-C1, but the other connections then deliver between 30W and 22.5W. If all four ports are occupied, USB-C1 delivers a maximum of 45 watts, USB-C2 delivers 30 watts, USB-C3 and USB-A then create a maximum of 5 volts with 2.1 amps. The picture clearly explains the assignment

All other USB chargers with multiple ports work analogously. Usually there are one or two USB-C ports that bring the full charge. At the Anchor Powerport III with two USB-C ports and 65 watts, it is clearly marked with a notebook symbol. The second port is intended for smartphones, headphones, charging sockets or other USB-C devices that require significantly less charging current.

We tried both power supplies with our Thinkpad T570. The notebook is notoriously bitchy when it comes to power via USB-C. Because where a Macbook simply loads more slowly if the wattage isn’t right, our ThinkPad simply refuses to work and complains that the charging current is too low. The good news: There were no problems with either the Ugreen power adapter with 100 watts or the Anker Powerport III with 65 watts, both charged the ThinkPad.

USB-C is a standard, but only for the shape of the connector. If you take a closer look, there are names like Thunderbolt 3, Superspeed USB, USB 3.1 Gen 2 or even USB 2.0. Because yes, there are USB-C connectors for USB 2, USB 3 and the upcoming USB 4.

Fortunately, these restrictions are less interesting for loading. Because every USB-C cable charges the end device. However, for fast charging, the USB-C cable should support Power Delivery (USB PD). With this technology, the charger and consumer negotiate the maximum amount of power that can flow. If both devices cannot negotiate a higher charging voltage, the charger falls back to safe charging currents and delivers between 2.5 watts and 7.5 watts.

Although USB-C is the current standard for many end devices, most products actually easily get by with the charging current of a USB-A socket. Devices that come with a USB-A to USB-C cable in the scope of delivery will probably easily have a USB-A socket. In addition to smartphones or Bluetooth headphones, specific examples include smart home devices such as an Echo Dot 4 (test report) or surveillance cameras such as the Aqara G3 (test report) or Google Nest (test report).

So what do you do when you want to connect as many low-power USB devices as possible? You take a power supply like that Blitzwolf BW-S15 60W, which costs just under 23 euros at the time of writing. It delivers six USB-A sockets, two of them with Qualcomm Quickcharge 3.0. It delivers a total of 60 watts and we were able to use it to operate five devices such as webcams or smart displays with a USB connector in the test. There is also nothing wrong with connecting cheap USB-C to USB-A or USB-A to Apple Lightning cables. Most consumers with a battery should be able to charge it without any problems, but the performance is just too weak for notebooks.

Wouldn’t it be practical if classic flush-mounted sockets or multiple plugs came with USB ports? The good news is that there are products like this, and they’re reasonably priced. You can get a flush-mounted box with two USB-A sockets from around 10 euros. Alternatively, there are sockets with USB-C ports, they cost from around 14 euros.

Socket strips with USB ports are cheaper. Those with USB-A cost from around 7 euros. If you like, you can buy such socket strips with WLAN in order to be able to switch ports and sockets wirelessly. Such socket strips cost about 25 euros.

Power via USB is fantastic. Anyone who used to have to desperately look for special power supplies whose round plugs hopefully had the right adapter with them knows how annoying that can be. Since a USB-C power adapter with a cable is just fantastic. This is especially true when you are travelling. Instead of packing several power supplies, one of the devices presented here is sufficient, perhaps with a few alternative USB cables.

With the GaN power supplies, there is also enough power to operate or charge several devices at the same time. This is mainly exciting for laptops, or if power is to be supplied to smartphones, tablets and computers at the same time. In our test, we were able to charge two notebooks and a smartphone at the same time without any problems.

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