USB-C 2.1 to Support 240 Watts of Power

Posted on May 26, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Hardware, Mobile with 35 Comments

The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) has announced a major update to the USB-C standard that more than doubles its power capacity. The change will be a boon to coming portable PCs with higher power requirements.

“With the continued success of the USB interface, there exists a need to adapt USB technology to serve newer computing platforms and devices as they trend toward smaller, thinner, and lighter form-factors,” the USB-IF writes in its specification document for new USB-C receptacles, plugs, and cables. “This specification is to establish a new USB connector ecosystem that addresses the evolving needs of platforms and devices while retaining all of the functional benefits of USB that form the basis for this most popular of computing device interconnects.”

Currently, USB-C supports delivering up to 100 watts of power, which is fine for most portable PCs, like Ultrabooks, which typically require 45- or 65-watts of power. But this limitation falls short for more powerful computers, which continue to use proprietary power plugs.

In the future, new PCs and other devices can use USB-C 2.1 to solve this problem, as PCs based on this standard will be able to deliver up to 240-watts of power. Obviously, this capability only applies to new hardware, and it will require new USB-C 2.1 cables. But once the transition is complete, more users will be able to bring a single charger that works with all their devices. (This is true today if you’re using an Ultrabook-class PC, most tablets, and an Android handset; Apple today still uses its proprietary Lightning connector on iPhones and some iPads.)

To avoid confusion and potential mishaps, the USB-IF says that USB-C 2.1 compatible products will be electronically marked to correctly identify themselves to other electronic devices.

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Comments (35)

35 responses to “USB-C 2.1 to Support 240 Watts of Power”

  1. simont

    While this is a good thing, its just another way people will get confused with USB. As if USB 3.0, 3.1 Gen 1, 3.1 gen2, USB 4, etc.


    The cables and ports need to be clearly marked and a different colour so people can easily see the difference.

    • truerock2

      The problem is you would need like over 100 colors:


      A USB-C cable may or may not support some of these protocols:

        USB 1.1

        USB 2.0

        USB 3.1 Gen 1

        USB 3.1 Gen 2

        USB 3.2

        USB4

        Thunderbolt 2

        Thunderbolt 3

        Thunderbolt 4


      A USB-C cable may or may not support some of these power specs:

        none

        3.0 amps

        5.0 amps

      100 watts

      240 watts

      ??? watts


      A USB-C cable may or may not support:

        Passive

        Active


      A USB-C cable may or may not support various Alternate Modes:

        DisplayPort

        Thunderbolt

        HDMI

        MHL


      So, make sure you have a good selection of 50 or so USB-C cables to fit whatever random situation you might encounter.


      So, maybe use only USB-C 2.1 cables that sup[port Thunderbolt4 and DisplayPort Alternative Mode 2.0

      Which will cost... oh... around $50?

      • geoff

        Aint backwards compatibility grand?


        Just plug it in, and let the devices negotiate the maximum specification that they both support.


        240 Watts is a heater, not a computer, but I guess there will always be some situation where somebody, somewhere, wants 'more', so make the ceiling 240 Watts and that conversation disappears altogether.

      • Usman

        Also, the choice of the protocol will limit the length of the Type C cable, as it does currently, 2 meters is the longest length of cable you can get that will be feature rich.


        If you want a longer power cable, it will be at USB 2 speeds. If you want all the bells and whistles of TH3/USB4/TH4 and 240W charging, it will be a maximum of meters in length.

      • retcable

        I thought that USB-C was supposed to be the be-all/end-all standard, where every cable would be capable of every function that the port was capable of. At least that was what they hype told us when the standard was introduced, but the fact is and was that nothing could be farther from the truth. USB-C is a complete nightmare of incompatibility and not even this new "standard" is going to fix it. At least when I plug a Lightning cable into my device, no matter what device that would be, that that cable is perfectly capable of doing whatever it is that I want to do with the connected device. THAT is what a "standard" is supposed to be.

      • Lauren Glenn

        "Let's make it so everything has just one plug!", says EU


        (in implementation)... "but my cable doesn't support my device... how will I know if it works or not? We need different plugs to know the difference...." An endless cycle.

    • ebraiter

      Yellow with pink dots. :-)

      Seriously, what will be the theoretical transfer speeds for data?

      Seen plenty of cheap knock off USB keys that claim to be 3.1 but crawl not much faster than 2.0.

  2. glenn8878

    It makes sense if it replaces the laptop power adapter. Also, what if the new USB-C 2.1 can also deliver data. It can deliver internet, thus removing the need for the ethernet cable. This will likely pertain to Desktop computers. There's nothing proprietary about a Desktop computer power cable.

    After the USB-C standard, they just can't stop putting out even newer standards. I wish there's only one USB cable, but that's unlikely.

  3. crunchyfrog

    This news is electrifying.

  4. wunderbar

    Aside from workstation/gaming laptops being able to use USB-C for power, I think the biggest advantage out of this is going to come from things like docks/monitors and the flexibility that it provides.


    You could power a whole chain of devices from a single USB-C connection, or one power brick with multiple ports that can go up to 240W total. My go to charger right now is a 100W charger that has 2 USB-C ports and 2 USB-A ports. Across all 4 it can provide 100W of power, but with 240W capabilities that could mean I could charge, say, a 65W laptop, a 30W iPad, and a 45W phone and still have100W of power to spare.


    you could also see things like monitors and USB docks with 240W of USB-C power.


    It could mean huge amounts of flexibility, which is the exciting thing to me.

  5. red.radar

    240watts at standard laptop voltages of 20v dc is a fair amount of current. I wonder if we see things increase to POE levels of voltage (48v) so they keep the cables from getting stiff short and thick.



    • SvenJ

      I am getting as bit concerned by the cable requirements too. at 24v that's 10 Amps. That's lamp cord territory. 20 Amps at 12v. Much more and we are going to be able to jump our cars with USB-C, but you're not going to like the cable.

      • red.radar

        I bet they are counting on the cable being short because of the signal integrity requirements for thunderbolt 3.


        Which limits the routing and organization you can achieve. I am guessing the market is moving to docks being built into monitors and the machine will have a footprint near the monitor.


        we are loosing some flexibility with high speed data and wattage requirements existing on the same cable.

  6. mattbg

    With so many variations, plugs, data rates, and power delivery speds in play, at what point do we stop calling this whole bag of fun the Universal Serial Bus?

  7. MutualCore

    Great, super fast charging and fire hazard! This is not going to end well.

  8. kingpcgeek

    How about a do-over and just call this USB-D? USB-C means way too many things now.

    • Lauren Glenn

      Or why not differentiate the cable slightly like they did with USB 3 even in the micro USB-3 cable so you can tell the difference and also still use micro USB-2 cable without the extra pins?


      Fortunately, thunderbolt cables have a thunderbolt on them... it's better than nothing for now.

  9. hrlngrv

    Call me a pessimist, but I have to wonder how many cables passing that much power will start fires. Are users really going to welcome thicker cables for greater safety? Being a cynic and a misanthrope when it comes to technology, I have my doubts.

    • mattbg

      I trust the authorized technology, but I do wonder about what happens with fakes as the power carrying capacity goes up.

    • Lauren Glenn

      OK, but even after hooking up an amp in my car, a nice 12 gauge cable delivering 12v and using 15A of power = 180W.... I didn't smell any insulation burning off.


      But I get your point. At what point do we add fuses into the USB-C lines in case of such power draws?

  10. jchampeau

    What would a PC deliver 240 watts to?

    • dannygt

      docking station, etc

    • mog0

      It's more likely to be something delivering 240W TO a PC.

      For example, my Legion Y740 has a 230W power brick with a proprietary connector. In the future they could put a USBC plug on the end of it and it could be used to charge phones, tablets, etc. as well.


      Of course, the power brick is enormous and weighs more than some Ultrabooks so wouldn't imagine 240W power supplies would be too common, even with this spec allowing it.

    • MikeCerm

      Itself. 50 watts for a CPU (though Intel's latest will actually go higher than that while boosting), 150 watts for a gaming GPU, with a little headroom for everything else.

    • Greg Green

      External graphics cards my first thought.

    • rob_segal

      Dedicated graphics. This would allow gaming laptops to use standard usb-c chargers instead of a manufacturer's proprietary plug connection.

    • SvenJ

      Yea, I don't think laptops are going to be 'delivering 240W'. At least not for long.

  11. lvthunder

    This may be a dumb question, but I'm going to ask it anyway. My new iPad came with a 20-watt charger and my MacBook Air came with a 30-watt charger. Would it damage the iPad in any way if I used the 30-watt charger to charge it?

    • Paul Thurrott

      No, that will work fine.
    • Lauren Glenn

      You may be confusing voltage and wattage... If it can negotiate voltage and deliver that, you're fine. But much like how you can have 2.4A USB ports and plug a device that draws only 0.5A from it without issue, if it delivered out only 9V instead of the 5V you want, then you'd have problems. The ability to deliver 2.4A of current doesn't mean it will get that much. But unless you have circuitry in the device to cut off those excess volts coming in, you'll probably do some damage.


      I would think you'd be fine if it's USB-C which can negotiate accordingly.

    • mattbg

      I regularly use my 65W Lenovo USB-C laptop brick to charge my iPad Pro using USB-C.

    • wunderbar

      No. the devices will only charge at the maximum speed they are capable.

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