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Proprietary laptop cables could be a thing of the past, thanks to new USB-C spec

Dell XPS 15 power brick
Dell XPS 15 power brick (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • USB-C cables could support up to 240W charging at some point in the future.
  • The USB Implementers Forum outlines the new spec, known as Extended Power Range.
  • Powerful laptops can draw more power than the current USB-C spec, making them need proprietary chargers.

While many modern laptops have USB-C ports that support charging, more powerful laptops like the Surface Book 3 and the best gaming laptops need proprietary chargers. These powerful laptops draw more power than the current USB-C standard supports, making proprietary hardware necessary. That could all change soon, thanks to a new specification from the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF).

The 2.1 update from the USB-IF pushes the power spec of USB-C up to 240W (via Tom's Hardware). It could be years before we see any cables and devices that support that much power, but when it does arrive, it could allow more powerful laptops to rely on universal cables rather than proprietary chargers.

Cables with the higher wattage will be designated as Extended Power Range cables. They will have to meet additional requirements that allow them to support higher voltage. The specification states:

All EPR cables shall be Electronically Marked and include EPR-specific information in the eMarker as defined by the USB PD specification. As defined in the USB PD specification, EPR cables are marked as 50 V and 5 A capable.All EPR cables shall be visibly identified with EPR cable identification icons as defined by the USB-IF. This is required so that end users will be able to confirm visually that the cable supports up to as high of PDP = 240W as defined in the USB PD specification.

Even in cases where powerful laptops support USB-C charging, they can draw more power than they can take in through USB-C. For example, the Surface Book 3 comes with a 127W charger to meet power demands. In contrast, the Surface Book 2 has a 102W charger, which can drain even while plugged in.

Specifications like this often take years to implement, but it will be nice to be able to use USB-C cables for powerful laptops.

Sean Endicott
Sean Endicott

Sean Endicott is the news writer for Windows Central. If it runs Windows, is made by Microsoft, or has anything to do with either, he's on it. Sean's been with Windows Central since 2017 and is also our resident app expert. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at sean.endicott@futurenet.com.

4 Comments
  • Really overdue, but I'm glad that it's finally happening. The hardest part will be sifting through the thousands of low quality cables online to find manufacturers that actually implement it correctly. CableMatters, Anker, and Aukey are all fairly reliable, but the majority of consumers just buy whatever is cheapest and then feel disappointed or angry when they get a cable that doesn't properly implement the spec that was advertised.
  • Caveat emptor. You get what you pay for. Ciest la vie. and all kinds of other sayings for those who "just buy whatever is cheapest" The same holds true for any other product.
  • No need for another proprietary cable? Yet this will just be another variant of the many usb-c cables that look exactly the same (probably stiffer) but adds to the confusion and will be the most expensive. I like the idea of the universal cable, but is it really universal if one doesn't do the same job as another?
  • While USB-IF is at it, they should really simplify their naming conventions... it's gotten way out of hand now... 😶