Ah, USB Power Delivery, my favourite part of the new USB-C specification. Finally, high-speed charging through reversible USB cables! It’s great to see more hackers using USB PD in their USB-C designs, and this is a nifty little charging upgrade for Lenovo Thinkpad laptops. The downsides of older laptop charging systems are having a proprietary cable, and the fragility of barrel connectors over time. Using USB-C as a laptop charging cable is a great idea, which many modern laptops have started to incorporate. But why not bring that new technology to existing laptops?
Many laptops end up with broken or worn-out charging cables (you should see mine — it’s a big mess of heat shrink and hot glue). A replacement power supply from the manufacturer can be as much as $150! Using third-party power supplies is possible with some manufacturers, but my Dell laptop has a secret serial connection to the charger, which it uses to query and find out if the charger is genuine. If it doesn’t respond, or if the cable breaks (grumble grumble) the laptop will run at a reduced clock speed, and it won’t charge the battery. What a pain!
Luckily, Handy Tools of Taiwan has created this replacement module that converts a range of laptop charging ports to USB-C. It is aimed at the Thinkpad X220 and X230, but there are a variety of different Lenovo laptops that use the same power connector. Be sure to check the power rating of your existing power brick and order the correct replacement! You will also need to pick up a USB-C wall adapter that supports Power Delivery at the voltage and current your device needs. These are becoming more common, and prices are falling, so that shouldn’t be too difficult! Note that Handy Tools also offers a similar replacement module for another range of Lenovo laptops. Very cool!
If you are curious about the Power Delivery spec, I highly recommend checking out the USB Implementer’s Forum PDF about Power Delivery. It’s amazing to me that they have released this spec for free — no yearly fees for access to their specs! This enables hackers like Handy Tools to easily create devices which can interface with existing USB PD chargers and take advantage of their flexible output voltages.