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USB has long been the standard for charging mobile devices, because having a common connector reduces eWaste and allows people to use the same cables with all their gadgets. However, up unti this summer, when the USB Implementer's Forum announced its new USB Power Delivery Standard, the idea of juicing an entire laptop over this common connection was little more than a bus-powered pipe dream. To show just how well this new technology can work, at CES, the USB-IF demonstrated a notebook that gets its power and transfers data over one single USB wire.
At the organization's tablet at CES Unveiled, CEO Jeff Ravencraft showed off an old Dell laptop that had been modified so that its power connector was replaced with a USB port that supports USB Power Delivery. A normal-looking USB cable ran from that port to a Lenovo ThinkVision monitor that had been modified to send power out.
The notebook was drawing all of its power from the monitor over that cable while it also sent an HD video to the monitor over the same cable. Ravencraft explained that this demo show cases USB Power Delivery's ability to move data and up to 100 watts of power back and forth along the same cable. This particular monitor was able to play USB video because it has a DisplayLink chip installed (DisplayLink makes the chips for USB monitors), but the same type of power / data swap could occur with a different peripheral like a hard drive or printer.
Because the power supply was located inside the monitor, there was no need to provide a power brick for the laptop. However, if you were not plugged in through the monitor, you could still need an AC adapter that will probably be the same size as today's power bricks.
The big difference is that you would be able to use that brick and cable with any USB Power Delivery-capable notebook, allowing you to purchase a replacement from anywhere and reuse the same adapter after you've disposed of your computer. Docking stations would only need one universal cable to provide charging and a hub for any notebook.
In Europe, regulations require cell phone makers to use microUSB ports so those wires can be recycled on to the next device you buy. Perhaps the EU wll someday force laptop-makers to standardize on USB Power Delivery. As a company where we deal with hundreds of laptops a year that have different power connectors and bricks, we can only hope.
Ravencraft said he expects USB Power Delivery-capable peripherals to arrive sometime in late 2013 with compatible laptops launching in 2014. No word yet on how many vendors will support the standard.