Laptop USB-C Charging Hack Lets You Leave The Brick At Home

At their best, laptops are a compromise design. Manufacturers go to great lengths to make the slimmest, lightest, whatever-est laptops possible, and the engineering that goes into doing so is truly amazing. But then they throw in the charger, which ends up being a huge brick with wire attached to it, and call it a day.

Does it have to be that way? Probably, but that doesn’t mean we can’t try to slim down the overall footprint of laptops at least a little. That’s what [Joe Gaz] did when he hacked his laptop to allow for USB-C charging. Tired of the charger anchoring down his HP X360, [Joe] realized that he could harvest the PCB from a USB-C charger adapter dongle and embed it inside his laptop. We’ve seen similar modifications made to Thinkpads in the past, and it’s good to see the process isn’t that far removed with other brands.

After popping open the laptop, which is always an adventure in reverse mechanical engineering, he found that removing the OEM charger jack left just enough room for the USB-C charger. Mounting the board required a 3D printed bracket, while enlarging the original hole in the side of the laptop case took some cringe-inducing work with a file. It looked like it was going to be pretty sloppy at first, but he ended up doing a pretty neat job in the end. The whole modification process is in the video below.

The end result is pretty slick — [Joe] can now carry a much more compact USB wall-wart-style charger, or eschew the charger altogether and rely on public USB charging stations. Either way, it sure beats lugging a brick around. If you’re interested in laptop hacking, or even if you just want to harvest the goodies from a defunct machine, check out this guide to laptop anatomy by our own [Arsenijs Picugins].

46 thoughts on “Laptop USB-C Charging Hack Lets You Leave The Brick At Home

    1. Terrific work there, i have no doubt you know what you’re doing, but I fear someone watching and copying it might end up shorting the metal laptop cover and sending 3A/100W though their arm.

  1. Not a great fit or particularly strong but it’s nothing that a resin mold couldn’t fix. That said, I have real questions about the efficiency of circuit. It might be fine… or it might be 60% efficiency.

      1. That would be a MUCH more difficult task. Feeding 20v into the usb bus when it wasn’t designed to handle it is and excellent way to n o longer have a usb bus. It would, at minimum, require a board to separate power back out, do a 20v to 5 v step down conversion, and pass through the data lines.. possibly adding on a usb hub controller as well. And thats a bit of micro soldering to make that work.. either exposing pads off the onboard hubs and soldering to those or to the back of the usb ports if they used a through hole connection on them. Not sure he has the room for that circuitry

          1. Yes, and no. That laptops USB system doesn’t comply with the USB c specs. That controller is most likely USB 3… Making it 5v at 1 amp max. That board he put on there was not a full USB system, it’s basically a USB trigger module

    1. It’s not the circuit on the tiny PCB that does the buck/boost, so it’s not it that determines the efficiency. The chip on it just tells the USB PD-compatible charger/powerbank what voltage it wants and it’s the charger/powerbank that does the actual buck/boost operation and therefore it’s the one that determines the efficiency.

    1. That is a bit oversimplified; X360 is broad. It applies to HP’s full lineup of convertible laptops: Spectre, Envy, and Pavilion. I do not fully know which year HP rolled out their whole line supporting USB-C PD but it didn’t start this way, so there are still many laptops without this capability, so this hack is for them. From what I have seen, it might have been around mid to late 2018 that all HP x360s got the feature. Since they are very capable laptops, chances are people are still using them 7 years or more down the line.

      Quite obviously, if you already have USB-C PD, you don’t need this at all. But even my Envy x360 from 2017 doesn’t have this built-in even though HP began including USB-C PD back in 2015 to some laptops, so I must carry a brick around with this thin laptop, so this might be in it’s future.

      1. Thumbs up to this. We don’t see the niceties nearly often enough on HaD.

        I know I personally tend to come across as a grump, simply because I lack the reflex. Thanks for the reminder-by-example :)

  2. With a gappy hole like that and using 3d prints, he should have just filed the whole hole at the largest offset to be equidistant all around and print a sleeve to capture/frame the whole connector and fill the gap. More anchored that way and no silly gaps.
    his print looks opaque blue, could throw in an LED to light up the border

    1. This was my first thought too; the filing work is well done in the end but still feels “off” due to the leftover barrel plug hole.

      With that said, my approach to the issue would have been completely different. I would rather not mod the laptop itself at all, and would just make a barrel plug-to-USB-C dongle using the same converter board and a 3D-printed shell for it. No damage to the laptop, and it’s something that could be used on several different laptop models that use the same barrel plug size.

  3. x360? Hunh? I had to look it up. Oh. HP. The brand Carly sullied.
    Funny. Google tells me that “hp x360” is “268 451.954 watts”. It took me a moment.

    My Thinkpads X390, X200, X41T and X40 and the two X1s here are very upset that HP is squatting on the X moniker. My clients’ T15 and T540p are standing in solidarity too.

    1. I’ve got an X terminal here, sulking and complaining that IBM should go back to making 3270s. You’ll have to forgive it, it’s a bit senile and has forgotten the Lenovo deal.

    2. You skipped reading the article (it says HP like 5 sentences in), you wrote about not knowing what the laptop was, THEN you looked it up, typed that you looked it up into your comment, and still decided to post? What was the point of this?

  4. A USB-C power adapter that can provide the voltage required to charge a laptop will be about as clunky as the the power adapter that came with the laptop, and such general-purpose USB-C power adapters are not nearly as ubiquitous as the vanilla 5V ones.

    1. That really depends on the power requirements. I have a 100w usb C PD brick that is under 2.75″ x 2.75″ x 1.25″. My 60 watt is even smaller…

      Since my chargers plug directly into the wall, and use removeable usb c to usb c cables… packing bulk is greatly reduced vs the power brick that shipped with my dells. My 60watt is less than half the size of the dell 45 watt I have, its only 2″ x 2″ x 1.2″. My 100 watt usb c PD power brick is over an inch shorter than my 65 watt HP power brick (for my 2018 15″ x360 ironically), but only half an inch wider give or take. The difference is the HP charger has 2 cable, one permanently attached, the other is removeable.. both take up more room than my coiled usb c to c cable. The biggest difference though is that my usb c PD chargers are capable of charging my phone at 5v, 2+ amps and 12v, 1.5A (my phone is usb PD, so it will rapid charge my phone) which is a reduction of my carrying a phone charger in addition to my laptop charger. Further more it also charges my headphones at 5v, 1 amp.. I only travel with my 60 watt charger, not the 100 (that is used on my docking stations with passthrough for the laptops). My 60 watt is only .5″ thicker, but less wide and less tall than my factory charging brick on the HP. If I could post a pic it’d become pretty obvious once you look at it as to which is the easier to pack and travel with.. not just in size reduction, but cabling reduction as well (usb c to usb c cable can be used for almost all of my accessories using a usb c to usb A adapter… with 3 adapters smaller than an averaged sized thumb drive… I need that one cable and thats it for everything.. to even include my soldering iron I travel with sometimes lol). Now some laptops need more than a 100w charger.. but all of mine are less than that (older 2015 15″ mbp with adapter it charges at 100w, 2 different dell xps 100w and 45w, laptops, and my HP envy x360 from 2018 claims 65 watt, never seen it draw more than 45 watts at full load)

      By carrying a usb c pd charger.. I can charge all of my travel devices with 1 cable, one wall wart (and in the case of my laptop/phone.. my phone will rapid charge from 0% to full before my laptop battery runs out…) vs. having to carry two.

      1. Ok, link to pic.

        https://drive.google.com/file/d/1o7_bRZ3pz2kSWTxwR02ZS-EuRvcwGNAx/view?usp=sharing

        the dell branded one, barrel connector. Compatible with 1 thing, laptops. 90 watts.
        The other one, the square one.. 100w. It will charge ANY usb device that can be charged with a 5v brick or usb c PD. Compatible with most of the usb devices out there, and an increasingly large number of laptops. This one is currently in use and other than being able to access the brick to get the pic it’s usually hard wired and hidden behind my desk… The square one I pulled out of my travel bag… Luckily my dell can do both barrel and usb c charging.

        The dell.. requires a removable c5 power cord. It also has a 2 meter cable permanently attached to it for the barrel jack. I’ve gone through a few of these for one reason or another. chair rolled over the cable, cat chewed on it, kid knocks kicks the cable while it’s plugged in… I’m on my 4th brick for my laptop. None of them are particularly cheap.

        The nekteck GaN 100w charger, the square one… Plugs directly into the wall or power strip. It uses usb c to usb whatever cables. What this means.. if my kid kicks the cable, or rolls over it with a chair.. I just replace the cable with a new one. Cheap (ish.. I do ensure I’m getting usb cables rated for 100w). Those cost me 13 dollars, ish. I’m still on my first cable for these, so I had to hit amazon up for that price. I have cheap cable end adapters to convert that same charging cable from usb C to usb A, and usb micro. I literally have no devices at all that I cannot charge from that one charging brick, with the 10 ft usb c to usb c cable I travel with using these adapters. Most of them are 5v. Most of my devices actually have usb magnetic adapters, so even if the kid kicks the cable, it disconnects without any damage at all… (or if I catch a chair arm on it when I’m moving around, or snag it when I’m running other cables.. saved my rear a few times and stopped me from pulling the laptop off the desk).

        My 10 ft usb C cable … it takes up less room than just the c5 cable from the dell. it lays flatter because it doesnt have a nema 515p plug end on it.. its just a usb c cable. Other than that the usb cable takes up about the same amount of space (and is actually longer than the 2 cables combined for the dell, so I can sit further from the outlet).

        Not all is roses though for the nekteck… it requires more room around the outlet to be used. Or a small extension cord. This has never caused a problem for ME.. but it could for some.

    2. That might have been true before Gallium Nitride. I have a 65W power supply, plenty for a low spec “business” laptop, that’s no larger than the pack in charger from an iPad. The same model comes in a 100W version that’s only a bit bigger.

      Another benefit the article didn’t mention: you’ll never find a battery bank that plugs right into your barrel chargers, but plenty of them support USB PD.

    3. Perhaps, but now you can carry just one charger around and use it with your phone and tablet, if new enough. I did that with my last thin-and-light laptop using the usb charger that came with it. At least untill I needed a more powerful (and correspondingly power-hungry) laptop, I could and did get away with “one charger to rule them all.”

      1. It’s worth pointing out that many laptops that *natively* support PD will accept a charger with a lower rating than the full pack-in wattage. I wouldn’t try it with a setup like the one in the OP — the barrel connector likely expects exactly one voltage/current input and I’d expect it to be unhappy with anything else — but I have a couple of laptops that are new enough to ship with PD support advertised on the box, and they have all been OK with my 65W supply. (Windows shows a “slow charger” warning, but it discharges notably slower when in use, and will charge to full eventually while asleep.)

          1. I haven’t seen what voltage they claim to support, I’ve only gone by wattage. As an example, I have a laptop with a 200+W pack in barrel charger, which claims to accept PD up to 100 or 105W. My 65W charger works great, and I think maybe I tried it with 40W at one point. All the other chargers I have are not PD, they’re “Quick Charge” or some other standard — my “15W” phone chargers do nothing. I suspect you’re right, and the difference is that the “PD” ones can go up to 20V.

          2. @thw0rted

            I get what you’re saying.. I read power rating and instantly thought voltage, which is wrong.

            Watts.. yes, wattage is a different story. They’ll all negotiate to 20v and pull up to x amps … my 60W can give up to 3A, my 100w up to 5A (was the top available at the time lol). PD has JUST been expanded in the last year or so to go up to 240 watts now though.. I’ve not seen anything actually supporting it yet.

            PD is actually variable volt, variable wattage. PD2 was 5, 9,12,15, and 20v.. with amperage varying by millivolts. I believe pd 3 is even more flexible when it comes to allowed voltages.

            Phone chargers are rarely PD, most are qualcomm’s QC (quickcharge). That’s also variable voltage and amperage, but it’s negotiated differently. It also supports up to 20v, but not all chargers do, nor do all devices. They get plugged in, go to 5v, and then voltage negotiation begins.. PD works over usb C at the charger end, and am very sure it’s usb c to usb c only… qc is compatible with usb A to usb c.. so it must be using a different pin to negotiate the voltage. Anyways, they do a handshake, and once they have both said we support x, y, and z volts at xx,yy,and zz amps, they choose the highest available that is common to the charger and the device. Not many phones run up to 20v.. most are 9v, 2 Amps. There are some pushing out 30 watts tho.. but most are 18 watt chargers. It’s possible your phone chargers are QC instead, which isn’t compatible with pd, unfortunately.

            That all said, as long as the device isn’t actually PULLING more than the charger can supply, it should at least slowly charge from a lower rated brick… My HP laptop does this. it’s factory brick is a barrel type 65 watt. When I discovered it did PD, I immediately went and got my 60 watt charger. Works fine. Highest I’ve ever seen the laptop try and pull was 45-50 watts. My charger keeps up just fine. BUT we tried the same 60W charger on a mac that was using a 100w usb c trigger.. and it would just keep trying to perform voltage / amperage negotiation and failing, and restart the process. The trigger board was saying it needed 100w, period. My charger was like, welp, can’t help ya there. Thats when I went back and bought the 100w charger from the same company (I like them).. and boom, happy as a clam. PD can require an exact combo of voltage/amperage to work, or it can be variable and support a bunch of combinations…

  5. You can just buy cable ‘usb-c – laptop input” and take it with you without brick (charger).
    I bought it for my dell inspiron 15 and charge laptop from same charger as phone.

    1. Do you have an example link? I’ve never seen a cable like this, but now that you mention it there’s no reason why somebody couldn’t build a cable with USB-C at one end and a barrel plug at the other, with the chipset used in the article embedded in the plug housing. I can’t find one searching for “USB-C laptop input”, though.

  6. Neat hack, but there is an easier way. There are ready-made boards available on Aliexpress for cheap which allow you to modify pretty much any device to use USB-C PD for power as long as the charger can support the required voltage. They are known as ZY12PDN.

  7. Meanwhile my cheapish Dell from years ago has USB-PD standard…. I have no idea how HP have managed to stay in business tbh, they seem incredibly overpriced for what you get. I wouldn’t risk taking one apart again, would’ve just chopped the power plug off and made an adaptor/dongle rather than mod the laptop itself.

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