Sunday, June 23, 2024

What Is a GaN Charger, and Why Should You Buy One? – Review Geek

Plugable 140W USB-C GaN Power Adapter on a workbench
Jason Montoya / Review Geek

Most USB chargers use silicon semiconductors. Gallium nitride (GaN) is simply a power-efficient alternative to silicon. It allows a charger to achieve small size without a reduction in charging speed or thermal performance. A GaN charger is ideal for traveling or powering several high-wattage devices, such as laptops

When you’re on the hunt for a new USB power adapter, you may come across a few options with gallium nitride (GaN) technology. These charging bricks tend to be a bit expensive. But due to their reduced size and increased charging ability, a GaN charger may be your ideal purchase. It could even help you save money in the long run.

What’s Wrong With the Charger You Already Own?

The VOLTME Revo 140W 3 Ports PD3-1 GaN charger on a workbench
Jason Montoya / Review Geek

The basic functionality of a USB charger is pretty straightforward. First, the charger takes AC power from your wall. Then, it runs that power through a conversion process, and it spits out the DC signal that’s expected by your phone, laptop, or tablet.

Semiconductors are responsible for this power conversion process. And, like most electronics, USB chargers use silicon semiconductors—the cheapest and easiest option. Unfortunately, silicon-based USB chargers can’t always keep up with our demands. Our phones used to charge at 5 watts, but most models now exceed 20 watts. And laptops, which now charge over USB-C, can often hit a maximum charging speed of 100 watts.

A silicon-based USB charger can achieve 100 watts. But reaching such a speed comes with a few drawbacks. High-wattage USB chargers are often quite large, as they need to contain heat sinks and other components that keep the temperature down—silicon semiconductors can get pretty hot when they’re pushed to the limit. These chargers also tend to have just two ports, which won’t work at full speed when used simultaneously.

Nobody wants a massive power brick. And if you’re spending money on a fancy high-speed charger, you probably want it to have more than just two ports. That’s where gallium nitride (GaN) chargers come into play.

GaN Chargers Are Compact, Powerful, and Cool

Three USB C cables plugged into the Satechi 200W GaN Charger while laid down on a desk
Jason Montoya / Review Geek

Gallium nitride is a manmade semiconductor that can withstand higher voltages than silicon. It’s also about 80% more power-efficient than silicon, according to Texas Instruments. So, not only will a GaN charger give you faster charging speeds, it’ll also waste less electricity in the form of heat—no need for a massive, heat sink-filled design.

Brands like Anker began selling GaN chargers in 2020. And at that time, the biggest selling point was the charger size. Customers were amazed that a small charger could deliver the same amount of power as their MacBook’s massive charging brick.

Now, charging speed and connectivity are the main selling points for GaN. Instead of buying a large silicon-based charger that only has two ports (with a shared throughput), you can buy a GaN charger with four, five, or even six high-speed charging ports. Some options stick out of the wall, while others have a long power cable and can sit on your desk.

The problem, of course, is the cost. High-speed chargers are expensive, and GaN technology adds to the price. But I’d argue that a GaN charger can actually save you money. You can buy one GaN charger to power all of your devices, including your phone, laptop, and tablet—no need for multiple high-speed chargers and power strips.

Should You Buy a GaN Charger?

The VOLTME Revo 140W 3 Ports PD3-1 GaN charger plugged into a wall with cables inserted
Jason Montoya / Review Geek

While it may seem like a luxury item, a GaN charger is a worthwhile investment for anyone who owns several devices. It’ll power your phone, tablet, and laptop, all without taking up too much space. Plus, because GaN chargers are intended for high-wattage devices, they’re essentially future-proof. A GaN charger won’t be “outdated” or “too slow” anytime soon.

Of course, GaN chargers are mainly intended for laptop users. And this is an important point—the power brick that came with your laptop is probably very slow. The M1 MacBook Air, for example, can charge at 45 watts but comes with a 30-watt brick (it’s a very efficient laptop, hence the relatively low charging speed). If you’re a laptop user, a two-port GaN charger is a smart investment, as it’ll help you reach your laptop’s maximum charging speed without taking up too much space at the outlet.

Some people don’t really need a GaN charger; if you only have a smartphone and a Kindle, you won’t see any major benefit. And, of course, those who already own a bunch of power adapters probably don’t need a new one.

For what it’s worth, you can also buy power strips with built-in USB GaN chargers. And these power strips may offer the best of both worlds—a compact form factor, future-proof charging speeds, and a few handy outlets for any electronics you may need to plug in.

Anker GaNPrime 65W Charging Station

With a retractable power cable, two integrated outlets, and three USB ports, the Anker GaNPrime 65W Charging Station is great for office work or travel.


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