Chargers are one of those boring-but-necessary staples of modern life. If you’re wanting to charge something big, like a laptop or tablet, then currently there are a few things about the charger that are as certain as death, taxes and eventual obsolescence:
- It will be big
- It will be heavy
- After a while it will be warm enough that it’s a reasonable replacement for a heating pack, and could start a fire if left on the right (or, I guess, wrong) surface.
But GaN chargers are about to change that. Gallium Nitride chargers are one of the biggest changes to charging and power plugs in more than a decade, and it’s actually really exciting.
Like, it sounds like it’s the kind of thing that should only be exciting for nerds. But anyone who has ever lamented the size and weight of their charger in their laptop bag, or gotten someone to touch a charging brick because it was so unreasonably hot, should be at least a little enthused.
The way they work is by using Gallium Nitride instead of silicone. Gallium Nitride is a semiconductor material that was used a lot in the 90s to make LEDs, and is responsible for the first LED displays that could be seen in the daylight. They were also used to make the blue light that reads the data on discs like DVDs and Blu-Rays.
One of the things that makes them really good, is how efficient they are when it comes to power. EPCC (which is a company that makes GaN) says that GaN is able to conduct electrons 1000 times more efficiently than silicon. What’s more is that GaN products can be made in the same factories and on much of the same equipment as silicone, so there’s very little extra investment required by companies if they want to start making it.
Where that efficiency becomes helpful to you is that not only can the chargers potentially be more energy efficient when charging your batteries. But they also require fewer components to make, which means they’ll be cheaper once the market has settled a little bit. They don’t require heat sinks, and everything in the charging brick can be closer together, so it’s smaller, lighter, cooler, cheaper and potentially better for the environment. So, less power brick, more ornamental pebble.
Even NASA think GaN is going to be a gamechanger. They’re researching how to use it in space.
The first few GaN chargers have just been released in Australia, with Belkin being one of the first to market. So far my experience has been good with the Boost Charge Dual USB-C PD GaN Wall Charger 68W. It charges my iPad Pro and iPhone 12 Pro pretty quickly without taking up too much room and barely getting warm. It’s going to be really interesting to see what impact this makes in the future on power bricks and power supplies for gaming laptops and PCs, not to mention everything else that requires electricity.