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Opinion

The EU's USB-C mandate is bad news for repairers

The rule change is being championed to help people save money and combat e-waste but makes life that little bit harder for PC technicians

The forthcoming adoption of USB-C as the connector of choice has been a frequently covered topic and, as you will have read, it’s been causing quite a heated discussion. Since 2009, there’s been a voluntary code in place between the EU and mobile manufacturers to reduce the variations of chargers from over 30 down to three. Last September, the EU Commission published an agreement, bringing this to one

The rule change is being championed for both consumer convenience and to help fight e-waste. According to EU figures, consumers spend €2.4 billion on standalone chargers and over 11,000 tonnes of them end up in e-waste streams. The hope is that changing to a single socket will make it simpler to find something suitable to stick in it, but also control how rapidly your device will charge. Fast-charging technologies are also part of the rules. 

Despite this genuinely positive news, what has been omitted from the legislation – in a cruelly deliberate oversight – is the effect fixing USB-C ports has on ageing Yorkshire-based PC technicians whose eyesight has lost the sharpness of its youth. A typical USB-C port has 24 internal pins, which obviously need to be connected to the machine. Comparatively, a USB-A port has up to five internal pins and when you consider the size differential between the two sockets, soldering up to 24 pins within a smaller area increases the difficulty level somewhat. 

Remember, USB-C purely describes the shape of a port and not its functionality, but because it’s so versatile, USB-C is currently the obvious candidate for universality, irrespective of how much of a nightmare it is to fix. Looking ahead, the USB-C legislation won’t encapsulate laptops until 2026, but as the writing is on the wall, manufacturers could move early, triggering some radical redesigns inside the machines. 

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Traditionally, fixed ports such as USB, DisplayPort, Ethernet or HDMI are always soldered to a PCB, but most DC power barrels have broken free in recent years and are connected with a simple plug and socket. This makes repair much easier for anyone confident enough to open their laptop, or cheaper if professional help is required. Broken sockets remain the number one hardware fault I encounter on laptops, so when USB-C becomes the de facto method of power delivery, it’s critical that swapping a broken USB-DC is at least as simple as the plug and socket we have now. Keeping it on the board vastly increases the repair costs and the probability of the machine going in a skip. 

It’s taken a long time to get this far, but now universality has become mandatory, it should be simpler to evolve the rules in the future. Jump forward five years when we’re talking about 'USB-D', the established rules can be tweaked. It’s not perfect but it draws a line in the sand and is far better than an office full of workers using 30 different chargers.

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