How old am I? Old enough to remember and appreciate how utterly amazing Apple’s MagSafe magnetic breakaway charging connector was.
Then Apple decided to drop it and go with USB-C.
Fortunately, you can add magnetic breakaway capability to any USB-C port for a few dollars.
Last year a reader pointed me to some 20-pin USB-C breakaway connectors that were available from a variety of outlets. I was skeptical, but after some testing, I became a convert. I now have magnetic breakaway connectors on my MacBooks, iPad Pro, any Windows laptop or tablet I’m using, and on select chargers and power banks.
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The connector is a standard USB-C type connector that is attached to a dongle using a magnet. The magnet is strong enough to keep the connector together but will allow the connector to separate if the cable is given a tug that is strong enough to take the laptop on a journey towards the ground.
I’ve tested it several times – a couple of times by accident – and found it to be effective.
The connector is rated for 100W (20V/5A) power transfer, which is what I use if for, but it is also good for data and can support a throughput of 10Gbps and can support 4K@30Hz video output.
To use the connector, you simply plug the USB-C connector into the laptop or other USB-C port, and connect your USB-C cable to the breakaway part of the assembly, and you are ready to go.
Some readers had worries that using these connectors could damage laptops or other connected equipment.
I’d already been using them extensively before recommending them so I was skeptical, and since I’ve used them for thousands of hours on many devices — even power banks — with no problems at all. The only downside is that sometimes the connector breaks away when you don’t want it to.
Annoying, but far better than not breaking away when it should!
I’ve also been asked about what’s the difference between the 20-pin versions I was recommending and the 9-pin versions that are now available.
There are two differences. The first is data transfer rates — the 20-pin version supports 10Gbps (USB-C 3.1) and is good enough to carry 4K 60Hz video, while for the 9-pin version, the data transfer rates are only 480Mb/s (USB 2.0), and as such will not carry video.
Another difference is physical size. The 20-pin breakaway connector is quite large, and on some devices — such as the MacBook Pro — using it can block the other port. The 9-pin version is physically smaller and is better suited for situations where cables are more crowded.
I’ve added a few 9-pin breakaway connectors to my kit, and they are just as good as their 20-pin counterparts (and it seems that over the past few months prices have dropped, so that’s an added bonus!).