Ahead of CES 2017 Lenovo has quietly refreshed its entire ThinkPad line with an update to the slightly faster Kaby Lake processor from Intel. Besides new version of laptops that have honest-to-god DVD players (ThinkPad L570) and VGA ports (ThinkPad L470) installed, Lenovo also saw all those beautiful gadgets that exploded this year and decided that it would maybe make sure its own laptops don’t go poof like so many Note 7s and Chromebooks. So for next year Lenovo has equipped its refreshed line of ThinkPads with a chip to keep them from exploding due to a bad USB-C connection.
While it was ultimately the batteries that gave Samsung its big boom headache this fall, USB-C cables have also been the subject of scorn. As noted by Google engineer Benson Leung, not all USB-C cables are made equally and a bad cord could easily over charge or under charge a device, ruining the precarious balance that exist in the batteries of all consumer devices.
The problem comes from how the cables and USB-C ports speak to one another. Ideally they should both be aware of precisely how much power the device needs and the cable should give it that amount, but if the device relies on the cable to tackle that math and the cable isn’t smart enough then destruction of your precious devices ensues.
Lenovo claims its getting around the problem by including a “new protection circuit to guard against incorrect power levels.” This means it’s including a circuit in the device, near the USB-C port itself, that manually adjusts power coming in from the cable. This sounds similar to the USB-PD standard Google has been pushing on any phone manufacturer making an Android device.
Obviously Lenovo’s actions won’t completely eradicate the potential for a lap full of fire bomb, but USB-C charging has been a major weak link for consumer electronics this year, and, if this works as Lenovo intends it to, this shows Lenovo’s own commitment to fixing that link, as well as its commitment to USB-C as a whole.