Gallium Nitride Has Made Boring Chargers Cool Again

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Gallium nitride (GaN) chargers have taken over gadget bags and desktops thanks to their tiny size, but being small is only one of their tricks.

At first, GaN was meant smaller chargers, but now things are getting interesting—almost entirely because GaN-based devices create less heat than those with silicon components. For instance, one box can juice several thirsty devices at once, and we’re also getting interesting shapes, like Anker’s pancake charger that is easy to carry with you. Why is GaN so useful?”GaN consists of transistors that switch at a very fast rate, which allows the conduction of electricity at a very high rate,” Jonathan Tian, founder of the phone-management software company Mobitrix, told Lifewire via email. “This reduces the power lost [to heat], so it delivers high power compared to other chargers.”

GaN vs Silicon

Gallium nitride has been used since the 1990s, in LEDs, for instance. Recently, it has revolutionized charging devices. The reason is simple: silicon has reached its size limit in terms of heat and electrical transfer. You can’t shrink it any further without things getting too hot. GaN, on the other hand, conducts better and stays cooler. This allows for smaller, cooler-running chargers and related items.

The best way to see the difference is to put a silicon phone charger next to a GaN laptop charger. The GaN charger is barely bigger, and while a typical phone charger (like the one that used to come in the iPhone box) only manages 5 Watts, the GaN version (Anker’s Nano II, for instance) can pump out from 35-45 Watts.

So far, GaN products have mostly revolutionized the USB charger market, but there could be more. Devices that plug directly into the wall can also benefit. These devices—music studio mixers, TVs, amplifiers, etc.—have internal power supplies, which generate heat when converting from 120- or 240-volt power to whatever they need to run. That heat can prematurely age the other components, which is why these often use an external power brick. GaN could solve these problems, enabling internal power supplies with less heat. It’s not a particularly exciting breakthrough compared to miniLED screens or fancy new phone camera features, but GaN improves your experience in subtle and important ways—which is worth taking a moment to appreciate.

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