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MagSafe vs USB-C: Which Charging Method is Best for MacBooks?

Apple has transitioned between different charging methods over the years for its MacBook laptops. The original MagSafe connector, with its magnetic power cable that easily detached, was introduced in 2006. But by 2016, Apple had phased out MagSafe in favor of the more versatile USB-C connector for charging and connecting accessories.

Now, Apple has brought back MagSafe in its newest 2022 MacBook Air and Pro models, giving users a choice between the two charging standards. But which one should you use? In this in-depth guide, we‘ll compare MagSafe and USB-C to help you decide.

A Brief History

First, let‘s briefly recap the history of MagSafe and how USB-C became the charging method for MacBooks.

The Introduction of MagSafe

When MagSafe was unveiled by Apple in January 2006, it was hailed as an innovative solution to a common problem – tripping over charging cables and damaging the connector ports.

The key advantage of MagSafe was its easy-to-detach magnetic power cable. If someone accidentally pulled on the cord, the round MagSafe plug would just harmlessly pop out instead of wrecking the charging port or dragging the laptop off a table.

MagSafe 1 on MacBook Pro

The original MagSafe connector from 2006 provided easy charging cable detachment to prevent port damage

For the next decade, MagSafe became the standard charging method used across Apple‘s MacBook families. It went through a couple connector redesigns over the years while retaining the same magnetic safety feature.

The Transition to USB-C

Fast forward to late 2015 when Apple introduced USB-C ports in its 12-inch MacBook lineup. The versatile USB-C connector began to replace MagSafe across Apple‘s laptops over the next couple years.

USB-C consolidated multiple ports down to one standard, with support for charging, data connections, external displays, and accessories. It also allowed for slimmer, more portable MacBook designs compared to the bulky square MagSafe plug.

By 2016‘s MacBook Pro overhaul and mid-2017 for the Air models, Apple had removed MagSafe entirely across its laptop lineups. For the past 6 years, USB-C was the sole charging method supported for all MacBooks.

The Return of MagSafe in 2022

When Apple announced its new redesigned 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models in late 2021, the company revealed it was bringing back the fan-favorite MagSafe connector.

The latest iteration, dubbed MagSafe 3, keeps the convenient magnetic power cable for easy connect and disconnect. But it now outputs more power at up to 140 watts for faster charging compared to early MagSafe chargers.

Apple has continued expanding support for the new MagSafe spec across its 2022 laptop portfolio, including the refreshed MacBook Air.

MacBook Pro MagSafe 3 Connector

MagSafe 3 magnetic power connector on the latest 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models

The latest MacBooks continue to retain USB-C ports as well, allowing users to still take advantage of flexible USB-C charging and accessories if they prefer.

But with both power delivery methods available now in new Apple laptops, you may be wondering which is better – MagSafe or USB-C? Let‘s compare them across a few key criteria to help decide.

Power Delivery Comparison

First up, let‘s see how these two charging techs differ when it comes to delivering power to your MacBook.

Maximum Power Output

  • MagSafe 3: Up to 140W
  • USB-C: Up to 100W

Right off the bat in terms of raw power throughput, MagSafe has a decent edge over USB-C.

The latest 140 watt MagSafe 3 spec provides 40% more charging power than USB-C‘s 100 watt limit when using the same USB-C connection to the charger block.

So if you want the absolute fastest charging speeds, MagSafe 3 is the winner here. We‘ll look more at real-world charging times in a bit too.

Charging Speed

As covered above, MagSafe 3 supports up to 140 watts to deliver lightning quick charging times.

For example, with the stock 140W charger, Apple claims you can charge:

  • The 14-inch MacBook Pro to 50% in just 30 minutes
  • The 2022 MacBook Air to 80% in only 20 minutes!

Those speeds are incredibly fast. Of course, you can still charge with USB-C ports rather quickly too depending on your charger.

The latest MacBooks utilize cutting edge silicon technology enabling charging times comparable to smartphones. As The Verge notes in their MacBook Pro review, you can charge 50% in about 30 minutes for the 14-inch Pro via USB-C as well.

So while MagSafe maintains a speed advantage thanks to higher potential wattage delivery, both can charge very rapidly with the proper charger blocks.

Versatility Comparison

Beyond just charging, there are some key differences in versatility between these two connectors that are worth considering.

Multi-Function USB-C

One clear advantage USB-C wields over MagSafe is its flexibility and ability to handle multiple input and output connections:

  • Charging – USB-C ports can charge devices and laptops, including at fast charging speeds.
  • Data Transfer – Quickly move files between accessories, external drives, networks, other laptops etc.
  • External Displays – Connect the MacBook to high resolution monitors up to 6K.
  • Accessories – Attach all types of USB/Thunderbolt accessories from hard drives to headphones.

MagSafe is solely dedicated to charging, so you miss out on expanded connectivity. Having only USB-C would reduce flexibility compared to supporting both.

Open I/O While Charging

However, on the flip side, relying solely on USB-C for connectivity and charging can have some limitations too.

Since MacBooks only have a set number of USB-C ports (2 on 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro, 3 on 14-inch model), they can become occupied quickly.

You may need to utilize one for charging, leaving you only 1 or 2 remaining ports free for accessories. With high bandwidth accessories especially, like external 6K displays, you may completely run out of spare ports.

This is where MagSafe provides a valuable benefit over USB-C charging alone. With a MagSafe connection handling all charging duties, none of the USB-C ports on your MacBook are used up for power delivery.

MagSafe charging MacBook Pro with open USB-C ports example

MagSafe dedicated charging means all USB-C ports remain available for accessories

Those ports can instead be fully utilized to connect peripherals and monitors without limiting capability. For some users, having 3 or 4 functional USB-C ports thanks to separate MagSafe charging may be more beneficial than slightly faster charging via USB-C.

Additional Comparison Factors

We‘ve covered some of the major differences so far regarding power and versatility when picking MagSafe or USB-C charging for a MacBook. But there are a few other factors worth mentioning too:

  • Safety – MagSafe‘s magnetically detaching plug makes it much safer in terms of avoiding damage if the cord gets accidentally pulled taught avoiding harm to the charging port or your MacBook getting yanked off a desk!
  • Compatibility – USB-C has very wide device compatibility. Lots of phones, tablets, and Windows laptops use USB-C too so chargers and cables can be shared across platforms easily. MagSafe is exclusive to recent model MacBooks.
  • Cables – MagSafe cables are fixed while USB-C cables are detachable. For MagSafe, damage to the cable requires totally replacing the charger. USB-C just needs a cheap cable swap.
  • Cost – USB-C chargers and cables are very affordable from any brand compared to premium-priced Apple first-party MagSafe accessories.

MagSafe vs USB-C Charging Recommendations

Given all the factors and differences highlighted so far, should you go for MagSafe or prioritize USB-C charging on your new MacBook Air or Pro?

Here are my usage recommendations for choosing the best method for your needs:

Go With MagSafe If:

  • You care most about the fastest charging times – MagSafe 3 hits 140W vs 100W max via USB-C.
  • You want charging handled separately to allow using all USB-C ports for accessories and external displays without occupying them for charging purposes.
  • Safety to avoid damage if the cord gets accidentally yanked is important in your usage scenarios.
  • You don‘t care about compatibility with devices other than recent model MacBooks.

Go With USB-C If:

  • You want maximum versatility with a single port handling charging, displays, data connections and accessories.
  • You have minimal port usage needs so even with 1 or 2 USB-C ports occupied by charging, you still have enough left over for accessories.
  • You want wider compatibility to use the same charger for your phone, tablet, another laptop etc beyond just your Mac.
  • Saving money over Apple‘s pricey first-party accessories matters – USB-C alternatives are broadly available.

For the optimum combination getting both dedicated MagSafe fast charging while retaining multi-use benefits of USB-C, I suggest considering a charging setup with BOTH methods depending on your budgets and port availability:

  • Charge primarily via MagSafe to get safest, fastest charging while keeping USB-C ports free.
  • Keep a USB-C charger handy for travel when you may only want to pack one charger for MacBook + phone.
  • For home use, connect accessories and displays to full USB-C ports since MagSafe handles charging separately.

This dual charging configuration maintains maximum speed + versatility!

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Is MagSafe available on all new MacBook Air and Pro models?

A: As of 2022, Apple supports the latest MagSafe 3 technology for charging on the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro as well as the redesigned M2 13-inch MacBook Air. More models may add MagSafe support down the line as well.

Q: Can I still use USB-C charging if I want?

A: Yes, the latest MacBooks continue retaining USB-C ports so you can still charge via USB-C cables/chargers if preferred. Both MagSafe dedicated charging and USB-C charging are supported now.

Q: Is MagSafe compatible with iPad or iPhone?

A: Nope, MagSafe is exclusive only to the latest MacBook laptops. Other Apple mobile devices use the Lightning port (for now) or USB-C charging.

Q: Which charger blocks work with MagSafe 3 cables?

A: You can use any standard USB-C PD charging brick. Apple sells 140W or 96W USB-C options that support the fastest charging speeds. Any USB-C charger will work to charge at respective lower wattages.

I hope this thorough comparison has helped explain the key differences between MagSafe and USB-C charging for MacBooks! Let me know if you have any other questions.