20V Max vs 18V Battery News & Opinion

20V Max Vs 18V: Setting the Record Straight

When it Comes to 20V Max Vs 18V Batteries, Which is More Powerful?

“There was a major difference in power when I switched from an 18V system to a 20V system.” Ah, if I only had quarter for every time I heard that one…

The 18V vs 20V Max debate will continue to go on no matter how many times I step into someone else’s conversation and explain it to them. Let me take the drama out of the conversation now – they’re the same.

I’d love to stop there, but people will insist on arguing that the 20V Max systems are simply more powerful than 18V because, well, 20 is bigger than 18. *sigh*


Seriously though, I love talking about this stuff, so let’s  jump on it. Here in the U.S., manufacturers such as Bosch, Milwaukee, Ridgid, Ryobi, and Makita are all running on an 18V battery platform. DeWalt and Porter-Cable run on their 20V Max systems. A volt meter is all that it takes to offer some quantifiable data, and a look inside the battery will show you why.

20V Max Vs 18V: Running the Numbers

Milwaukee Battery Cutout

Inside your battery pack are the individual battery cells. In an 18V/20V Max system, they are always set in groups of 5 wired in a series. Each group of 5 is then wired in parallel to increase the number of amp hours and overall battery capacity in watt hours. For more on that, check out our feature on Voltage Vs. Amp Hours.

Each one of those battery cells has two voltage ratings – nominal and maximum. The amount of voltage that a battery produces when fully charged is higher than when it begins to discharge, even slightly. It’s actually a chemical characteristic of the lithium-ion system. Each battery cell has a nominal voltage of 3.6 volts and a maximum voltage of just over 4 volts.

3.6 volts (nominal) x 5 cells = 18 volts

4 volts (maximum) x 5 cells = 20 volts

That’s it. That’s the entire difference in 18V vs 20V Max batteries. It’s only a matter of whether the company is using nominal voltage or maximum voltage as their rating.

20V Max Vs 18V: What About Higher and Lower Voltage Systems?

This brings up several interesting talking points. First, many European countries are more strict on how a company can advertise. You’ll find that tools are sold by their nominal voltage in most areas. That means 18V high power tools and 10.8 volt lower power tools. From a marketing standpoint, being able to put a higher number on the tool makes it seem more powerful. Putting a nominal voltage on it is a representation of where the battery operated most of the time.

For some reason, 20V Max vs 18V debate only seems to be an issue among these 5 cell group platforms. Everyone advertises their 12V line (3 cells), not their 10.8V families. Jump up to OPE (Outdoor Power Equipment) and we get 40V systems (10 cells) that are taking the place of the 36V platforms of a couple of years ago. So before you leave with a bad taste in your mouth about DeWalt or Porter-Cable, understand that everyone does it somewhere.


20V Max Vs 18V: There’s a Reason It Says “Max*”

Speaking of DeWalt and Porter-Cable, you’ll notice on their packaging that it is marked 20V Max*. That asterisk and the word “Max” points to the documentation that clearly states the voltage is maximum. Is it a marketing tactic? Yes. Is it misleading? Only if you don’t look for an explanation when you see something marked with an asterisk.

Barry Bonds, Single Season Home Run King* – Known to have used performance enhancing drugs

Double Chocolate Fudge Brownies, bake for 25 minutes* – 18 minutes at higher elevations

20V Max* – 20 volts maximum, 18 volts nominal

So yes, 18V and 20V Max systems have the same amount of voltage power. However, the guts of each battery cell do vary from brand to brand and even within a single brand as technology and chemistry improve. So is DeWalt’s 20V Max line more powerful than their 18V line was? Yes. Because the electronics, motors, and cells are better, but they’re putting out the exact same voltage!

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16 Comments on "20V Max Vs 18V: Setting the Record Straight"

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Well even before you guys had your Li-ion or Lipo batteries in your tools all that stuff was tested in the HIGH GRADE Hobby R/C world for almost 10 years….lipos and brushless d/c motors have made electric stuff insane….a standard 1/10 scale 2cell 7.4v lipos nominal voltage is 7.4v but when dead it is 6.2-60v and charged its 8.4v MAX, so what the other guy was saying is depending on the company and “there marketing tactics” they could sell there battery at its Nominal 7.4v or (18v in the drills case) or sell it at rated at its max 8.4v… Read more »
sam bay

we were working in whitehorse, yukon (canada) in january -28 C (-35 windshld) . We had milwavkee 18v and dewalt 20v. using it for exterior wood panels. and dewalt was more stronger than milwavkee!! they were both brand new tho. i was shocked! good side of the milwavkee was battery last more… “btw we had a small heater for batteries to charge them up” after couple months we used makita 18v as well but ut wasnt powerful as 20v dewalt. i really wanna know why?? cause this artichale doesnt help me to understand 🙂

In my experience using both brands (Milwaukee a few hours & Dewalt hundreds of hours), DeWalt seems to have a higher rpm. In the interest of full disclosure I haven’t verified RPM stats from either manufacture, as I have little faith in printed “stats” produced from any manufacture. The rpm difference was agreed upon by multiple coworkers who were as curious as I was about comparing multiple brands swapping each others impacts to try out. The higher rpms could be a likely reason why the yellow one seems to be “stronger.” If batteries are relatively equal & the Milwaukee works… Read more »
Clint DeBoer

Great feedback! Well, there’s the tool, and there’s the battery. There are some DeWalt tools that outperform Milwaukee, and some Milwaukee tools which outperform DeWalt. Then there’s the environment you were in and the way the tools were being used. Lots of possible scenarios and reasons why one tool might perform better than the other.

Steve The Engineer

NO, NO, NO! This is ALL WRONG! It depends on the CURRENT OUTPUT of the battery, not the VOLTAGE. Watts are volts times amps. An 18 volt battery running at 1 amp produces 18 watts. An 18 volt battery running at 2 amps produces 36 watts. Lithium Ion Batteries are capable of MUCH HIGHER CURRENTS and have MORE WATT-HOURS than NiCad batteries. They DO have more power. It is REAL.

Tyler the Engineer

Although what you are saying is true. This article is comparing lithium ion to lithium ion. So what the article is saying is true.


It all boils down to the quality of each individual cell inside the battery pack, this is the most expensive component inside the pack. So this is what should be focussed on if you really want to decide which is the best.

Mark DeFries on Facebook

Marc Lampkin this should settle the argument LOL

David Rayne

What happened was dewalt rushed its first 18v lithium ion platform out and the technology was obsolete. What they came up with in the 20 volt line was a better lithium ion battery than the first one that came out so they had to rename it in order to be able to sell both platforms to both markets.