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Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Battery Is Your Laptop's Weak Link

By Tan Corp

We talk about being mobile, part of a wireless world, untethered (OK, it's just me who says 'untethered'). But if, mid flight and mid sentence, you've ever cursed your laptop battery for giving out, or developed the habit, when you walk into Starbucks, of immediately peering under chairs and through people's legs for a power outlet, you'll know that the reality doesn't quite match the talk. Our laptops might be more portable than before, our connections might be faster and involve less cabling, but we know our batteries will let us down. We still need juice.

Of course, there are some people who never seem to need an outlet. At one conference, I offered a slot in a power strip I had managed to purloin to a fellow journalist, only for him to turn it down, snootily proclaiming he was using a Mac and therefore didn't need power (personally, I don't agree with his view that Macs have longer-lasting batteries; I suspect he just had a newer battery than mine). And some people, who always seem to be ridiculously good-looking, sit in Starbucks all day in front of laptops without any visible wires (I suspect their laptops are turned off). But what can the rest of us do to make the most of our batteries

The truth is: not an awful lot. 'I watch the consumer becoming more and more agitated,' says Christina Lampe-Onnerud, founder and chief executive of U.S. battery-technology company Boston-Power Inc. 'My message is very simple: There's very little you can do.' Of course, Ms. Lampe-Onnerud has an ax to grind: Her company is working with heavyweights like Hewlett-Packard Co. to launch a new kind of battery called Sonata, which she says will have a lifespan as long as that of your laptop and give you at least four hours of power between charges, compared with two to three hours with existing batteries. (She declined to say when they'd be available and how much they'd cost.)

Truth is, there's a lot of smoke and mirrors about batteries. Computer companies offer plenty of advice about how to get the most from yours, but it's probably wise to keep your expectations low. Battery technology still relies on chemical reactions taking place inside those innocent-looking slabs of plastic, and improvements happen, according to Isidor Buchmann, founder and chief executive of Canadian battery-charger maker Cadex Electronics Inc., far more slowly than improvements in, for example, chip speed.

So assume your battery is a dying beast as soon as you buy it. It only has a few hundred cycles -- from charged to empty -- before it starts to resemble a very expensive doorstop. The trick is to slow the dying process. To do this, it's best to think of your battery as separate from your laptop. Yes, it fits snugly underneath it, but that doesn't mean it should live there.

When you buy a new laptop or a new battery, go through at least one cycle of charging it fully and then discharging it, and do the same again every few months. This will reset the digital circuit that estimates the battery's charging status, so it doesn't stop charging prematurely. Resetting the gauge, says Atsushi Kumaki, director of ThinkVantage Technologies at Lenovo-Group Ltd.-owned Yamato Labs in Tokyo, 'will gain you a few percent' of charge each time.

Then plan your day. If you know you're going to use the battery, charge it fully beforehand. If you're not going to need it, let the battery run down until it's just under half full and remove it from your laptop. (Of course, this means you no longer have a battery backup if power fails, so if you're vulnerable to power outages or colleagues yanking out the power cord with their legs, you might not want to do this.) Laptop batteries should be stored at about 40% full; fully charged, they're a fire hazard, but if you store them entirely discharged, they might not charge again.

The reason for storing your battery outside your laptop is simple: Laptops get hot. If a battery is too hot, it starts to discharge itself and this, over time, reduces how long each charge lasts. Tests conducted by Cadex indicate laptop batteries under such conditions will last only 12 to 18 months, something I'm unhappily able to confirm.

So the battery is best kept somewhere else, preferably at room temperature. Some people recommend keeping it in the fridge (though not in the freezer), but I don't think you need to go that far -- just don't store it in your car in hot weather.

 

1 comment:

Andreya said...

Hi Nice Blog .laptop battery hp usually run on a single main battery or from an external AC/DC adapter which can charge the battery while also supplying power to the computer itself.