11 November 2008

Better care for Laptop batteries

As revealed by the sale at both Comex-Oman and Gitex-Dubai, tech-savvy computers prefer laptop computers over bulky desktop systems. Digital Oman explores the technology behind the laptop batteries in the context of 35,000 defective laptop batteries (an additional 65,000 batteries were sold worldwide) recalled by Sony in the last week of October 2008.

Increasingly workforce is provided with laptops so that they can work from anywhere, literally speaking. Some organisations even provide VPN (Virtual Private Network) connectivity to their internal systems so that the employees could access and update live internal systems. Ubiquitous email and Internet connectivity enable any one with a laptop set up an instant office even at a coffee house that provides wireless Internet connectivity.

The benefit of using laptops doesn’t stop here. It goes on to give access to current versions of your files for reference instantly. You can load music, movies and other entertainment software and you have mobile music and movie halls wherever you go. It is common to see people watching movies in planes despite the in-flight entertainment broadcasts.

All this depends on one fuel that is the power either from the battery or from the AC source. Let’s get to know what powers them on the move and how to make this power last longer.

Laptop batteries are re-chargeable and modern laptops contain Lithium-Ion (Li-ion) batteries. The older versions had nickel metal hydride or nickel-cadmium batteries and their power lasted much less. The Li-Ion batteries are also superseded by Lithium polymer (LiPol) batteries which are cheaper to manufacture and sturdier than Li-Ions.

Most often the battery power lasts anywhere between 3-4 hours. The more intensive the application is and the more interactive the user is with his laptop, the faster the battery drains. Playing games, watching a movie DVD are all graphic intensive applications that drain battery power. In this aspect the laptop battery is an important consumable and you should know how to care for it.

Here are a few points to remember with regard to laptop battery care:
Lithium-ion batteries can even explode when exposed to high temperature, (for example in prolonged direct sunlight or leaving your laptop in the car) and so avoid heat. The best range of temperature to care for batteries is 0° to 35°C (32° to 95°F).
Read the instructions manual for loading your batteries in proper manner and never force them in to place. You may damage the contact lead and secure clamps by mistake.
Do not full-charge batteries again and again without draining the charge. This means you charge the battery full and store it away from the power source – be it in the laptop docking station or inside the laptop. This also reduces the weight of the laptop while working on direct power source.
If you are to work on you laptop from direct power source for extended periods, then the battery should be stored in a cool place away from the heat produced by the computer.
Never use counterfeit batteries but buy the original brands that suit your portable computer.
An average battery life lasts anywhere between 2 – 5yrs and do replace the battery once it is unable to retain required charge as its performance has completely degraded. The life of the battery will also depend on the usage of the laptop.
While on travel, charge your battery full and carry it in the hand luggage and not in the registered packs (some airlines restrict this). If recharge is required certain airlines have special sockets built under the seat and customised adapters can be requested from the cabin crew.
Remember that when your laptop is docked or AC adapter is plugged into a power outlet, the battery is not being used and the battery can never overcharge. And so batteries may be stored in the laptop or outside of the laptop but they must be charged before storing.
Do not attempt to open or modify a Li-ion battery's casing or circuitry as it can be very dangerous. These batteries contain safety devices that protect the cells inside and any tampering can harm this safety measures.
As in the case of certain companies calling back their batteries, presence of contaminants inside the cells can defeat these safety devices and cause the batteries to explode in adverse conditions. In case you recently bought your laptop, check if your batteries belong to a defective lot recalled by the manufacturer, and if yes get it replaced.
Just in case you need more battery time, try to use additional modular battery in the DVD/CD drive provided your laptop has this feature. The modular bay battery is used first, and when it drains the system automatically switches to the primary battery.
All normal power saving tips like hibernation, etc still apply when caring for laptop batteries.

Just in case you have bought a new laptop recently and worried if your battery may be one that is recalled refer to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission official notice released on 30th October at http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml09/09035.html. The website lists all laptop models with possibly defective batteries.

Consumers are requested to immediately remove the recalled battery from their notebook computer, and contact their computer manufacturer to determine if their battery is included in the recall and to request a free replacement battery. According to this info there have been 19 reports of the batteries overheating, including 17 reports of flames/fire (10 resulting in minor property damage). Beware and take care.

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