Instead of a scientific discourse about the state of the art in battery technology or batteries of the future, here is information that you can use today.
I've been to several presentations using portables and they were interrupted by battery power failure. Hopefully, you weren't the presenter. A ten step plan follows, which helps you get the most out of your laptop battery.
1. Get at least one more battery. I would however recommend getting two more for a total of three batteries.
You should have at least 8 hours of useful battery life with you. This is an average day at work and you will be able to get at least one day of work done before you have deal with any AC power problems. You might also want to consider the length of the longest plane ride you intend to take -- Chicago to Hong Kong is 14 hours. Will your laptop battery last? Your seat may not have a power source, and if it does, it might not work.
Some small external modems also use batteries. Check yours and carry extras. There is nothing quite as frustrating as running around in a terminal looking for batteries and getting "sticker" shock!
If you have a pen computer, check to see if your pen uses batteries. These batteries may not be at your local K-Mart. Carry extra batteries; an extra pen is even better! Cost: under $200 for most laptop batteries, prices vary.
2. Get an external battery charger for those extra batteries. Many laptop manufacturers offer an external charger which can charge two batteries at a time. This will help you keep your batteries always ready for the road. Cost: Several manufacturers have fast external charger available which can quickly charge two batteries for under $200.
3. Get a second AC adapter with a long cord or carry an extension cord. You can then charge 2 batteries in the external unit and charge one in the laptop. This will let you have 3 batteries ready for the next day and lets you use your laptop while charging the other two batteries. You can also keep one charger at home and another one in the office - this can save a trip back to the office when you are packing for a flight and have forgotten the charger! And you won't have to keep carrying the charger back and forth, with you, as you commute to and from work. If your laptop uses only a cord (you carry the charger with you, all the time, inside the laptop), get an extra cord as many are not standard. If you are traveling outside your native country, make sure that you have a method for adapting foreign power. The travel shaver/hair dryer "adapters" may not work on your laptop. Cost: About $50 for adapter, $20 for special cords.
4. Be selfish - don't share your batteries. If your company uses similar rechargeable batteries, I don't recommend sharing. Let a buddy use your batteries if they desperately need one, but certainly don't make a habit out of it. People leave batteries in hot cars or freezing conditions - this does not help YOUR battery. Batteries can be mistreated electrically and physically and if they don't work - it's your presentation that is on the line, not theirs. Cost: $0
5. Label your batteries. You should put your name and address on them, but I also want you to number them #1, #2, #3, etc. When you have to switch to a new battery during a presentation and you have one charged battery and one used battery (out of power), this is not the time to guess which one to use next. After all, your job might depend on your decision.
To number your battery, you will need some removable labels or use 3M #658 correction tape (It's 1" wide Post-It Note tape) and some clear Scotch tape. These removable labels will allow you to adjust and modify the size of the labels. Make sure not to place the labels over the battery contacts!
Label the batteries in two places. Put one in a location that will be completely inside the battery compartment and the other on the outside of the battery so it will be easily readable when the battery is installed inside the laptop.
Make these labels large, as you may have to read the numbers in the dark or by the light of your glowing laptop while your portable power is failing.
I would recommend at least 2" x 1" for the inside label - this should be large enough to read in the dark. Make the outside one as large as you feel comfortable with.
When you have multiple batteries, be sure to read the number when removing it, then you will always know the next battery to use. It's simply the next higher number, when you are on the last number, go back to #1. Cost: under $5
6. Rotate your batteries. If you have followed Step 5, rotation is easy. By using the next battery, you can always be sure that you don't end up with one battery that is on its last legs and one that is virtually new. Cost: $0
7. Keep notes on battery life. Depending on your desire of accountability, you can make brief or detailed notes.
For brief notes, I would write the date I started using the battery and a tally mark on the inside label, each time I use and recharge the battery. This will give you a better idea of the life you get from your batteries.
For more detailed records, I use two other labels in addition to the battery number label. One is for a detailed divided tally and the other label is for notes and comments. This tally will help you determine how long your batteries have lasted. With this information, you have a better idea when to buy a new one, as most batteries have a maximum number of discharge/recharge cycles. Comments show the date you started this log and each time some notable occurrence with the pack. Mine shows when unusual things happen. Cost: Minutes of your time when you recharge or swap batteries
8. Keep your battery contacts clean and protect your battery from harm. Save the snap-off plastic part that comes with some new battery packs that helps protect the battery contacts. If you have thrown this away, you can fashion your own "container" by using a new resealable plastic food bag, a reusable bubble wrap bag (from a new interface card from your desktop system), an old (but clean) sock or even use some of foam sheets that fill some of today's software packages. Cost: nearly zero
9. Learn about your particular battery and your laptop power conservation features. Find out what kind of battery your laptop has, its approximate life, number of power cycles, whether it is intelligent and how to properly care for it.
I have seen people use high power conservation on their laptops to conserve battery power. What they may not realize is that high conservation reduces the processor speed remarkably and this makes computations take much longer. Sometimes this feature stays on, even when you plug your laptop into AC power, making your laptop run slow. Check your manual to find out how to set normal mode in addition to sleep, hibernate or other energy conservation modes. Cost: Your time to read the manual
10. Find out where to get new batteries, even if you already have extra batteries. This is absolutely critical, you need to know where you can get batteries right away, and how long you might have to wait for them.
It took almost a week to get batteries for my portable. I gave the local retailer the part number of the battery, he told me that number was incorrect and that my computer used a different battery. (I had just read the number off the battery - the one inside my computer!) He told me I was wrong, but they had one. After waiting for them to check inventory, they found that it was a defective battery that they had in stock. I guess they get a lot of calls for defective batteries and want to keep one on hand. After several phone calls, I finally got the right division of the manufacturer and they had batteries in stock. Great! Wonderful! Then they told me it would take several days to process the order and one day for the overnight shipping, with absolutely no form of expediting. (I tried inducements such as expedite fee, rush charge and outright bribery -- no dice) Well, I got the two batteries (with all this trouble, do you think I would only buy only one?) in time. If I needed these overnight, I would have been out of luck!
If your batteries are not being made, or your laptop manufacturer is out of business, check with a battery manufacturer or battery reseller. Sometimes they can rebuild your existing battery packs. But this really doesn't help much if you only have one pack. (Somebody forgot step number #1.)
By following these steps, you should have a more trouble free existence at home, at the office and on the road (as far as laptop batteries are concerned).
© 1997 Rick Smith All rights reserved.