Thursday, May 03, 2007

Don't throw that laptop battery yet!


It has been almost 2 years now with my Dell Inspiron 6000 laptop. I had opted for the 9 cell battery which would give me about 2.5 to 3 hours of backup, and it sure gave me more time than my friends and colleague’s laptops. Now it gives me 10 minutes of backup.

Over the time, these Lithiom-Ion batteries start to shorten in backup time provided. Dell themselves state that after some time the backup time provided by the battery will go down, but by that I expected the battery to gracefully start shortening in backup time. It took me by surprise when recently I discovered that my battery was giving only about 10 minutes of backup!! It would start at 100%, then within a few minutes go down to 97%, and all of a sudden go down to 7%!
I am using Vista, and tried to convince myself that it might be a Windows fault(whatever!), and so entered the system BIOS. There, the battery health section was ready to welcome me with the message which said something like "Your battery is at the end of its usable life period, and you might want to consider buying a new one". I concluded that I will need to shell out Rs. 5000 or so for a new one now.

I did my bit of research on the trusted Internet. To begin with, I read the ‘Battery FAQ’ at Dell site here and the ‘Short Battery Life Journal’ at the Dell support site here, but in vein.

Another very good source of information on laptop battery maintenance is at the Notebook Review Forum. Somebody on their forum suggested to try a software called Notebook Hardware Control available here. This is supposed to show the current wear level of your battery and is recommended by a number of people, but unfortunately for some reason this is the first application which gave me a blue screen of death on Vista! I had to uninstall it to boot back into Vista. Conflict with some other software on my laptop maybe.
I also read the article on Lifehacker on how to extend battery life, but it was too late for it now.

A search on the popular CNET site, lead me to a scary article hinting that Vista might really be behind my shortened battery life! Read it on their site here.

Finally, I called Dell support and they asked me to try calibrating the battery once before throwing it out. The laptop batteries have internal mechanism to keep track of when the battery is fully charged. This shows us the battery level and saves the battery from getting over-charged. With use, this battery level may faulter, and may set to a lower level than the full capacity. So it may happen that the battery is just 50% charged, but the battery shows 100% charged. Naturally then it will get discharged much sooner.

Now in the past I had already calibrated my battery, but I now realized that it was not the correct method. To calibrate a Dell Inspiron 6000 battery, I need to let the laptop fully discharge, and then charge it back to 100%. This triggers the built in calibration mechanisms which should reset the full indicator to the correct level. Now I was putting the laptop on battery from within Vista, and so as soon as the battery would come to about 7% remaining, Vista would hibernate the laptop to save Windows from crashing. And so actually my laptop was never getting fully discharged! So this time, I booted straight into the laptop BIOS screen, and switched to the battery level screen. I waited for the laptop to turn off due to discharge, and then charged it back up to 100%.

I tested, and now my laptop gave me about 45 minutes of backup! Not much for a 9 cell battery, but considering the fact that it has already reached almost its end of usable time, and was giving my just 10 minutes of backup, atleast I can use it till a bit of more time atleast in home or for real emergency work. At worst, I can keep it as an extra emergency battery for that last minute of juice.

23 comments:

Devilboy3007 said...

I recommend you fully discharge once every 3 months. I do this with my Powerbook and I didn't have to buy a new battery in about 4 years. =)

waveking said...

Wow, 4 years is a long time for these batteries. I knew that I need to do calibration, but this being my first laptop, I did a mistake of always doing it from within Windows. Hence it never got discharged to 0%, and hence maybe the calibration mechanism never did get triggered till this latest attempt from outside Windows.

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plantronics headset said...

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laptopengineers.com said...

Is there any tool/chemical available to open the laptop battery without any damage?

Rahul said...

how can I booted straight into the laptop BIOS screen, and switched to the battery level screen.
As win7 doesn't allow to drain it battery less then 7% in power management.

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Rosy de souza said...

like the way you have explain i like the way you have explain

regards
shahid

David Reichard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David Reichard said...

Thanks, this works great and is very helpful. Calibrating by running the battery to 0% in BIOS is a lot easier than turning off the power settings in Windows and then trying to remember to turn them back on.

BTW, there's a useful way to check the battery capacity information. See Check-your-laptop-battery-health-in-Windows-7

Admin said...

like the way you have explain i like the way you have explain

regards

sandeep