We all own more battery powered products than ever before, and in most cases those batteries are rechargeable. Laptops, music players, phones - they all have rechargeable power packs, almost all of them using lithium.
These batteries don\'t last forever. No matter what you do, their capacity to hold charge will decline over time, typically down to 80 per cent after 12-18 months in the case of laptop batteries.
That\'s a range, not an absolute cut-off point, so how can we make these batteries last as long as possible? Ignoring the exceedingly rare risk of a fire, is there any way to ensure we get the best performance from our portable power supplies?
Follow some basic rules, and the answer is yes.
The model usage pattern is the mobile phone. Of all the rechargeable batteries we\'ve used, the ones in phones have always proved to retain their capacity longer than batteries in laptops, cameras and MP3 players. It takes a long time, generally speaking, for a phone battery to reach the point where no matter how long you charge it, it goes from full to empty in a very short space of time.
Contrast that with the netbook battery sitting next to us, which although less than a year old will discharge from full in under 20 minutes. That\'s with the netbook just sitting there, screen on, connected to the internet. It should last eight times that.
The keys to battery longevity are regular usage and making sure cells are recharged before they become empty. Phone batteries typically take a couple of days to run down and tend not to be constantly on and off the charger during that period. Rather than waiting until the phone has so little power it switches off, most handset owners recharge their phones when they get a low-charge warning, usually around ten per cent capacity.
This ensures a steady, even cycle of charge and discharge, and if there\'s an operating condition lithium batteries respond well to it\'s regularity.
When you use your laptop on battery power, make sure its charge drops to at least 80 per cent. But don\'t let it drop to zero. Depending on which operating system you use and how its power settings are configured, you\'ll get a low-power warning first and, later, your machine will sleep, hibernate or shut down.
At this point, your battery should still be charged to 5-10 per cent of its capacity, and you should now charge it, whether you want to continue working or not. If you\'re not going to be able to do so for some time, make sure you\'ve saved your work and your laptop\'s shut down or hibernating rather than sleeping. These two modes turn the laptop off whereas sleeping just keeps it ticking over, but power is still being drained and you run the risk of emptying the battery.
Completely draining the battery is a no-no. Battery manufacturers and laptop makers say that it\'s a good idea to drain the battery as far as the laptop will allow every so often and to then charge fully in order to synchronise the various capacity monitors within the power pack and the laptop. That ensures that your capacity read-outs are as accurate as they can be.
There seems to be a consensus that daily-use laptops don\'t really need this, and certainly not on even a monthly basis. Occasional-use laptops, on the other hand, may benefit.
Eking out the charge while your using your computer on battery power is simply a matter of disabling Bluetooth and Wi-Fi if you don\'t need them, making sure your system spins down the hard drive when it\'s not required, and - perhaps best of all - dimming the screen\'s backlight.
edited on 3/20/2013 3:37:21 AM