STOP Popping Your Laptop Battery Out!

This is one of those bitnotes that will actually save you some money down the line, and you’ll thank me in a year or two for posting this. One of the most controversial discussions among laptop users and technicians is the “battery situation”. One thing we all know will die probably faster than anything else in a laptop, is the battery. It’s inevitable and the moment you buy your new laptop, it’s already a thought in te back of your head, that you might need to start saving up for a new battery, because those tend to be expensive-ish.

Admittedly, with good intentions, some professionals a number of years ago decided that there is a way to keep your battery around and alive for a much longer time by popping it out every time you use it in an environment where you don’t need to carry it around all day, and using the wall-socket is a viable option. They had 2 reasons to give this advice. According to them the less you use the battery, the longer it will last. The second reason is the heat that every laptop generates heat and inevitably pushes some of it on the battery too. In electronics generally the more heat, the worse things get, especially if that’s a battery type element. From a semi-technical and logical standpoint you’d probably instantly agree. However reality is quite the opposite and for some stupid reason in 2012 there’s still a strong belief among most laptop users that popping out the battery is a good thing, when in fact all you do, is kill your battery faster. Let’s see why.

Today’s laptops use either NiMh or LiIon batteries. While the technology is different, they both tend to present the same drawbacks and advantages: price-wise cheaper than the old NiCad batteries, but none of the two newer technologies handle well discharge. Also, and this is mostly a LiIon property, the moment the battery is manufactured, it starts degrading. Popping it out and putting it on a shelf as canned fruit is not preserving it, but destroying it even faster. You have to understand that by nature these batteries have a fixed time-span in which they’ll work no matter how much or how little you’ll use it. Also they discharge by themselves, even on a shelf, so if you happen to leave it there, for just a few days, first of all you’ll lose some power, some percentage of charge, so you’ll end up charging it again first, you can’t just leave the house and expect to be fully charged. If you happen to leave it even more as some of you foolishly and stubbornly do, you’ll just deep-discharge it, or over-discharge it and guess what happens then? There’s a strong chance that battery will never work at full capacity again and you’ll end up buying a new battery way before you normally should.

Formatting the battery? Another artifact of old tech ideas. Old NiCad batteries needed that, because they handled perfectly and also depended on complete discharge, but you don’t have NiCad batteries any more! I see people all the time getting a new laptop and the first thing they do is do a single, double or triple battery format, by discharging it completely up to 3 times. What they in fact do, is kill their battery during the first days of its life. Ever wondered why at some point in time after a year or so your battery starts degrading incredibly fast, or your laptop shutting down when in fact the battery meter states there is another 15-20 or 30% power available? Well, that’s one of the reasons. You’ve crippled your battery probably days after you bought it.

So what about the heat issues, then? Cause that is actually a valid point, but how valid is it really? How hot does the battery really get? Does it get hot enough to consider it a reason for battery degradation? Chances are, the temperature around the battery is really not that high, and if it is, you can always use a cooling pad. A typical laptop has 2 very hot spots, and while you’d think that’s the CPU and the HDD, it’s rather the RAM and the HDD. The CPU tends to get a very direct and efficient air-flow and usually the cooling system focuses on the CPU; the RAM and HDD on the other hand does not get the same attention from the cooling system. A real life example would be my own laptop that on touch presents 2 hot-spots: where the RAM is and where the HDD is. interestingly if I test my inside temperatures, the CPU is the hottest device and you might argue that I’m wrong by saying the CPU is not the first and hottest part of the machine, but you have to understand that the software that reads the CPU temperature gives me the actual chip temperature not the surrounding air’s. That’s a serious game-changer, but it’s provable since if I touch the CPU area with my hand it’s at least 30-40% cooler than the HDD or RAM area, both of which are much hotter. Taking all this into account, there’s a strong chance your battery is not suffering from getting overheated.

Finally I’d like to erase a pretty dumb preconception about laptop batteries. Most people blindly believe that the battery is constantly under full power while the laptop is plugged in. So NOT true. A laptop battery gets charged and then it just sits there in standby mode, it is not continuously bombarded with electricity as most people tend to think. So, what’s the moral of all this? Do not remove the battery, do not store the battery, do not buy a spare battery that you plan to use in 2 years, stop formatting it and stop worrying so much about the heat. Battery is the last thing you should be worried about when it comes to a laptop overheating, and if you do have heat-problems, just get a cooling pad, you can find some really good ones for 20-25 euros. Stop killing your battery while trying to save it!

Much more on this and many other IT and computer science related topics in my new upcoming book, “Computer Science in Plain English” to which you can pre-subscribe for free and download the book – again –  for free, the moment it is released.


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