Am I stuck with my laptop battery life?
December 26, 2005 12:09 PM   Subscribe

Laptop battery solutions: Should out-of-the-box battery life be the deciding factor in which laptop to purchase? Or are there reasonable workarounds?

For instance, I'm looking at a Toshiba Satellite that has pretty much everything I need, except an avg 2.5 hours battery life.

Is it possible to install two batteries? Or carry an extra and swap it in as needed on the go? And how reasonable and easy would those options be?

How likely is it that I could purchase a better battery and replace the one the notebook ships with, and have it work without problems?

Are there external batteries widely available to supplement the internal one?

Or can anyone reccomend a similar notebook with better battery life?
posted by poweredbybeard to Computers & Internet (17 answers total)
Best answer: carry an extra and swap it in as needed on the go?

That's what I do. Avoid constantly draining and recharging these by small amounts though.
posted by carter at 12:14 PM on December 26, 2005

Response by poster: carter- how "labour intensive" is that process? is it something you feel safe doing on a table in a cafe, for instance? do most laptops make this easy to do?

it's certainly the most attractive option for me, barring replacing it with a better battery (i'm not sure how limited my options there would be by physical dimensions of various models) but i don't want to have to fiddle around with the thing for five minutes in public and/or risk breaking something.
posted by poweredbybeard at 12:23 PM on December 26, 2005

Replace a laptop battery with an extra one takes all of 10 seconds, if that.
posted by mattwatson at 12:42 PM on December 26, 2005

remember that you'll have to shut the computer down to change the battery (or plug it in), so it's still a bit of a hassle to have two batteries.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:44 PM on December 26, 2005

Yeah you have to keep an eye on battery level, then when it's low, save everything, quit all apps, and shut down, swap the batteries out, reboot, re-open apps, and re-open documents. But you can get quite quick at this. The major limitation for me is the reboot time.

Another alternative is to carry a power cord and look for cafes with outlets ... I guess it all depends what you want to do. I try and save my batteries for working on 2 hour+ flights.
posted by carter at 12:51 PM on December 26, 2005

On many laptops you can "hibernate" (sleep and save to disk) while switching batteries. It does take a little while, but allows you to swap batteries without closing all your documents and programs.
posted by mbrubeck at 12:56 PM on December 26, 2005

Don't know about the Toshiba, but on my Thinkpad, I have a second battery where the CD rom drive normally goes. As I don't use the CD drive very often (and it's small enough to stash in my bag in case I do need it), this is a great way to extend the battery life.
posted by Caviar at 1:17 PM on December 26, 2005

I have a Satellite. Totally different model, though, with a Pentium-4 instead of M (so actually more power needed, IIRC). I've never had a problem with battery life, and though I don't have a spare batt, I took mine off and it didn't seem too hard.

YMMV, of course, since it's a totally different computer, though in the same product line.

(FWIW, I've never had any other problems either as far as I remember. So I'd generally recommend the brand as a whole.)
posted by SuperNova at 1:54 PM on December 26, 2005

Since no-one else has, I'll risk the flaming by saying that iBooks and Powerbooks get excellent battery life. Apple claims 6 hours, mine gets 5 hours or so depending on what I'm doing.
posted by zerolives at 2:43 PM on December 26, 2005

I get roughly 9 usable hours with my Fujitsu Lifebook using a modular bay battery instead of the dvd drive. Battery life was the main reason why I bought it.

If importing wasn't so expensive, I would've gotten a Panasonic T4 instead though. (Estimated 12 hour battery life!)
posted by yeoz at 3:19 PM on December 26, 2005

Best answer: they're a bit steep (~$200), but you can buy a universal external laptop battery that'll add about 4-5 hours of life in addition to whatever your laptop's battery provides. do a search for "PowerPlus 60" on your prefered online store. it's a universal pack so you can use it with other brands and models as well.
posted by mcsweetie at 3:26 PM on December 26, 2005

Popular notebooks that often offer "double life" batteries include Thinkpad (was IBM, is now Lenovo, the extra length battery sticks out the back of the case), Toshiba and Sony. As a rule of thumb most new batteries on new notebooks will last about 3 hrs on a good run without too much abuse. The double ones will claim 8-9 hours but you'll get a good 6 or more hours on them.

I used to carry around a second battery. They are a bit expensive, and definitely add weight, but are quite convenient if you're going to be away from an outlet for long periods of time, but in this day and age, an outlet always seems to be nearby.
posted by furtive at 3:49 PM on December 26, 2005

The Toshibas have good battery management tools. I still have a Satellite despite the fact it is/was a real lemon -- this isn't the thread for that, but, if battery is key for you because you are on the go a lot, my Toshiba Satellite is a big heavy brute that required a big case, and adding another battery to that would have made it close to my dad's vintage luggable compaq.. So before you buy, put the laptop in a case, add a kilo of battery or cheese, and stand around in the computer store browsing with it on your shoulder for at least half an hour before you buy. Then do the same with a 12 inch ibook.

Also, my toshiba battery died after less than a year, ymmv.
posted by Rumple at 7:54 PM on December 26, 2005

batteries go bad over time, even if (although more slowly) they aren't used (i don't have a quote to back that up, but it was discussed here a while back). assuming you buy from a major maker and they don't discontinue things immediately, you may be better buying a single battery now and, only when that starts to lose its ability to store full charge, another later.
posted by andrew cooke at 11:06 AM on December 27, 2005

Response by poster: Dude! The first computer I ever used was one of those "luggable" Compaqs...

Then do the same with a 12 inch ibook.

Hmm... a new Satellite seems to weigh about the same as a year-old 12" iBook, according to my entirely non-scientific "pick one up and move your hands up and down slightly and then do the same with the other" method.

Are there other reasons you didn't like the Satellite? (I refuse to buy a mac, btw).

Anyway, thanks for the answers everyone.
posted by poweredbybeard at 10:02 PM on December 27, 2005

Well, my satellite is about 2 years old now so probably they are a bit smaller/lighter -- but I really can't believe they are as light as an ibook. Certainly the footprint is bigger. Anyway, if you are not buying a mac the difference is moot. This is my rant on my mac/pc experiencees. To be concise re: toshiba, not only was it barely portable (ca. 8 pounds plus largest case needed for its huge footprint and thickness), but in first 12 months the battery died (despite good care, and a reasonable number of recharges -- say 50), the hard drive crashed irretrievably (well, 500 bucks of datarecovery services retrieved it), and the external video port crapped out, which was a major issue for me and was a new motherboard requirement). It is still running, but crashes unpredictably to blackness every so often.

yeah, he still has that luggable, dual 5 1/2" floppies, no HD, runs Word 2.0., weighs about 35 pounds. Sucker still runs fine, we fired it up a couple of months ago for laughs.
posted by Rumple at 12:19 AM on December 28, 2005

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