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The Computer Corner

COMPUTERS

By Charles Miller

 

Laptop, Cellphone, and Tablet Golden Rule: Don’t Drain Your Battery to Exhaustion

 

Soon after last week’s Atención went on sale, I received a complaint from a loyal reader. The reader chastised me for the earlier column in which I stated that modern rechargeable batteries should never be run completely flat but failed to inform as to the proper way these batteries should be used. I apologize for that. I guess my only excuse is that I needed more words to explain than I had space available in that earlier column.

The older nickel-cadmium (NiCad) rechargeable batteries that were so common in the last century worked best when they were used until completely discharged, then fully charged again. This is the exact opposite of what should be done with the batteries now found in laptops, smartphones, and tablets, because the batteries have changed. Yep, the rules changed 180 degrees, and not everybody got the memo.

Today, the worst possible habit you could have is to treat your new-generation lithium-polymer, nickel metal hydride, or lithium-ion batteries, like you used to treat your NiCad batteries years ago. The modern batteries in use today are killed by deep cycle discharging.

It also happens to be the case that overcharging these batteries is not a good thing either. Thankfully, that is not a big issue, because most sophisticated chargers use microcycling to let the charge go up and down to minimize overcharging damage.

So what is the answer? I will let the software installed on some new laptops explain:

On some new laptops, you can receive the following message (and I paraphrase here): “Hey, we notice that you seem to leave your laptop connected to AC power all the time. If that’s going to be your normal habit, we recommend, for the sake of the battery, running it down to 50 percent, and we will hold it there.” What a superbly elegant solution!

Lithium-based and nickel metal hydride batteries will last years longer if maintained at 50 percent charge. And now you know why when you buy a new laptop, phone, or tablet, its battery is almost always half-charged and never fully charged when you received it.

So what is the best way to maximize the life of your rechargeable batteries? Don’t overcharge them, don’t run them flat, but maintain them at half-charge. However, while this may be the best way to prolong the life of the battery, anyone can see that this is not the most practical way to use your devices.

The way out of this conundrum is to be aware of the one thing that you, the user, can control. Never allow the battery in your laptop, cell phone, or tablet to be used to exhaustion. Every time you see an electrical outlet, every time you have a chance, plug in your device for charging, and depend on the charger not to damage the battery by overcharging. I realize not everyone’s lifestyle is conducive to that, but the more frequently you change your device, the longer its battery will last.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981, and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at) SMAguru.com.

 

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