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The Way You Handle Your Laptop Can Damage Its Battery Life

You shouldn't charge your laptop and use it at the same time.
PHOTO: istockphoto

Let’s get this fact out of the way: No matter how much care you put into your laptop’s battery, it won't last forever. It’s just how lithium ion or lithium polymer batteries work. They have a life expectancy that is affected by cycling (the process of discharging and charging your battery), high temperature, and ageing. So even if they’re pretty efficient and powerful now, at this point they still have much to improve on. All that said, what you can do is to help prolong the battery life.

Here are some things you should avoid or stop doing to avoid battery damage:

1. Completely discharging your battery

Outdated information: “Laptop batteries will forget their total capacity if you don’t fully discharge them every now and then.”

Updated information: Back then, batteries “forgot” their charge capacity, so they would be “fully charged” at levels lower than 100 percent. These batteries were nickel-metal hydride, not the lithium ion batteries we use today. In fact, discharging your lithium ion battery until it dies will do it more harm than good. That actually wears it down.

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Best practice: Let your battery discharge just a little bit (aka do a “shallow discharge”), and do that on rare occasions. The smaller the discharge, the longer the battery will last.

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Your lithium battery has a certain number of charge cycles—the number of times it can discharge and charge until it loses capacity. Laptops currently on the market have batteries with 500 to 700 charge cycles. One charge cycle is counted for each time you used a total of 100% battery capacity. So emptying your battery and charging it to 100 percent is already one cycle. Discharging your laptop to 50% and then charging it to 100 counts as half a cycle. These cycles will decrease your battery’s performance from its marketed specs before it stops working completely. So you help prolong the battery life if you drain it less—assuming ideal conditions.

Why does the battery’s performance worsen? The lithium ion battery of your laptop has ions that move between the positive and the negative electrodes. When you charge the battery, lithium goes to the negative electrode. If you let your battery discharge, lithium moves away from the negative electrode to the positive electrode, and a film forms on the negative electrode. This film will grow at every cycle and will eventually block lithium from getting to the negative electrode for a truly full charge to get you that long battery life.

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So as much as possible DO NOT run your laptop on battery power, especially if you don’t have to. It’s easy to not think about plugging in when the latest laptops boast of a long battery life, but not plugging in will shorten your battery’s lifespan faster than it should.

2. Not plugging in your laptop with the battery at full charge

Outdated information: “Keeping your laptop plugged in with the battery charged to 100% could result in overcharging and could wear out the battery more quickly.”

Updated information: According to Battery University, an educational website providing information on batteries to engineers and students, the lithium ion battery cannot overcharge: “It is a ‘clean’ system and only takes what it can absorb.” It’s important to assume for this statement that the lithium ion battery is well made—that is, has no leaks whatsoever. So if your laptop’s battery is at full charge, the charger that’s plugged in only powers the laptop and doesn’t work as a battery charger. Laptops now are designed to stop charging the battery when it’s at 100%.

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Also, keeping the charger plugged in with the battery at 100% doesn’t affect the battery’s cycle or lifespan.

Best practice: Plug in and run your laptop with its battery at 100%.

3. Charging your battery and using your laptop at the same time

You shouldn’t do this. Charging your laptop’s battery and using your laptop at the same time causes mini cycles, confuses your charger, and puts stress on your battery (because the cycle would happen at a high voltage and heat your battery up). That said, if you’re going to charge your laptop, make sure it’s off.

Best practice: Charge your laptop overnight.

4. Leaving your laptop somewhere that can get really hot

Extreme heat—the bilad sa araw kind and anything hotter than that—can damage your laptop battery permanently, or reduce its lifespan. Heat corrodes the electrodes and the lithium ion.

Best practice: Don’t leave your laptop in the car on a hot, sunny day. Don’t leave it somewhere it’ll get direct sunlight too. (Oh, and just in case you thought about leaving your laptop or the battery somewhere that’s freezing, don’t bother doing it. Freezing temperatures also damage the battery.)

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5. Using your laptop on your lap

The saying: “It’s not called a laptop for nothing!”

The reality: When you use your laptop directly on your lap, you block the vent that brings cool air into your device and the vent that expels hot air from your device. The blockage will cause your laptop to become overly hot, which can affect the battery. As stated earlier, the battery can be damaged by high temperature.

Best practice: Use your laptop on a hard, flat surface (like a table). But if you wanna get more comfortable and have it on your lap, place it on a board, magazine, or laptop tray which will rest on your lap.

6. Using your laptop on the bed

Soft surfaces like comforters, pillows, and clothes can block the vents and reduce airflow, hence building up heat in your laptop that can affect your battery.

Best practice: Again, use your laptop on a hard, flat surface. Make sure you rest it on a board or tray before using it on your bed.

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