The short life and times of my Powerbook’s G4’s replacement battery

The picture over there? The readout from the (rather handy, and free) CoconutBattery, which tells you how much juice is left in your Apple laptop’s (obviously) battery, and what percentage of the original life is left. (The important stuff is the lower part of the display: the current and the original capacity.)

Which, as you can see, is a pathetic – there’s no other word – 2% of the original. In fact, it’s so small that it doesn’t even bother turning on the display now when I open it up; it detects that there’s too little power there to make it worth turning on and then shutting down. So it doesn’t turn on. It just sleeps.

What’s amazing about this is that this is a battery which has gone from brand new only 18 months ago to completely kaput now.

And it turns out that I’ve done fairly well out of it. Apple’s Powerbook batteries, one discovers, could be summed up in one word: expensive crap. OK, two words.

The battery I have, snoring gently away as I type, was a replacement because the original that came with this machine was one of the “OMG it might catch fire!!” ones made by Sony. (This of course led to a whole detailed malarkey of shipping by sea/rail/road because it couldn’t be sent on a plane. ‘Cos it might catch fire, yeah?)

At the time the original was replaced, it was getting average life. The Powerbook is never your choice if you want three or four hours battery life; you’ll get a couple of you’re parsimonious – but I was able to work comfortably on the hour’s journey of my train ride.

That's not life, that's death

But a few weeks ago that changed. “You are now running on reserve power,” the machine would interrupt crankily. “Please plug the machine into the power, or it will go to sleep automatically.” First I would be 5 minutes outside my destination. Then 10. And gradually it crept backwards and backwards, until this morning when it just wouldn’t rouse.

The trouble is though that replacement Powerbook batteries are expensive. In the UK, they’re around the £80 mark. And like the Powerbook power cord (which also went wrong on me and is hugely unpopular), they have a terrible writeup on the Apple UK store. (This may be a link there. But Apple Store links are famously evanescent.)

Let’s see some of the reviews:

From my experience of two batteries, I agree with many of the other reviews, after ca.1 year, one has a desktop in effect and one which runs very hot, constantly topping up the battery. I sat next to a guy on a ‘plane last week who used his old and cheap Acer laptop for over 4 hours. I was just stunned – after a year with my second battery my G4 Powerbook lasts about 50 minutes. One has little choice, but £89! Taking the proverbial, I would say – shows contempt.

Hmm. Another:

after buying my third battery for my 3 and a half year old powerbook, apple left me no choice but to shop around ebay. I managed to pick up a perfect working recycled one for half the price…knowing that they will probably last about a year of fairly heavy duty usage as I travel a lot, I’d rather throw my money at a stranger selling them for a more realistic price than the ridiculous overinflated 90 quid price tag

Perhaps another will be better?

I have not used my Powerbook G4 (I have a Macbook Pro) in over a year but had the replacement battery under the recall program, plugged it in, used it for a bit, installed Leopard, played around for a bit, put it on the shelf for 6 months, picked it up and the battery is dead. Cannot have used the battery for more than 20 hours and 4/5 cycles. The previous battery worked faultlessly. Come on Apple you have to do better than this.

And just take note of this one, because it’s interesting:

i replaced my battery less than a year ago when apple advised my current one was potentially dangerous only to have the replacement effectively die within months when the original one had worked faultlessly for well over 2 years. none of this is covered by warranty and has left me with the expense of replacing it with no review of whether or not the product was faulty at the time of supply. this has to change

Interesting that the latter (who is by no means the last of those slagging the battery and its huge price off) also had a replacement battery, eh? I wonder if the replacement bunch were made by super-cautious elves who didn’t put the usual amount of the magic pixie dust inside. (The reviews on the US store are no more complimentary, apart from one guy who gives them 5 stars – uh? – and says

Great, long lasting battery. [Are you on crack?? CA] For best battery life, run the battery dry once a month and 3 times when you first get it.

Notwithstanding that advice, I now have a Powerbook whose battery isn’t worth bothering with; it’s a desktop I can carry around.

Important question: are the eBay batteries (usually from HK) worth getting? It’s not for me, you understand – the death of this has come at the perfect time, as I’ve ordered a new MacBook. (Black. Not shiny. Fantastic battery life and excellent Wi-Fi detection – unlike the Powerbook on both counts.)

But I’m passing it on to some friends, and I’d like to feel they’ll have a machine with a battery. So do I recommend they get the HK ones off eBay, which cost about £30 all told? (I guess you could get three for the price of one “official” one..) Anyone got any experience there?

And is there something one should do to extend the life of Li-ion batteries, such as draining them to the max every time?

Update: OK, a search on “maximise li-ion laptop battery life” yields this HP page, which says

The user simply has to periodically discharge the battery until the 5% capacity alarm is received. The need to perform this procedure will vary with individual use. In general, a Li-Ion battery should be calibrated a minimum of once every 3 months. A battery that is seldom discharged completely should be calibrated about once a month.

and there’s Yahoo Answers which suggests you should

Avoid frequent full discharges because this puts additional strain on the battery. Several partial discharges with frequent recharges are better for lithium-ion than one deep one. Recharging a partially charged lithium-ion does not cause harm because there is no memory. (In this respect, lithium-ion differs from nickel-based batteries.) Short battery life in a laptop is mainly cause by heat rather than charge / discharge patterns

. It also says that you should recalibrate once every 30 charges. Ahh.

6 Comments

  1. I’ve killed three Li-ion batteries by ‘topping up’ rather than letting them drain, and my experiences exactly mirror yours. Although with Toshiba machines, rather than Apple.

    After learning my lesson (or at least doing my best, where applicable) my 6 year-old iBook still runs up to two hours before crapping out (having previously gotten around double that).

    No idea if its just luck-of-the-draw or something else, but as techniques go, it works for me…

  2. I’m thinking of trying a battery charger/conditioner like the one from newer technology.

  3. I’ve found my new Macbook Pro to have substantially better battery life – new, at least – than my old Powerbook ever had. On third party batteries: I also found that, when replacing a first gen iBook battery with a third party one, it was miles better than the one Apple had originally supplied. Your mileage may vary etc etc, but I’d think it a reasonably safe bet.

  4. i agree.my original G-4 battery was much better than the piece of crap apple replaced it with. it lasted 13 months.the replacement i bought is coming up on 12 months, i am going to start saving my money for a new one.

  5. My experience with PowerBook G4 12” was like buying a new battery every 2 years and ~300 cycles. 2 new batteries in total during 4 1/2 years.
    In 18 months battery slowly falls to 50% capacity and then nose-dives right to the bottom in just 5-6 months. I suspect the heat inside the case is the culprit, because though I soft discharged the PowerBook’s battery appr. once a week, it on my office table used to warm up to 60C (in graphics chip) for prolonged periods in summer when plugged-in. Now I have a MacBook and it seems to run appr. 10C cooler thanks to different design and much more powerful, fast and flexibly working fan. Maybe aluminium case is good for heat dissipation (also for easily warming up to alarming temperatures), but I suspect it’s as good in conducting heat to places inside the case that actually don’t need any heat… :) Especially such small case as the smallest PowerBook’s one.

  6. Applies more to AA-sized batteries than laptop batteries, but I found this article interesting:

    http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/001078.html

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