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Opinion | All laptop manufacturers should allow setting battery charging limits

The removable battery has been all but killed off by many large manufacturers.
The removable battery has been all but killed off by many large manufacturers.
As large electronics companies push for thinner, lighter, and more disposable devices, users are left with less ability to maintain the lifespan of their computing devices. The most consumable component of a laptop, the battery, is also one with a lifespan most dependent on its charging cycles — but only a few manufacturers allow the user to control this behavior.

Whether through accidental damage or just daily usage, most of the major components of today's laptops are at some risk of being worn out through before others: SSDs have a limited number of erase/writes per cell, keyboards can break, displays can be damaged in transport, and, most of all, lithium-ion batteries generally only last for 300-500 cycles before capacity significantly decreases. This means that for many people using their laptops daily, the batteries in their laptops will likely need to be replaced within 1-2 years.

That didn't used to be much for a problem for users who didn't want to buy a new laptop every year or two because it was fairly simple and straightforward to find, purchase, and swap in a new external battery. However, now that more and more laptop manufacturers are dropping the external battery (like Lenovo disappointingly did with the recent T490/x280 revisions), a dying internal battery can be the kiss of death for an otherwise completely functional laptop. While internal batteries for ThinkPads are still relatively easy to find directly from Lenovo or other resellers, the internal batteries for laptops from other manufacturers are unfortunately difficult or even impossible to find and replace. This forces users of many laptops to pay extra money to opt for extended hardware warranties or face the fact that their laptop may be crippled within a year by a dead battery.

But what if there was a way to preserve the life of your difficult-to-replace lithium-ion battery?

Some manufacturers, such as Lenovo and Dell, allow the setting of charging thresholds in order to preserve battery health.
Some manufacturers, such as Lenovo and Dell, allow the setting of charging thresholds in order to preserve battery health.

Actually, there is a way to reduce battery wear on lithium-ion batteries: It's done by setting charging thresholds. If the battery's firmware supports it, software can be used to set different thresholds for starting and stopping charging of the laptop, helping reduce the wear on the battery. Each time a battery is discharged and recharged, it is considered one cycle off its lifespan, but frequently charging the battery partially or trickle-charging it (leaving the battery plugged in with a near full-charge) all put unnecessary wear on this consumable component. By telling the battery not to charge past a certain threshold (say, 80%, as is frequently suggested) and also telling the laptop not to recharge the battery until it is below at least a certain capacity (such as 60%), the lifespan of your lithium-ion battery can be greatly extended.

Lenovo, Dell, Asus, Samsung, and Sony (please let me know if I missed any!) offer this crucial functionality, but many other expensive brands do not. Why? Well, forced obsolescence is one possibility; Apple or other companies focused on maximizing profit-margins can only benefit when you need to buy an extended warranty to be sure you can get your battery replaced when it fails, and they're only made happier when you recycle your old laptop to buy a new one to get your mobility back. Additionally, they'd need basic software to allow the user to control this setting as well as batteries that have firmware that supports this functionality — both things that would cut into profits. On the other side of it, however, is that people looking to spend $2-3000 USD on laptops like a MacBook Pro or Razer Blade would be willing to pay a little bit more to have this additional functionality in their machine to ensure its lifespan.

Surely, these companies would sell a few more machines to more knowledgeable consumers and power-users if they all started providing this functionality, no? For myself, at least, I am unwilling to buy an expensive laptop if it does not provide this feature. So I say: If you are going to take away our ability to acquire and replace the battery ourselves, at least give us the ability to avoid unnecessary wear on them.

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2019 07 > All laptop manufacturers should allow setting battery charging limits
Douglas Black, 2019-07- 6 (Update: 2019-07- 6)
Douglas Black
Douglas Black - News Editor
Douglas Black is a technology analyst, teacher, writer, and DJ. He is also Managing Editor of UltrabookReview.