Q: I've had my laptop for several years and now the battery life is about 20 minutes. It's so frustrating. Should I chuck the laptop or get a new battery?

A: Buy a replacement battery. It seems like a ripoff to pay around $100, and the price points are just close enough that you figure, "Hey, why don't I just get a new computer?" but really, a new laptop battery makes a huge difference.

Before you go shopping for a new battery, though, make sure you try completely draining it and recharging it for a full twelve hours. Allegedly, laptop batteries can become conditioned to run for a set amount of time based on your usage patterns. While some doubt this effect, it doesn't hurt to try before opening your wallet.

The key improvement in laptops over the last couple of years has been their mobility. I still remember the first portable computer my dad brought home from work. It was this enormous Compaq with an orange screen. It probably weighed as much as two dozen MacBook Airs. It could have been mistaken for an ACME Anvil.

The bricks of just five years, too, have lost so much weight, you can hardly even recognize a Sony Vaio from 2004. Psychologically, though, all that trimming and slimming means nothing when your computer's battery starts to go. When you know your computer is tethered to a cable, it kills a big chunk of the fun of owning it.

Plus, it feels good to actually fix a gadget for once. And battery life is certainly something that can be fixed.

More questions? View the complete Toolkit archive.