Replace Your Battery Before Your Laptop

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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.

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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