Tuesday, April 1, 2014

FACT or FICTION: Should I leave my laptop plugged in all the time?

I just got a new MacBook for use in my classroom, I like to have it plugged in all the time but someone told me this was a bad idea?  Is it?

For most people who own laptops, they are habitual... they either run their laptop down until the battery is dead or use it plugged in all the time.  I rarely see people who change their habits or are somewhere in the middle.  You might have heard someone tell you "don't leave your laptop plugged in all the time, the battery will stop working"!

Is this true?

This was certainly true in the 80's and 90's with the older Nickel-Metal-Hydride laptop batteries.  Manufacturers would have suggested that the you drain the battery completely before recharging, otherwise the battery cells would quickly lose their ability to hold a charge.  And if you left it plugged in all the time, the batteries would get so hot that they would expand and no longer function.  I think we've all been there once in our laptop-lives...

However, with the newer Lithium-Ion batteries, the guy at Best Buy might have told you that you don't ever have to completely drain it the way you needed to with older nickel-metal-hydride laptop batteries. Well, the guy at Best Buy might have sold you a decent laptop, but he gave you bad advice.  If you want to get the most out of your battery, this is false.  For one thing, if your plugged-in laptop gets hot while you use it and the battery is charged fully, all you're doing is exposing the battery to heat.  By exposing it to heat for prolonged periods of time is will make it age more quickly. But heat isn't the only danger your battery daces... another big battery killer is high voltage!  This includes the high voltage maintained by a charger—after the battery is full. With most laptops, you can keep the battery just below a full charge by keeping it active.  Doing things like using wireless, running a DVD or playing music makes the computer use parts of your laptop that use extra power.  Also, changing your settings on your laptop to "optimize for performance" will use more power.  These things help.  And when you do charge it for a long time, do it when the computer is off, not just asleep, to avoid unnecessary voltage hitting your battery.

You need to be careful about charging only if your computer doesn't include battery-management software.  Many PC manufacturers like HP, Lenovo, Sony, and Samsung preload software on your laptop that manages your battery for you.  It keeps track of the charge and is capable of adjusting the power getting to the battery to optimize its lifespan. For computers that don't automatically optimize charging, the advice on how often to charge and discharge their batteries varies. Apple recommends getting battery juices flowing by using the computer unplugged from time to time—though not too many times, since Li-ion batteries have limited charge cycles (each cycle is from complete charge to complete discharge). 

But keep in mind, no matter what you do, Li-ion batteries will eventually lose capacity.  For average users, expect to get about two to three years of good charges.

Bruce is the author of four books: Sands of TimeTowering Pines Volume One:Room 509The Star of Christmas and Philadelphia Story: A Lance Carter Detective Novel.  He also has a new novel coming out in November 2012, Towering Pines Volume Two: The Sound and The Fury.  Follow Bruce's Novel releases by subscribing to his FREE newsletter!

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