Something most notebook owners struggle with is battery life. The bottom line is, for most of us, there's never enough. There are several ways to improve battery life, but the only way to make a dramatic impact is to buy a larger battery or more of them. Replacement batteries tend to be very expensive, require you to power down to switch and have other limitations. Enter the APC Universal Notebook Battery. It works with hundreds of notebooks, is lightweight and will add several hours to the unplugged life of your notebook, all for a reasonable price.
The APC Universal Notebook battery works in much the same way as those popular universal AC adapters do. In the package you'll get the battery, power cable, and a bag of tips. The tips actually come in pairs. One piece mimics the AC plug tip that goes into your machine. The other is like the port in your notebook itself. What this does is allow the battery to sit in the middle of the power loop, more or less, by either accepting power from your notebook's AC adapter, outputting power to your notebook, or both.
Battery with power cord and tips (view larger)
To set up the battery, you'll select the right tips and clip them onto the power cord. The battery also has a voltage dial that lets you change it to meet the needs of your machine. It's important to use the proper voltage, sending too little to your machine won't hurt it, but extra voltage will. To check the setting for your notebook, look at the AC adapter that came with it. On the sticker will be an indication as to your notebook's requirement. APC also includes a compatibility chart that lists several machines from the most popular manufacturers.
Connector with Fujitsu tip on the right (view larger)
The only other setup that's required is to charge the battery. It takes a few hours to do so, and there are four lights that will show the progress during charge. While the battery is in use, APC tried to minimize any excess power consumption, so to check battery status, you'll need to hit the status button. A light won't come on until there is less than 10% charge remaining, at which point an amber light will glow until you charge the battery or it dies.
Battery lights (view larger)
Once the battery is charged, it's ready to go. It plugs into the notebook, just as the AC adapter would. In fact, the notebook treats it exactly like AC power, which is important to understand. Power schemes on the notebook will stay on AC settings, so these need to be changed manually. Of course, after the APC battery dies, or is unplugged, the notebook will revert to its own battery and settings. The other important point to consider is since the notebook treats the APC battery as AC power, it will charge its internal batteries off the APC battery at the same time as using it for power. This is probably desirable by most users, but just something I note for a complete understanding of how the product works.
I tested the APC battery with both a Fujitsu P7000 and an HP L2000. Both were tested with the notebook batteries removed, to get pure readings on the APC unit by itself. As noted, if the notebook batteries are low, they will charge off the APC battery, while it's also being used to supply power for the machine, reducing the effective life of the battery. In a real world situation it's going to be best to use the APC battery as the first battery, then the notebook batteries secondarily. Alternatively you can use the APC unit to charge your notebook battery if AC power isn't an option.
With the P7000, which uses 16 volts, our test included real world usage. I removed the batteries from the notebook and booted off the APC battery. I used it continuously for tasks that I complete throughout a normal day, including email, web surfing, document manipulation, etc. At full LCD brightness and power management set to full performance, I was able to get 5 hours 15 minutes in this scenario. It's reasonable to expect more optimal conditions to yield over 6 hours with a low voltage machine.
While completing a test with the HP L2000 which draws 18 volts, we wanted to see what a minimum expected life of the battery would be. The L2000 was cranked to full brightness and maximum performance settings and played a DVD the entire time. The APC battery lasted a little less than 2 hours before it died, which should be about the worst possible performance anyone will see. Of course there are machines that take more juice, but this battery is largely designed for mobile users who will have machines on the lower end of the power consumption scale.
I routinely take flights that are several hours in duration, from the Midwest to the West Coast. Even with my extremely power efficient P7000, the main battery can't handle me working the entire time. And by working, I of course mean catching up on my Netflix subscription. At 1.64 pounds it's not even excessive to throw in the backpack. Given the battery's tremendous flexibility and reasonable price tag (MSRP $149), I think it's a worthwhile investment for highly mobile notebook users.
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