Amir's Rant #4: Smart Battery, Dumb Computer

Apr 3, 2010
15,814
2
0
Seattle, WA
#1
One of the unsung heros of our technology revolution is Lithium-ion batteries. Compared to Nicads before them, they have higher energy density which means lighter electronics and longer battery life.

A dark secret of Lithium batteries though is their volatile chemistry. If current is drawn too fast, they can get hot enough to blow up/catch on fire. For this reason they all come with some form of current limiting/protection. Often a microprocessor is added which can show the charge level and communicate with the main system electronics as to its state.

With that background out of the way, on to my rant. A while ago my Vaio laptop started to give this odd status: "On AC but not charging." The heck is that supposed to mean to a user? Likely the battery processor decided that the conditions did not allow charging. Why not communicate that reason to the user? Was it too hot? Failing? What?

I have replaced my Vaio laptop with another another computer. But recently I plugged in my Samsung tablet into AC just to have it say the same thing: "Battery level at 73%; not charging." Oh, that is nice. I want the darn thing charged and it is saying it won't and not tell me why? So I started to use it and the charge level kept going down as if the AC was not plugged in!

You wouldn't ever see this with NiCad batteries. The system would stuff it with charge whether it wanted or not. The battery could have been way past its useful life but no user would have been insulted with "I know why the battery is not charging but I won't tell you!"

Smart battery... Dumb computer. Or Tablet....
 
Jun 21, 2013
366
1
18
Wellington, New Zealand
#2
It's like that for the same reason that your car has "idiot lights" on the dash instead of gauges.

Some devices do tell you more if you know where to look. For example, I have a Lenovo laptop where the battery shows as about 3/4 charged but never increases. When I drill down into the power management app, it has a couple of pages which tell me a lot more information - battery serial number, charge/discharge cycles etc - and crucially, the fact that the battery has a fully charged capacity of only 9 watt-hours instead of its original 42 watt-hours. In short, it's knackered...

Edit: But I agree, it would be helpful if it put up a user-friendly message.
 

Folsom

VIP/Donor
Oct 26, 2015
3,716
318
83
Eastern WA
#3
LIPO batteries are dangerous, LiFePO4's are not the sleeping fireball that a LIPO is.

But LIPO's sure work great... you can fly a little remote control airplane for awhile on them, and charge them very fast.
 
#4
It's like that for the same reason that your car has "idiot lights" on the dash instead of gauges.

Some devices do tell you more if you know where to look. For example, I have a Lenovo laptop where the battery shows as about 3/4 charged but never increases. When I drill down into the power management app, it has a couple of pages which tell me a lot more information - battery serial number, charge/discharge cycles etc - and crucially, the fact that the battery has a fully charged capacity of only 9 watt-hours instead of its original 42 watt-hours. In short, it's knackered...
Aren't you glad you own a Lenovo then. Just get on their webpage, order the spare part, and replace the battery yourself! Couldn't be easier.

Unfortunately, I can't do that so easily on my Lenovo. They've decided they want to be fashionable and ship the laptop with a sealed battery!
 
Jun 21, 2013
366
1
18
Wellington, New Zealand
#5
... They've decided they want to be fashionable and ship the laptop with a sealed battery!
:( Its becoming common practice with cellphones too. The manufacturers probably took note of how few people replace the batteries rather than buy a replacement device and decided the cost saving outweighed the dissatisfaction potential.
 

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