Lappy Premature Eulogy

Lappy a year ago in Japan.  Nice ventilation technology.
Lappy a year ago in Japan. Nice ventilation technology.

Random Observation/Comment #192: This blog is a mess.  It has just become a collection of thoughts from a crazy Chinese guy trying to find his way through a confusing world that’s filled with – simply put – different forms of pleasure and pain.  What’s been recently on my mind has been side projects and efficiently organizing my life to be a more productive and therefore happier person.  The setting of smaller, more frequent goals makes each day filled with specific experiences that will help me make decisions in the future.  The traveling and career-oriented writing is still the main focus in the back of my mind, but I’m trying to make that connection.  It’s hard to explain, but I know the strands are there somewhere – just waiting to be weaved together.  So, I digress.  I meant this introduction to notably mention the importance of my laptop in all of these activities within my travels (Us Chinese were never good at saying things without including the full background, even if it doesn’t ever seem relevant).

Like all eulogies, I will begin with her life story and how she’s influenced my life.  I’ve had my IBM Lenovo X61 netbook for about a year and I must say it has been one of my greatest investments.  It’s sleek and sexy, weighing 2.5 lbs, and it’s the perfect size for the traveling writer and programmer.  Coupled with a 300GB Western Digital Passport, I don’t really understand why I need my PC anymore.  It seems like my gaming life is almost over and the internet has enough web applications to remove all need for a (computationally) heavy laptop.  Fine, I don’t have a DVD drive, but I actually never used one anyway.  In this day and age, we can simply buy a relatively inexpensive, computationally light netbook and fulfill our wildest dreams.  A 40GB is enough when everything can be stored somewhere online or just attached with an external hard drive.

The key points that helped me make the purchase of this technologically gorgeous work of man were within the processor speed, RAM, and battery life.  Yes, the feel and layout of the IBM keyboards are impressively easy to maintain for its small size and the little red trackball is actually preferred over the conventional mouse.  I think I have the sensitivity perfect and I can begin moving the mouse to the next location while still typing.  She’s my girl and I’ve reformatted her from the original build to maintain the lightest Vista-running lappy ever.  All background processes are completely stripped to the essentials so I could basically use this wonder for word processing, internet usage, and even MATLAB programming.  She’s surpassed any other lover in the past year, including the iPhone (I’m sorry, Daddy didn’t mean it).  Needless to say, I’m proud to have built this bond with her, but she is slowly fading.

Li-Ion batteries are probably in all new laptops and any electronic portable device.  It’s lighter and has a longer lifetime, plus you don’t have to fully discharge it to maintain its battery life like the old models.  The only problem with this is the fact that Li-Ion batteries basically have a set lifespan based solely on shelf time.  It doesn’t even have to be charged or discharged and it will predictably lose capacity.  It’s been a little over a year and the original 2.5 hours of battery time has significantly decreased to 1.5 hours.  The interesting part is that this decline has only happened within the past 2 months.

Like all engineers, scientists, and technological doctors, I needed to find out why.  After a few minutes of research through a few random sources, I found that the storage temperature of the battery is directly related to the loss of capacity.  The reason the past few months has been relatively taxing on the hard drive is her major function as a full-on workstation.  Heavy computations and poor ventilations systems have pushed the battery limit to its edge.  The battery undoubtedly charges much faster because the capacity is highly reduced, but this means the portability on-the-go usage of the battery is replaced with a constant plugged-in laptop by an outlet.

A fellow engineer once told me two years ago (during the web book and netbook frenzy from Eee PC), that the best way to make a light notebook was to simply remove the battery and use the plug.  It was a delirious time filled with caffeine rushes and all-nighters, so the idea is obviously just ridiculous. Why would you need a lighter laptop when it’s plugged in?  To test it out, I simply took out the battery and maintained the plug.  What do you know? It still works just like a normal workstation.  It was a nice feature, but why would I ever use it?

Given this terrible ventilation system (which usually consists of using bottle caps lifting the top two corners of the laptop) I found that my Lappy often had a fever.  MATLAB programs and watching the occasional movie would just overheat the system.  Granted, nothing has melted, nor have any of the ports near the hard drive stopped working, but I think this leads back to the battery life reduction.  Even with the battery power manager, every day I continue in this terrible ventilation environment leads to a reduced battery life.

To save her, or at least reduce the effects of the battery degradation, I simply remove the battery when using the system at home.  Unplugging it will cause an immediate shutdown, but it’s not any different from a power supply in a tower.  Just remember to reinsert the battery before unplugging the laptop while it’s asleep.  Saving often is also a plus.  Worse comes to worse, a new and improved battery for this model would be a wise investment for all the joy she’s given me.

~See Lemons Save Lappy

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