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External Batteries: How Do They Work?

External Battery Roundup: Stay Away From The Wall Socket
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Extended batteries are unlike the battery that ships with your notebook. The most obvious difference is that they come with a variety of tips, since they claim universality with each manufacturer's specific power connector.

Even within a single brand, it is possible to find notebooks that use different voltages or plug sizes. For example, Dell has a standard plug size, but the Inspiron Minis are exceptions to this rule.

The stock power adapter that ships with your notebook supplies voltage at a fixed setting. This is not so for the external batteries. In order to deliver the multiple voltages required by different devices, they must also be capable of outputting different voltages.

There are a couple of ways to do this. The easiest way is to use a voltage converter controlled with a manual switch. Some companies choose to go a step further by using a sense resistor in the adapter tip. The sense resistor drops the voltage as current crosses its path. The small voltage drops are fed to a simple comparator circuit, which is then used to control the VDC output from the power supply.

If the resistor is in the tip, there is an additional layer of protection because you cannot force an incorrect voltage over a plug. Physical switches give you more control, but there is a chance that you'll choose an incorrect voltage and damage your notebook.

The way voltage gets to your notebook is important to understanding how an external battery can affect run time. Say your internal laptop battery yields two hours and your external battery offers an additional two hours. If your notebook is at 50% and your external battery is at 100%, this doesn't mean you get three hours total. There is an efficiency loss involved whenever you make an energy transfer, and you see this happen whenever the external battery charges the internal battery. This inefficiency is less than what you see with an AC to DC conversion if you were to use a UPS, but it is there all the same. Remember that this only applies during a transfer of energy from battery to battery. If your notebook was at 100% and external battery was at 50%, you would see three hours total.

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  • 0 Hide
    sylvain , 9 March 2011 15:54
    Interesting read. Would it be possible to do a similar test for pure USB external batteries. Used for adding that extra bit of juice to an iPad, iPhone or similar devices?
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , 2 May 2012 04:15
    Hi

    I am interested in using the battery for a DSLR video rig, i want to use the 12v to power the camera, then split the 5v to power both an asus wicast and a SDI to HDMI down convertor. both these last two devices take a 5v feed. would this be possible do you think?
  • 0 Hide
    Spanamana , 14 December 2013 15:15

    I purchased one of these batteries from a UK supplier and have to say I have never encountered such poor customer service in a long time. They claim that they supply one free tip a year. Rubbish! When you try to get one for a iPad 3 or later, they charge you $10 because they changed the name of it from "tip".

    After 8 months the battery started not keeping its charge. I tried to use the 2 year warranty to get it replaced and found out that although the unit is guaranteed for two years, the battery is only guaranteed for 6 months. Then I was told that it would cost too much to get it repaired as there is no UK repair centre and therefore there is a charge of $30 for a replacement.

    Having delivered the replacement battery, I have not received a VAT order for £21 for import duty from TNT. So a battery that cost me £50 has now cost me £95.

    Shonky product, useless service. Don't waste your money.