• Modern laptops with non-removable batteries and power banks

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    The topic has been discussed here a bunch of times, but as you know, the laptop with a swappable battery has pretty much disappeared. While there may be a specialty item floating around somewhere out there that defies the rule, it’s been quite some time since I have seen a new laptop with a battery that wasn’t an internal component.

    With the older laptops that had swappable batteries, I always had spares. While the battery life my older laptops had was terrible compared to modern machines, at least I had the option to extend it, even if it did mean hauling around more bulk. I could hibernate the PC, swap the battery, and get back to what I was doing.

    Now, of course, that’s not possible. In the quest for thinness, swappable batteries are one of the sacrifices. At least battery life has grown since those days when swappable batteries were the norm. None of my older machines with swappable batteries would do more than 2.5 hours on a battery charge, with my most recent (the Asus F8Sn, with its Core 2 Duo and discrete nVidia GPU that was on all the time) coming in at 1.5, roughly, though some of that loss was probably from the GPU swap.

    By contrast, my Acer Swift has gone nearly 7 hours continuously playing a video at 1920×1080 (24 fps), and for light web browsing, it’s probably good for 8-9 hours. My Dell XPS should do even better, as its more powerful CPU is offset by a larger battery and more sophisticated power saving features than those on the Swift.

    Still, that doesn’t change that when the battery does eventually run down, a quick swap isn’t feasible like it used to be with older models.

    There is one option, though, that I have only now begun to explore, and that’s the power bank, or wireless charger. It’s essentially the battery version of an external hard drive… a battery inside a plastic case that you can attach with a small cord. These can power or charge a device for varying amounts of time, depending on the capacities of the batteries on both ends.

    I just bought one for my XPS. Despite my previous comment that I wanted to avoid Amazon where possible, I ended up buying an AmazonBasics unit. The low price for the capacity was one factor, but another was that there are so many no-name units. Amazon has deep pockets, and they likely want to avoid selling things like batteries that catch fire and damage people’s stuff (or just that damage people), so those safety certifications on the Amazon unit are presumably real. Are they on the no-names? I have no idea.

    Many power banks are intended for phones, and these usually have 5v charging USB ports, whether type A or type C. These won’t charge a laptop that uses the cylindrical power plug or a type C… you would need to buy a unit intended to be able to power a laptop. If the laptop uses the cylindrical plug, it should have a 19 to 20 volt output and a cord that shows the correct plug for your laptop’s power jack in the photo. They have varying instantaneous power outputs too, measured in watts, so a unit that is too small could turn itself off if you use it while the laptop is on and the laptop tries to pull more power than the power bank can handle. It would either go back into a discharging state on the internal battery, or if the internal was not charged enough to take over, the laptop would just power off, losing whatever you were working on. To avoid that, make sure you get one that matches the factory charger for wattage.

    My Dell XPS uses a USB type C charger, but it won’t charge from an adapter or power bank meant for a phone. Laptop chargers require more power, and generally require around 19-20 volts (though some use 12). The 5v that a phone uses won’t work.

    The type C power banks that will work with laptops will usually state higher power maxima than the phone types. For a phone, 18 watts is pretty high, but for a laptop, it’s usually 45 watts or more. The unit I bought is a 45 watt, matching what the original Dell charger can provide. These higher power units usually will say in the item description that it’s for laptops, and if you look at the power output, it will include the 19-20v setting. USB-C PD (power delivery) will have the device talk to the charger and let it know it wants higher voltage (and thus power), and only then will the charger send 20v, if it is able. A phone charger will simply ignore that request as it is not able to fulfill it.

    The power bank I now have lists a capacity just below 100 watt-hours, which is a specific design decision based on the US FAA rules. It is permissible to bring any number of up to 100 Wh batteries on board a plane in the carryon luggage if they are for personal use. Airlines may allow up to 150 Wh batteries to be brought on board, but that is up to them, and in any case, there is a maximum of two that may be brought on board.

    Lithium ion batteries are prohibited in the baggage hold, FWIW.

    So, as a result of that rule, you will see a lot of power banks rated at ~99Wh. These are usually (frustratingly) listed as 26800 milliamp hour, but without knowing at what voltage those amps are provided, the mAh rating is not useful as far as battery capacity. The internal cells within the power bank (18650 type, usually) are typically 3.7-3.8v, but that’s a guess until you see the actual number.

    The power bank’s size and weight is about the same as an old-style removable laptop battery would be if it were the same capacity. It is noticeably larger than my Asus F8’s battery, but the F8 battery was only 53 Wh, while the power bank is about twice that. The added volume seems very much proportionate to the added capacity.

    That strikes me as interesting… Whether you carry spare batteries for your old-school laptop or a power bank for a new one, it’s still about the same added bulk for the capacity added. Maybe we are not giving up as much as we thought with the non-swappable batteries!

    Never having used one before, I connected the power bank to the XPS via the USB C cable that was included, and it ran quite well, thinking it was connected to AC power (it was DC power, but it has no way of knowing that). There’s the inconvenience of having to attach it with the cord to charge the laptop battery or to power it directly, but then you don’t have to shut down to switch from the internal battery to the additional one… just plug it in and keep going. If you shut down/sleep the laptop and put it back in the bag, just leave the power bank connected and it will continue to transfer its charge into the laptop’s battery.

    It’s just a dongle-ized version of a battery, to go along with the dongle-ized ethernet adapter, card reader, USB hub, HDMI port, and the other stuff that used to be onboard, but that they had to remove to make it even thinner. The Mac led the way on this, but Dell followed with the XPS 13, which also has only the USB C/Thunderbolt ports (that can do everything each of the other ports could, but now you need a dongle).

    Dell XPS 13/9310, i5-1135G7/16GB, KDE Neon
    XPG Xenia 15, i7-9750H/16GB & GTX1660ti, KDE Neon
    Acer Swift Go 14, i5-1335U/16GB, KDE Neon (and Win 11 for maintenance)

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