Lenovo claims battery life crown from HP

Says new Lenovo X201 laptop can run more than 12 hours between recharges.

 Lenovo Group Ltd. this week quietly claimed that its latest ultraportable laptop, the ThinkPad X201, has set a new endurance mark.

According to Lenovo, the base X201 laptop can run for up to 11 hours with an optional 9-cell lithium-ion battery. Using the low-wattage Core i7 LM processor would improve the new laptop's portable life to 12.2 hours at a time, says Lenovo's senior worldwide product marketing manager Mika Majapuro.

With the 9-cell battery, the X201 and X201s still weigh just 3.5 and 3.1 pounds, respectively, according to Lenovo.

Lenovo didn't specify under what conditions it tested its batteries or whether the tests adhered to any industry benchmarks such as MobileMark. However, the company said it would guarantee the promised runtimes for the new batteries, which are available on all T-series and X-series ThinkPads, for three years.

Strong endurance and high capacity (the number of times a laptop battery can be recharged and maintain its runtime) is the holy grail of PC vendors, who normally have to trade off one for the other.

For example, lithium-Ion batteries are notorious for wearing out quickly, with battery life commonly shrinking by a third or half after a year or two. Every lithium-ion battery recharge generates heat, which degrades the charge-holding material -- the Lithium cathodes -- inside the battery. Packing more cathode cells into the battery to increase runtime tends to result in more heat, which cuts its lifespan further, according to Robin Tichy, a technical marketing manager at battery manufacturer Micro Power Electronic Inc.

Similarly, increasing voltage to more quickly recharge batteries -- a feature sought by on-the-go businesspeople -- tends to shorten the lifespan, because of the heat and the extra metal needed to collect that current.

"There is no super magic formula where you can suddenly get fast charges without sacrificing something else like capacity," Tichy said.

Improvements in battery technology, along with hard disk drives, have lagged over the last 20 years, she said, noting that the capacity of state-of-the-art lithium-ion batteries has increased by only about 3% a year during that period. "We're just looking at incremental improvements," she said.

Lenovo's Changes

Majapuro credits the endurance and capacity boost in Lenovo's new laptops to a pair of steps taken by the company's developers.

First, the development team improved the power managers in the T- and X-series ThinkPads to adapt its recharging style to its user. For instance, if users generally keep their laptops plugged in for a long time, the batteries will be charged more slowly, which extends battery lifetime.

Second, the nine-cell batteries used by Lenovo are so capacious that the ThinkPads actually don't tap them entirely in the beginning. "We don't give all of the capacity at once to a customer," Majapuro said. That leaves more fresh cells for later.

With the X201s' top 12.2 hour run-time, Lenovo edges the Nokia Booklet netbook, which claims a 12-hour runtime.

Nokia didn't say how long the Booklet, with its 16-cell battery, can maintain the 12-hour runtime performance.

For users more interested in long-term battery life, HP <a href="http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9129685/HP_offers_laptop_batteries_guaranteed_to_last_for_3_years" <http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9129685/HP_offers_laptop_batteries_guaranteed_to_last_for_3_years%22> >offersspecial Sonata batteries</a> as options on certain laptops. Designed by a startup, Boston Power Inc., <http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9137558/Long_life_battery_maker_targets_more_laptop_brands_but_not_netbooks> the lithium-Ion Sonata batteries are guaranteed to be rechargeable for at least three years, or about 1,000 charge cycles.

Moreover, the lithium-ion Sonata batteries can be recharged quickly without shortening their lifespan, says Boston Power CEO Christina Lampe-Onnerud. The batteries can be charged to 40% of capacity in 10 minutes, and to 80% in 30 minutes, she noted.

That's similar to other long-running HP models like the TouchSmart 2 tablet/laptop (9.5 hours) and the Mini 2140 model that shipped last year (8 hours using 6-cell battery).

Designed by a startup, Boston Power Inc., lithium-Ion batteries are guaranteed to be rechargeable for at least three years, or about 1,000 charge cycles.

Moreover, lithium-ion batteries can be recharged quickly without shortening their lifespan, says Boston Power CEO Christina Lampe-Onnerud. The batteries can be charged to 40% of capacity in 10 minutes, and to 80% in 30 minutes, she noted.

The tradeoff, however, is an unimpressive runtime of about 4 hours.

In an interview late last fall, Lampe said Boston Power already knows how to make 24-hour batteries.

"Our primary agenda is to drive up capacity (number of charge cycles). But our roadmap includes both higher capacity and longer runtime," she said.

Eric Lai covers Windows and Linux, desktop applications, databases and business intelligence for Computerworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @ericylai, send e-mail to elai@computerworld.com or subscribe to Eric's RSS feed.

This story, "Lenovo claims battery life crown from HP" was originally published by Computerworld.

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