Hanno’s Battery Rant. In full and Supported by UMPCPortal!

Posted on 23 July 2008, Last updated on 23 July 2008 by

Author: Hanno Zulla
Original article appears on Hanno’s blog. Reprinted in full with permission.

When it comes to portable electronic gadgets, there are three major annoyances.

The three hour limit must fall

Photo by AndyArmstrong

There is an unwritten rule when designing portable computers:

The battery will last three hours.

Once technological advances allow the next generation to run longer – be it thanks to more efficient hardware or more powerful battery technology – the manufacturers decide to shrink the battery, capping the device back to the three hour limit.

Three is a nice psychological figure. “Lasts three hours? – not too short!” “Less than three kilogramms? – not too heavy!” After all these years, today’s 3 kg laptops usually still run for 3 hours or less.

This must end.

Three hours is not enough for a true mobile device (especially since the advertised three hours of battery time usually result to less than two in real use).

Read on for more….

Batteries should be replaceable

Photo by merfam

A rechargeable portable device that doesn’t allow the user to replace its battery is a disposable item, it was made to break.

Enforcing planned obsolescence by making it hard to replace the device’s consumable parts is a design choice that should be opposed.

We need a standard battery for gadgets

Photo by Eva the Weaver
Photo by Eva the Weaver.

This is the hardest task for the future and it’s unlikely to happen soon. But we desperately need a new battery standard.

Good luck when you try to find the battery type used in a laptop or cellphone at a reasonable price just few years after its release.

The AA battery’s format was standardized 60 years ago. Battery technology has improved since then, yet you can still use today’s AA in a 1980s walkman or a 1950s flashlight.

There are several manufacturers. You can buy AAs anywhere in the world. Recycling is possible.

It’s insane: Gadget manufacturers keep a stock of fast-aging device-specific batteries for a limited time and sell them at premium prices. There are no or few competing offers and formats change with every new device generation.

We need standard battery formats just like AA for laptops, cameras, cell phones and other portable gadgets.

#1 is just my personal requirement. The technology exists to design sub-500-gramm computers that run for a whole day, but few customers buy them, so unless people decide that a three hour MID isn’t really such a mobile internet device, the industry has no reason to change.

But #2 and #3 are ecologically disastrous and I’d even welcome government regulation to enforce these if the industry doesn’t come up with solutions by itself.

Photos via flickr by AndyArmstrong, merfam, Eva the Weaver.

10 Comments For This Post

  1. ecsk2 says:

    Exactly what I’ve been saying for a couple of years now that nothing is changing in the battery time of the laptop/umpc/MID market!

  2. James says:

    Support everything said there, the tec industry has taken massive strides in the past years including 64bit computing becoming main stream and a webcam + mic in every £400+ notebook.
    The one thing that has been left in the dust is batteries; the design for LiIon was conceived decades ago and made real in the past 12 years where as the change from 32bit to 64bit took a lot less.
    Then again ways of creating and storing energy is becoming an increasing focus of researchers so maybe one day we will see hydrogen fuel cells in the latest UMPC? lol

  3. Benjiro says:

    Welcome to 5 years ago…

    I’ve been saying the same thing about my “old” x50v PDA ( what is now my fathers ). How is it freaking possible that after more then 4 years! the PDA technology is still in it infancy.

    Just looking at todays PDA’s, my old x50v what is 4 years, let me repeat it again, 4!! years, we are talking ancient in computer industry terms… O look, a 600mhz PDA cpu, o wait, i already had that ( with a bit of OC’ing ). Power drain… Hmmm, most are still draining the same amount of power, resulting in almost the same work time.

    You expect after about 2 or 3 generations of die shrinks, that the bring PDA’s out that have a 1000Mhz mhz dual core version, with better battery life. Same with the onboard 3d graphics etc…

    Why am i talking about a PDA on a UMPC website.

    Because i’m noticing the exact same crap all over again with the UMPC’s. It has been 2 years from the introduction of the UMPC class portable. Yet, despite that, only 2 meaningful changes have happened. The Atom cpu, and oled screens…

    Yet, the hardware has not increased in speed. The Atom is actually equal or slower at tasks then the Samsung Q1 Ultra. Something thats what? 1.5 years old already?

    Form factor, same problem. Has nobody expect the D4, every eared of a little company with a product called Psion Mx5! Take the design and improve on it…

    Battery’s are the same crap. Its almost like battery development is none existing. The only big jump the last 10 years or so has been Lithium-ion battery’s… And even thats not really a major improvement in added storage ( mostly removed some of the drawbacks from the older types ).

    And then we get to the point of the post. Lets make everything like cell phones smaller, lighter, but don’t bother with a good battery. Hell, give me my original phone, with lithium-ion battery’s, and we are talking 1000h standby instead of those 150-250 most have ( and no, my original was not the brick type ;) )….

    Now, the blame is on several levels.

    In the UMPC market you can clearly see where some of the problems are.

    Put a low energy using Atom in a UMPC. Check.
    Now add a nice USB! & power hungry build in Wifi. Check.
    And there goes any advantage the Atom brings…

    I always criticized the decision of going 45nM process and leaving the chipset at 65nM process. Where the chipset is now the biggest power drain… Same with all the other components like Wifi, BT, the memory! Most of those are build on even larges processes. And like the Wifi, BT, are at times using the very inefficient MB -> USB Controller USB Interface Wifi, because it more easy then integrating it on the MB…

    And why the hell do UMPC chipsets hold redundant interfaces like 6 or more USB port support, ATA-IDE! support and other crap like that. Its nice and well to integrate standard PC chipsets, but thats useless power draining to the max.

    I hate how the UMPC markets looking more & more like the PDA market. The design is there, now lets milk it using mostly old tech…

    Anyway, thats my rant for this month ;)

  4. ecsk2 says:

    I fully agree still have an x51v also for the same reason nothing beats it in instant on and battery time for the “windows” applications I need it for, heck if I were to get wifi in my car (autonet) it would still to date be the best for say Skype from battery and possibility to run it and of course size!

    Btw for once I’m typing a reply on here on my iPhone on Steve’s fancy new iPhone interface :) if you’ve got an iPhone or iPod touch check out this site now with it!

  5. Solinx says:

    To be sure, better batteries would be great.

    And it’s exactly that what electric cars need to be a success. Which is why they have been putting plenty of money in research to come up with better batteries since just over a century ago. As you will understand, they have been little successful so far.

    Batteries haven’t progressed enough for their progress to be really noticeable but I don’t think it is for lack of trying. While electric cars need another type of battery, it illustrates the difficulty of battery research.

    Batteries do improve slowly, yet like you too illustrate, they improve no more than the growth of consumption caused by new popular features, such as bluetooth and wifi.

    The Atom is different in this respect. Here the main feature was energy efficiency. You said the Atom has no performance improvement over older technology. Intel never claimed it to be a high performer. Besides being energy efficient it is also cost efficient. I’m sure they could also have increased performace, yet this is what they could make while maintaining a reasonable price. Sometimes you have to be realistic and make a choice. Besides, if there is anything an UMPC is not meant for, it is to replace big desktops in performing heavy tasks.

    As to the powerusage of the chipset, DavidC1 already mentioned the Poulsbo in his post below. The Atom processor was the start, the Centrino Atom, as the Poulsbo is now named, is the second step towards a focus on more energy efficient UMPCs. Like with the Atom, they’re not increasing performace much, but likewise it doesn’t bother me.

    Other manufactors are following a similar route, so the next few years should be interesting.

  6. DavidC1 says:

    -The chipset is at 130nm process. When Poulsbo was designed all of the available ICH designs were 130nm, and thus Poulsbo became 130nm as well. Another reason is that chipsets use older fabs to maximize the usage.(Traditional Intel laptop/desktop chipsets use process tech 1 generation older than CPUs for that reason)
    -The Poulsbo TDP is only 1.7-2.2W depending on config. That’s on par with the fastest Atom CPU for MID/UMPCs. It’s not bad.

  7. Hanno Zulla says:

    > if you’ve got an iPhone or iPod touch

    …you’ve got a device that is designed around the “planned obsolescence” paradigm.

  8. ecsk2 says:

    I’ve been the first to criticize (an defend) the iPhone (iPod touch) for the things it lacks, but at the same time acknowledging it’s somewhat revolutionary steps in this class of product.

    Yes it bothers me as much as the next guy when we encounter what can only be described as fanboy brainwashed statements. But at the same time there is the other extremist that tend to disregard all the progress or new thinking that ANY Apple product brings to the market just because it happens to carry a certain fruit name (no its not a vegetable :)).

    Now do you care to elaborate a little as to what part of the iPhone/iPod touch or any of it “siblings” of past from Apple (if there is anything that can match that description?) will or has become “obsolete” or “non-functional” which is by definition what you are claiming.

    Just to make it clear, I am typing this on my WinXP EEE and have been a Mac/iPhone owner for less than a year.

    I don’t know if Apple would fit that description any better than ANY (as you yourself? pointed out) of the larger mobile phone manufacturers, for which it is next into impossible to get a battery or charger for a model that is a few years old. I’d actually say that due to the relatively limited product line of Apple they’ve been able to support discontinued models better than say Nokia.

    Since we are talking about batteries here what other brand name out there has this type of service/info on their pages?

    No I’ve never used this service myself so I lack completely any first hand info around it.

  9. Hanno says:

    I don’t hate Apple and my wife and I both own an iPod Classic. It’s hands down the best MP3 player, hardware-wise and thanks to third-party support by software and hardware accessories.

    But the non-replaceable battery makes me mad. This product has been designed to enforce making third-party replacements more difficult than with older iPods:

    Apple’s replacement battery will cost you 59$ plus tax, which is about three times the price of the actual battery. To add to the insult, the replacement will cost you 69€ to 99€ in Europe.

    At these prices, by the time the battery needs to be replaced (and current battery technology requires a replacement after about two years), you won’t replace it, but buy a new iPod: http://thetyee.ca/Books/2006/08/01/MadeToBreak/

    iPods are designed to be thrown away by the time their battery dies. Few people actually replace the battery with Apples replacement offer.

    If you look at the issue from this angle, the Macbook Air with its non-replaceable batter is just another bad example of this design paradigm.

    You are right that cellphones are just as bad.

    One can argue to their credit that a company such as Nokia does use the same battery format for several device generations and that you can easily buy third-party batteries for the popular phones.

    But yes, cell phones are part of the problem, several times worse than iPods are.

  10. Hanno says:

    Oh, the software killed the link.

    But the non-replaceable battery makes me mad. This product has been designed to enforce making third-party replacements more difficult than with older iPods:


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