The batteries in laptop computers are expensive (a quick review of prices at Lenovo.com shows they range from $119 to $179), and like any battery, they have a limited lifespan. When it comes time to replace the battery inside your laptop computer, you may be tempted to save a few bucks and buy a replacement from a company other than the one that made the computer.
In a widely reported story, someone in Ohio purchased a battery for their ThinkPad laptop from a company called Shentech rather than directly from Lenovo or IBM (in 2005, IBM sold the ThinkPad line of laptops to Lenovo). No doubt they paid less than IBM or Lenovo would have charged. When I checked today, a battery for a T40 ThinkPad that Lenovo sells for $119 is only $65 at Shentech. Was it a bargain? Not at all; the battery caught on fire.
The story made news not because of the fire but because the battery, bearing an IBM logo, was a fake (allegedly). After examining the faulty battery, IBM purchased additional batteries from Shentech, and they too were (allegedly) fakes. Needless to say, IBM is suing Shentech (that they list a Post Office box and no phone number on the Contact Us page of their Web site doesn't inspire confidence).
Unfortunately, the laptop battery igniting in flames was not, in and of itself, newsworthy. After all, last year there were a slew of battery recalls. The big story was Dell recalling 4.2 million batteries made by Sony, but overall approximately 10 million Sony batteries used in machines from Apple, Sony, Lenovo/IBM, Panasonic, Toshiba, Hitachi, Fujitsu, Sharp, and Dell were recalled. In May of 2005 Apple recalled iBooks and PowerBooks with batteries made by LG Chem of South Korea. Lenovo/IBM has also recalled Sanyo batteries. It must be hard to make a safe lithium ion battery.
The lesson here is to only buy replacement batteries from the company that made the computer. Off-brand batteries are more likely to scrimp on safety features.
And, should there be a recall of the battery in your laptop, make it easy for the manufacturer to contact you--register your computer purchase.
If you are curious about the battery in a laptop computer running Windows XP, go to the control panel, open Power Options, click on the Power Meter tab and, finally, click on the battery icon. In the screen shot above, you can see the battery was made by Sanyo.
ThinkPad owners should have a ThinkPad configuration program installed (available from Start -> Programs -> ThinkVantage, at least in Windows XP, I'm not sure about Vista) that shows additional information about the battery. As you can see above, this includes the manufacture date and the first-used date.
The Status Detail tab (see above) also shows, among other data, the current temperature of the battery, which might bear watching every now and then.
If you know of other software that shows important information about the battery in a laptop computer, please leave a comment below.