CNET logo Why You Can Trust CNET

Our expert, award-winning staff selects the products we cover and rigorously researches and tests our top picks. If you buy through our links, we may get a commission. Reviews ethics statement

How to use an old laptop as a battery backup during a hurricane-related blackout

Dig that old laptop out of the closet and make sure it's plugged in before the storm hits, then use it to recharge phones and other gadgets.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
2 min read
NASA/Ricky Arnold

This is one time when the hoarders might have the right idea. With Hurricane Florence drawing close, I'm reminded of one of my own experiences, when Superstorm Sandy hit New York in 2012.

Back then, out of an abundance of caution, I pulled a big, bulky, otherwise useless laptop out of a closet and plugged it in to fully charge it. When the power went out across all of downtown Manhattan, the big battery in the old laptop kept my phone charged up for at least an extra couple of days.


Hang onto old laptops, just in case.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The same advice holds true today, and I do the same thing every time there's a potential for a power outage. If you have any old laptops that still hold a charge in their batteries, even if the screens, touchpads, or wi-fi antennas don't work, there's a very good chance the USB ports will still charge your phone or other small devices. Many laptops will even charge USB-connected devices while in sleep mode, preserving even more power for later.

Since I wrote that original story six years ago, a few things have changed that are important to keep in mind. Now, finding a traditional USB port (called USB-A) on a laptop is no longer a given. Many newer laptops, including almost all MacBooks, have only USB-C ports. These ports are smaller and more flexible, but require a different type of cable. Make sure you have the correct charging cable or adapter (for example, a Lightning-to-USB-C cable) to get a phone connected to the laptop.

Amazon Basics Computer Accessories

A USB-C to USB-A adapter like this can be very handy. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

All this advice goes for your everyday laptop as well, which should be kept charged up as a precaution. And ff you're planning on pulling a Marie Kondō and recycling old electronics, hold on to those outdated laptops until after the storm passes and you might make one part of living through a blackout a little easier.

The best of AmazonBasics PC accessories: From a cheap mouse to a budget gaming keyboard, everything you need, for less. 

Laptops with the best battery life: See the top 25 laptops and two-in-one PCs with the longest battery life.