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Charging Its Last Charge
The modern Lithium-Ion battery is a technological marvel, capable of storing substantial energy in a relatively compact space. Yet their ability to provide power is still finite. Eventually a Lithium-Ion battery will go dark, or will lose so much of its original capacity that it's effectively useless.
It's rare that a battery will suddenly and abruptly die. The death spiral is usually a slow but steady reduction in capacity that begins the day you start using it. Each charge eats into a bit of life until eventually there's no more to give. Other conditions can also reduce life - for example, high temperatures can sap batteries even when they're not in use.
Eventually you'll notice that your laptop isn't lasting as long on a charge. Although you may eventually be unable to use the laptop away from a power socket, you decision to buy a replacement is likely to depend on your tolerance for reduced endurance.
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Consider Your Options
Most notebooks, particularly Windows PCs, have batteries that can be removed simply by pressing a few clips on the bottom, which releases the battery and lets it come free. This makes replacement simple even for the most inexperienced user. The old pack slides out, and the new pack slides in. There's no need to mess with a screwdriver or pliers.
However, there are exceptions to this rule. The Apple MacBooks are the most notable, as they're extremely popular and they all have batteries housed inside their chassis, which means they aren't easy to replace. There are also some Windows PCs that take this approach. The Alienware M11x and Lenovo U260 are two examples.
If it's not easy to remove the pack, then you may need to call the manufacturer to see how they handle the situation. In some cases you can still perform the service yourself, but you'll have to remove screws and take apart a portion of the laptop's chassis.
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Finding a New Battery
The pack that comes with a laptop is rarely standardized, or if it is, it will be standardized for a specific handful of models. The Lithium-Ion battery is fairly flexible in terms of the way it can be packaged, so companies often take liberties with it so that they can accomplish other goals with their design.
As a result, the brand that produced your laptop should be your first source for a replacement. Be ready with your wallet, because this is often an inexpensive endeavor. The typical price for a new Lithium-Ion pack is at least $100, with some costing as much as $200. Capacity is often a determining factor. The higher the capacity, the higher the price. However, buying from the company that made your laptop means you are receiving a part that is identical to what was originally equipped. The peace of mind that comes with this is often worth the extra money.
If your laptop is more than a few years old, finding a battery from the original manufacturer may not be an option. Eventually they'll stop producing replacement parts and will run out of stock, so you'll have to turn to the aftermarket, which is unfortunately not consumer-friendly. The problem with third-party battery packs is the lack of regulation. Companies will state a certain capacity, or that a pack is built to fit a specific model, but there's no independent body that is verifying this information. In addition to this, many packs are sold through eBay or other indirect sources that can make customer service difficult to receive.
Spending more than $100 on a third-party option isn't recommended, as the products available simply aren't reliable enough to warrant significant investment. You're better off putting that money towards a new laptop.
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Sometimes, buying an new battery for your laptop is not the preferable solution. It's unfortunate that it will eventually wear out, and that buying a new one is so expensive, but that's simply the state of the market today and there's nothing that you can do to change it.
Consider the price of the new pack as well as the price of a new laptop with specifications that would be acceptable for your needs. If buying just the battery would cost 25% of what you'd pay for the brand new notebook, the later route may be the better option.
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Battery University - Charging Lithium-Ion Batteries: http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=battery+university
All images are from manufacturer press materials