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Review APC Universal Laptop Battery Extender UPB-90

written by: Lamar Stonecypher•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 6/9/2009

Carrying and swapping laptop batteries on the plane is no fun. What if you could have a powerful battery extender capable of powering the notebook from your laptop's slim-line carrying case? Here we review the APC UPB90 universal laptop battery and find it to be an effective, but expensive product.

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    Packaging and Unboxing

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    The battery was sent directly from American Power Conversion in Chino, California by standard three to five day shipping and arrived in four business days. Well boxed and taped, the unit was packed in bubble-wrap and was in a plastic blister pack for retail rack display. The blister pack was inside an anti-static sleeve. Although I'm not a big fan of blister packaging, I was pleased to see that the edges of the pack were notched for easier opening.

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    Rating Average

    Setting up the UPB-90 involved first identifying the power tips to use with the notebook. My test machine was a ThinkPad R52 and the included chart identified the correct tips as type "B/B." Three connections are involved. The first is from the notebook's power adapter ("power brick") to the UPB-90's power cord, and this used the B jack. The second is to the universal battery itself, and this used a proprietary adapter. The third, and located on the longest cable, is to the notebook using the B tip.

    The OLED display indicated that the battery was 49% charged at first power-up. It went to 100% using the notebook's power adapter in less than two hours. It's rated for full charge within 3.5 hours, so this was in line with the specifications.

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    Here's a diagram from the documentation that shows the connections.

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    Image: APC

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    Here is the UPB-90 connected to the ThinkPad R52.

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    Product Features

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    As such things go, the UPB-90 is a bit of a luxury product. Some features, such as the OLED display and the voltage auto-sensing and auto-setting, are only found on the higher-end devices. Its light weight and notable thinness, however, are somewhat representative of this class of product, except for the very cheapest models.

    The image below will give you an idea of how thin it is.

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    Fit and Finish

    The top of the unit is covered in a pseudo-rubbery, finely-pebbled finish that is a finger-print magnet. I'll be glad when this trend for laptop and cell phone finishes passes. Eleven star-screws hold the case together from the bottom. No flex or creaking were evident when the device was squeezed with light pressure. Fit and finish and quality of construction appeared to be excellent.

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    Bottom View 

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    Ports and Connectors

    The UPB-90 features two five-volt USB ports suitable for recharging portable devices such as MP3 players, cell phones, and PDAs capable of charging from a USB sync cable.

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    USB Ports 

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    Information and Diagnostics

    The OLED display itself proved somewhat hard to photograph. Actually, it was both clear and sharp, and, although small, easy to read. Looking at it, the thought occurred to me that if I placed it in the APC roller case that I am also testing and with which the UPB-90 is supposed to be compatible, that beautiful display would be either (1) at the bottom of the case, or (2) upside down.

    In the first image, I tried a close-up without flash, and the color representation is realistic. In the second image, I tried a contrasting background and got a false color for the display. It adequately demonstrates the sharpness of the display, though.

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    OLED Display 

    OLED Display 

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    Many of the individual screens offer a choice of the information displayed. For example, for both "Charging" and "Capacity," the options are a percentage, a time remaining, or a bar-graph representation.

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    Display Charging Options 

    Display Capacity Options 

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    Images: APC

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    There are also several error and warning messages the OLED panel can display. These include overload and over-temp condition, which causes the unit to shut down, input voltage and USB current overload, and charging (with a warning symbol), which means that all the power from the notebook's adapter is going to the notebook and the UPB-90 itself is not charging.

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    Performance Testing

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    We tested the runtime of the UDB-90 by playing a DVD in PowerDVD 6 at full brightness and 50% volume. The fully charged standard battery in the ThinkPad (not the optional 9-cell battery shown in the image above) ran for 1 hr. 27 min. before the laptop beeped and went into automatic hibernation at 15% battery capacity.

    In the subsequent test, the low battery warning from the UBP-90 came at 4 hrs, 10 mins. At that point, the ThinkPad was still showing 100% charge. At 4 hrs, 17 minutes, the ThinkPad's charge indicator stopped showing the plugged-in symbol, and normal discharge began.

    This was an excellent performance from a device so light and thin. To put this in perspective, it would make the difference between completely depleting the laptop's battery watching one long movie and watching a couple of DVDs between Atlanta and San Jose.

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    Next: Specifications, Warranty, Estimating Runtime, and Our Review Conclusion

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    In this second page of Bright Hub's review of the APC UPB90, we take a look at the unit's specifications, warranty, and conclude the review.apc laptop battery review, upb90 features, upb90 specifications
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    • Capacity: 90 watt-hours
    • Maximum Output: 90 watts continuously, 100 watts for ten seconds
    • Output Voltage (switches automatically): 15 V, 16V, 18V, 19V, 20V
    • USB Output: 2 x 5.3 V
    • Input Power Source: Notebook adapter
    • Charge Time: Charges to 100% in 3.5 hours
    • Dimensions: 12.20 x 9.84 x 0.73 inches (310 x 250 x 18.6 mm)
    • Weight: 2.38 lbs (1.08 kg)
    • Storage Temperature Range: 4 to 140°F (-20 to 60°C)
    • Operation Temperature Range: 32 to 113°F (0 to 40°C)
    • Agency Approvals - TUV/GS, UL, CSA, FCC Part 15
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    The UPB-90 in warranted against defects and malfunction for one year. An RMA (return materials authorization) must be obtained, and the customer must provide shipping to APC.

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    Estimating Runtime

    You may be wondering how to determine how much your particular laptop's runtime will be extended by the UPB-90. The rated output of the device is 90-watt-hours. In other words, that's 90 watts for an hour, or 45 watts for two hours.

    You'll likely find the specifications for your laptop's battery stated in amp-hours rather than in watt-hours. To convert from amp-hours to watt-hours, multiply the amp-hours by the voltage of the battery.

    For example, a laptop battery is rated at 5.0 amp-hours and 20 volts. 5.0 amp-hours x 20 volts is 100 watt-hours. If you know that this battery will run your laptop for 2.5 hours, you can estimate that the UPB-90 will extend this by 90 watt-hours/100 watt-hours or 90% longer than the battery alone.

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    Rating Average

    And there you have it - the Bright Hub Review of the UPB90 Universal Laptop Battery by American Power Conversion.

    Is the $249 price tag justified?

    That depends. As mentioned, this is a bit of a luxury product. Autosensing of the input voltage and auto-setting of the output voltage are a notable benefit over other models in which the voltage must be set manually by a switch. Thus the device would be better for use with multiple notebooks, perhaps those of two different generations and different battery voltages. If you have the correct tips, you'll never have to worry about setting an incorrect voltage. The device looks and feels nice, and the fit and finish are excellent. Performance was impressive in our testing.

    If you have a newer laptop, you should check the compatibility lists for the power tips. APC support told me that the T61p is not supported although the battery pack seems to meet the specifications for the notebook right down the line, and Lenovo notebooks using the 20 V adapters have been out for around two years now. I did try using the tip and jack for some of the previous models, and it seems to work fine with the T61p. This may be related to the current capacity of their power cord, so I'll keep an eye out for anything getting warm. I consider this a challenge. You might not, so check with APC support in chat before purchasing this device - just to make sure that the jack and tip for your laptop are included.

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    Further Reading

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    Is Using Vista's Hybrid Sleep Good for my Laptop? - Curious about whether the new power saving modes in Vista are actually better for use on the desktop than on your laptop? Here we look at Vista's hybrid sleep mode and how hibernation and sleep are different from Windows XP.