Cheap laptop batteries: Good deal or risky business?

You can save up to 50 percent with an aftermarket battery for your notebook -- if you dare

A good diagnostic test for measuring battery life in a PC is PassMark's BatteryMon, shown below. (Coconut-flavour.com's coconutBattery is a similar program for Macs.) After you fully charge the battery, the program will report the cells' maximum capacity in milli-amp hours.

A good diagnostic test for measuring battery life in a PC is PassMark's BatteryMon, shown below. (Coconut-flavour.com's coconutBattery is a similar program for Macs.) After you fully charge the battery, the program will report the cells' maximum capacity in milli-amp hours.

It turns out that lots of places carry replacement batteries for the ThinkPad R50; the same battery works with ThinkPad T40 series notebooks. Only a handful of online stores had a power pack for the MacBook Pro.

I was able to find both the batteries I needed at two Web stores: Laptops for Less, and Laptop Battery Express. But before contacting them, I did a little research. I Googled their names to see if anybody had reported faulty products or bad experiences, or if there were pending legal actions against them.

Both appeared to be reputable businesses that have been around for several years. The products they sell include a one-year warranty and a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Both retailers can quickly ship out a battery in an emergency. For instance, Laptops for Less has its warehouse near the FedEx hub in Memphis for next-day delivery.

How they performed

Over the course of a month, I ordered six batteries for my two notebooks and tested them out. Two came from Laptops for Less, two came from Laptop Battery Express, and one battery each came from Apple and Lenovo. With one exception -- a dead battery from Lenovo, which the company quickly replaced -- each of the new batteries worked perfectly and powered up the notebooks completely.

Without a doubt, aftermarket batteries are a good way to replace a dead battery without spending a lot of money. Despite costing US$20 to $70 less, the aftermarket replacements proved to be just as good and reliable as the originals in my tests.

All of the aftermarket batteries I looked at fit fine. They just snapped in, and the systems powered right up. And the aftermarket replacements powered the notebooks for about the same amount of time per charge as the reseller replacements did.

Other than some minor cosmetic differences -- for instance, the plastic on one R50 replacement was a slightly different shade of black and not as shiny as the original -- I couldn't tell them apart from the manufacturers' batteries.

"It's hard to tell them apart," says BCC Research's Saxman. "Often, notebook makers buy batteries made by a third-party manufacturer, while aftermarket battery packs frequently come from the same factory that made the originals. It's confusing, to say the least."

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