At some point in their lives, all laptop users wonder the same thing: is it terrible to keep your laptop plugged in all the time?
As it turns out, the solution isn’t that simple. So let us investigate.
Know Your Laptop Battery
Laptop batteries are classified into two types: lithium-ion and lithium-polymer. Although they are distinct technologies, they operate in a similar manner, creating electricity via the passage of electrons. This steady flow is also required to keep the battery healthy.
The following claims are valid for both kinds of batteries (at least in terms of current laptops):
- Overcharging a battery is not possible. There is no risk of overcharging a battery if it is left plugged in all the time, even 24 hours a day. When it reaches 100 percent, it stops charging and will not restart until the voltage falls below a set threshold.
- A battery will be damaged if it is completely discharged. Allowing the battery to run entirely dry for a lengthy period of time might cause it to enter a deep discharge condition. This has the potential to be fatal—you may never be able to charge it again. (Try these ways for jump-starting a dead laptop battery.)
So, should we infer that you should keep your laptop plugged in at all times? Not exactly.
Things That Damage Lithium Batteries
The fact is that lithium-ion batteries are inherently unstable. They begin to lose capability as soon as they are manufactured, and a variety of circumstances speed their demise. These are some examples:
- Cycles of charge/discharge Every battery has a limited amount of charging and discharging cycles.
- The voltage level. The longer the battery life, the greater the charge level (measured in volts per cell).
- Temperatures over 30 degrees Celsius. This may result in irreversible harm.
The final two are the ones we’re most worried about. A detailed research conducted by Battery University demonstrates how high voltage levels and high temperatures reduce the life of a battery in isolation and significantly more when combined.
Charge or Voltage Level
Lithium-ion batteries charge to 4.20 volts per cell, which is equivalent to 100% capacity. The battery will have a lifetime of 300-500 discharge cycles at this level.
The number of discharge cycles doubles for every 0.10V/cell drop in charge until the optimal level is reached: 3.90V/cell, with 2400-4000 discharge cycles. Unfortunately, the battery is only around 60% charged at this point. The battery’s runtime will be somewhat more than half that of a fully charged battery.
Then there’s the heat. High temperatures, commonly defined as temperatures over 30 degrees Celsius, will reduce the life of a battery regardless of other conditions. On a hot summer day, just leaving your laptop in your vehicle is a poor idea.
The consequences are exacerbated when high temperature stress is combined with high voltage stress. According to the Battery University research, a battery with a 40% charge kept at 40 degrees would have its capacity reduced to 85% after a year.
When fully charged, the capacity drops to 65 percent under the same circumstances. In only three months, the capacity of a fully charged battery at 60 degrees drops to 60 percent.
The evidence seems to be obvious. Keeping the battery continuously charged at 100% can gradually reduce its life. Keeping it at 100% and exposing it to hot temperatures can significantly shorten it.
Remember that these high temperatures aren’t solely for the sake of the environment. Tasks that use a lot of resources, such as gaming or video editing, will generate a lot of heat, and putting the laptop on a pillow or in a poorly built cover can trap that heat as well.
It’s always a good idea to repair an overheated laptop for the benefit of your battery.
Should You Remove the Battery?
If heat is such a danger, it begs another question. Should you remove the battery altogether when using your laptop on AC power? Obviously, this isn’t possible on the growing number of laptops that sport sealed batteries.
Where they are replaceable, the answer seems to vary from one manufacturer to the next. Acer, for instance, says you don’t have to remove the battery on AC power, but should remove it if you aren’t going to use it for several days. When Apple produced laptops with removable batteries, it advised against ever taking them out.
It all comes down to the power management setup in the laptop. Some may reduce the power when a battery isn’t present, just as some do when the battery level gets low. This could leave you with subpar performance.
If you do choose to remove the battery, ensure that you store it properly. This usually means being charged between 40 percent and 80 percent and kept at room temperature.
Should You Keep Your Laptop Plugged In?
Does leaving your laptop plugged in ruin the battery? Yes, it does. But then so does charging it every day.
Curiously, the industry as a whole doesn’t seem to have settled on a single answer for the question about whether to use your laptop on AC or battery power.
We’ve observed that Acer advises removing the battery while not in use. According to Asus, you should deplete the battery to at least 50% capacity every two weeks. However, Dell claims that leaving the laptop plugged in at all times is not a concern.
Apple’s advise is no longer available on their website, although it is still available online. The business advises against always keeping a laptop plugged in. Instead, it recommends:
“A typical user would be a commuter who uses her laptop on the train and then plugs it in to charge at work. This keeps the batteries charged…”
Is It Bad to Keep Your Laptop Plugged In?
Short-term harm from leaving your laptop plugged in is unlikely, but if you solely use it on AC power, you’ll almost surely discover that the battery’s capacity has been severely diminished within a year. Similarly, if you solely use it on battery power, you’ll go through the discharge cycles of the battery faster.
So the ideal answer is a hybrid of the two: use it on battery power some days and keep it plugged in on others. And whatever you do, keep an eye on it so it doesn’t become too hot.
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