Cheap laptop batteries: Good deal or risky business?

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

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How they performed

Over the course of a month, I ordered six batteries for my two notebooks and tested them out (see "How I tested"). Two came from Laptops for Less, two came from Laptop Battery Express, and one battery each came from Apple Inc. and Lenovo Group Ltd. 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 $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. (See "Replacement batteries, side by side.")

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."

Frequently, the only things that separate the two types of batteries are whose name is on the label and how much it costs. In fact, the MacBook Pro battery that Laptop Battery Express sent me was actually an Apple-branded battery with all the markings, including a serial number.

OEM and aftermarket batteries for the R50

Can you tell the difference?

Click to view larger image.

The company's supplier said it was left over from a production run made for Apple. Whether this violates agreements between the factory and Apple is for their lawyers to fight about. All I know is that I got a battery for $30 less that appeared to be identical and gave me no problems.

Sometimes aftermarket batteries are even better than the originals. Due to added efficiencies that manufacturing plants have developed in the time since the notebook and its first battery pack were made, some replacement cells can be lighter or contain more capacity.

Two of the six batteries I looked at stand out. The MacBook Pro battery from Laptops for Less weighs 2.3 oz. less than Apple's battery but delivers about the same capacity; it ran for only five minutes less than the reseller replacement. Then there's the R50 replacement battery sold by Laptop Battery Express, which has a higher capacity but weighs 0.2 oz. less; it ran for an extra 10 minutes.

Each was significantly less expensive than the manufacturers' batteries, which sounds like a win-win to me.

Replacement batteries, side by side

For the Lenovo ThinkPad R50
   From Lenovo

From Laptop

Battery Express

From Laptops

for Less

Capacity*

(milli-amp hours)
4,150 4,508 3,960

Battery life

(hours:minutes)
3:43 3:56 3:37
Weight (ounces) 11.1 10.9 10.9

Price

 

$160

 

$90

 

$90

 
For the Apple MacBook Pro
   From Apple

From Laptop

Battery Express

From Laptops

for Less

Capacity*

(milli-amp hours)
5,461 5,440 5,390

Battery life

(hours:minutes)
2:38 2:41 2:34
Weight (ounces) 15.9 15.9 13.6
Price $130 $100 $110
* As measured by diagnostic software: BatteryMon for PC and coconutBattery for Mac
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