time for replacements
The 9-cell battery that came with my Dell 1720 notebook in late 2007 now only gives about 15 minutes of power from full charge (used to be 3 hours or so) even on the most power-saving settings.
The power adapter or charger (the cable and “brick” that plug into the electrical socket) was failing too. It powered the laptop but wouldn’t charge the battery.
Lucky for me, my wife’s Dell 1520 adapter is compatible, so I was able to continue to use my laptop easily while I shopped for a replacement. I was also able confirm that it was both my battery and my adapter that were failing: neither adapter could make my battery hold it’s charge, and my adapter wouldn’t charge either battery.
razor blades and print cartridges
My first plan was to get genuine Dell replacements; I didn’t want to risk frying my laptop. But I was surprised to discover them not listed on Dell’s website. While searching around, I discovered Dell’s own customer reviews of the compatible 6-cell and 9-cell batteries for my 1720 were not encouraging. Dozens of customers complained that the batteries failed within a year or two of use and the replacement prices were baffling – USD$155 for a battery!
I googled around a bit more and discovered that this is a common complaint. It didn’t take long for me to realise I’m looking at one of the oldest tricks in the book: Selling something cheap and making money off the consumables. Just as Gilette gave away free razors but make a profit on the blades, and Canon sell $30 printers that only take $50 cartridges, Dell had sold me a nice laptop at a good price but were making a killing on cheap-to-make batteries. Someone even said Dell puts a chip in the power adapter so the laptop can check for non-dell-brand adapters and refuse to charge from them.
but can you risk your laptop?
I called Dell anyway. They said they were too busy to tell me the price (?) and would email me back. I began to look at 3rd party products – there are plenty of online sellers with compatible batteries and adapters. I found some on eBay from China that were claimed to be “genuine Dell parts” for less than $50, but this isn’t my first time buying “genuine” stuff on eBay. Even if it’s a good factory second or something from Dell’s own factory, can I really trust it not to fry my laptop?
an easy decision
A few days later, Dell finally replied with a quote for my battery and adapter:
Part Number: UW280 – 9 cell
Price including GST: $242
Availability: 10 – 15 working days
Part Number: DF266 + FF683 – adapter
Price including GST: $110
Availability: 10 – 15 working days
So that’s AUD$352 (USD$322), and 2-3 weeks, for parts that should still be working (and I now know they will fail again in less than 3 years). I could literally buy a new laptop for that price (with Windows, a 1.6Ghz CPU and 1Gb of RAM). Even Dell has a windows 7 machine for less than that on their US site (with a 6-cell battery and power adapter included – so it’s not like they’re actually expensive to make).
I ordered the ones from eBay.
taking the plunge
An eBay seller named Lycfeng sold me a brand new 9 cell, 85Wh “genuine Dell” FK890 battery for AUD$57.98 (including postage from China to Australia). It arrived only 7 days later in a plain cardboard box:
The new battery itself is identical in size and shape. It looks like a slightly newer version of my old battery – just claiming to be made in China using Korean-made cells (the original was made in Japan).
I backed up my data, said a prayer, swapped it in, and switched the laptop back on. I got pretty concerned when I got a BSoD and an IRQL_not_less_than_or_equal error on startup (!) but I remembered I’d got this once or twice in the past and tried simply restarting. This time the laptop started up fine and has worked well ever since. The battery lasts about 3.5 hours on conservative settings (that’s at least as good as the original battery – it’s a 17″ laptop with 2 HDDs) and never gets hot (always cooler than the rest of the machine, actually).
The adapter was a “genuine” Dell PA10 (90W 5.62A 19.5V) from a seller named unstar2006. It shipped in 8 days from China for $26.57 (including postage). It looks exactly like the old one, and has worked without any problems.
Update: after about a month, I have had a problem with it, though it was easily fixed. These adapters come in 2 parts:
- a long cord with the dell-specific plug for the laptop on one end, and the “brick” that does the actual power conversion on the other.
- a shorter, standard cord with a three prong IEC-C5 connector (that plugs into the “brick”) on one end, and a standard AC plug, that goes into your wall outlet, on the other. These are generic standard plugs that cost about $5-10 from eBay or an electronics shop. Many laptop power bricks use the same connector.
The eBay auction was aimed at an international audience, so the seller said he would ship the main part of the adapter (cable 1) with whatever version of cable 2 fits the buyer’s electrical wall outlets (because it depends on what country they live in). For me, he included one that fits Australian electrical outlets.
It appears it wasn’t a good quality one though, as it simply stopped working about a month later. This might concern some people about the quality of parts unstar2006 is using (though he didn’t claim that cable 2 was a genuine Dell). Personally, it hasn’t bothered me because I have one from my old dell power adapter still lying around. I plugged that in and everything works perfectly again. Since then, I bought another for my wife’s laptop, and her cable 2 died within a few months too. So if you’re thinking of buying one of these, keep this in mind (and don’t throw away your old cables).
I’ve only had these for a month at time of writing, so the jury is still out on how long they’ll last. I’ll add an update to this post if they fail anytime soon (I have already had a problem with the wall plug part of the power adapter, as noted above, but it was very easily fixed).
But while I still think they’re most likely just excellent counterfeits, or made at Dell’s factory without their permission, I’ve had no real problems (not even any evidence that they’re not genuine Dell parts).
Not bad for $85 (almost $250 less than Dell’s price).
Your mileage may vary, and all the usual disclaimers, but so far my own experience has been great.