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Help File: Laptop battery life spans; a damaged USB flash drive

Sunday, March 21, 2010; G05

Q: When I lost power last weekend, my six-year-old laptop shut down abruptly, even though its battery supposedly had a full charge good for three hours. Does the battery have a problem?

A: Yes. The lithium-ion batteries in most laptops lose a little capacity after each charge/discharge cycle.

How much? Hewlett-Packard estimates that its models will drop to 80 percent of their original capacity "after 300 cycles or about one year of use." Dell advises that most people will see "noticeable" declines in battery life after 18 to 24 months. And Apple says its batteries will fall to 80 percent capacity after 300 cycles, while the inaccessible units in its newest laptops will take 1,000 cycles to reach that point.

I've seen major reductions in run time with batteries just a couple of years old. After six years? Forget it -- the battery's gone. Get a new one, and consider buying from an aftermarket vendor that may charge less than the original manufacturer.

The plastic case of my USB flash drive just cracked. How long can I expect it to work?

It may function indefinitely. A few years ago, a cheaply built flash drive's case fell apart at my desk, exposing the circuit board inside. But even shorn of its exoskeleton, the drive still lights up and works when I plug it into a computer.

I can't say it doesn't look weird, though.

Rob Pegoraro attempts to untangle computing conundrums and errant electronics each week. Send questions to The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or robp@washpost.com. Visit http://voices.washingtonpost.com/fasterforwardfor his Faster Forward blog.

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