APC, mFuel External Notebook Batteries Keep Humming

External battery options now charge handhelds and USB accessories, in addition to notebook PCs.

External notebook batteries like American Power Conversion's new UPB90 and mFuel's Universal Power Bank offer all-in-one solutions that can help provide enough supplemental energy to last a full day away from an AC power source and work for both a notebook computer and various accessories and mobile devices.

Typical notebook batteries are good for 2 or 3 hours, depending on what the user is doing, maybe 4 or 5 hours with a high-capacity battery. That's good enough for working while waiting for a flight, or weathering a moderate power outage. Adding an external notebook battery to the travel kit can get users through a long-haul flight or a day where they can't get to a power outlet, or can keep external devices humming.

These products are good for notebook users, whether packing ultralight or desktop-replacement power, and for channel sellers or IT staff responsible for provisioning mobile users who want as few inventory items as possible.

It makes sense to provide external batteries that are compatible with the majority of popular notebook vendors and models, said Greg Fournier, product line manager of home and distributed systems at APC, because, "If you decide to change to a different model or brand, it will probably use different-size internal batteries. Having a universal battery lets resellers and IT departments simplify things."

Because power products like APC's UPB90 are primarily productivity enhancers, "SMB [small and midsize businesses] and enterprise customers are the major sales opportunity," Fournier said. "When they are ordering mobile accessories, they may order dozens, hundreds or thousands. It usually depends on how many notebooks they're purchasing, or have." And, Fournier said, "Enterprises and small-to-medium businesses buy mostly through channels."

The UPB90, available now with a manufacturer suggested retail price of $249, holds 90 watt-hours and sports two USB power and charging ports. Also available now, mFuel's Universal Power Bank, including AC adapters and data cabling and adapters at an MSRP of $399.99, holds 102 watt-hours and includes a second, lower-power charging port.

Click here for slides of the APC and mFuel batteries in this review.

Both the APC and the mFuel batteries promised to give me a full work day of power, including recharging my cell phone and Bluetooth phone headset as needed-and based on my tests, both batteries performed as expected.

To test the batteries, I used a Lenovo ThinkPad X61 ultralight with moderately aggressive power-extending and conserving settings and also used Wi-Fi to listen to Internet radio, with the speakers up most of the way. In my tests, a pre-production UPB90 lasted 3 hours 45 minutes, while the notebook's own eight-cell Extended Capacity (75-watt-hour) battery ran 3.5 hours.

Users with bigger notebooks or who are doing more power-consuming tasks like DVD-burning may not get as much run time, of course-either from the notebook's own battery or from an external one.

Both the APC and mFuel "autosense" the voltage level requirement of whatever device is connected, so it is no longer necessary to set this by hand (and are therefore users are less likely to fry their notebooks). Both also have a small LCD window that displays data such as current charging level and an estimate of how long the charge will power the current load.

APC's UPB90 weighs about 2 pounds (plus another 4 ounces for the main cable and tips). The mFuel SPB-11 weighs 1 pound and 12 ounces sans cables and bag, and includes the adapters and data cabling/adapters that APC doesn't bundle with its battery, worth perhaps an additional $50 to $75.

Both batteries perform adequately. However, APC's UPB90 is significantly less expensive and less complicated, and its flat shape, as compared to mFuel's brick, is more likely to carry better with notebooks of all sizes.