Infrastructure // PC & Servers
Commentary
10/5/2006
03:48 PM
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Longer Battery Life, Not Explosions, Top Laptop Concern

We've seen and heard about laptop computers exploding or catching fire in airports and conference halls. One such explosion is believed to have burned a truck. Another is blamed for torching a home. But if there has been a significant public outcry to make immediate changes that would eliminate the potential for future problems, I must have been taking that day off.

We've seen and heard about laptop computers exploding or catching fire in airports and conference halls. One such explosion is believed to have burned a truck. Another is blamed for torching a home. But if there has been a significant public outcry to make immediate changes that would eliminate the potential for future problems, I must have been taking that day off.InformationWeek wants to know how readers have been affected by the battery recall and encourages you to participate in our online poll.

Mobility is perhaps the top technology trend of this young century. It has transformed how we work, play, and learn. Businesses and consumers now covet the freedom that mobility has provided, and end users won't be easily convinced to reverse field when the odds of a battery mishap seem only slightly higher than winning the next Powerball drawing.

In fact, the mantra continues to be "more and less." We want more battery life, and we want less weight. And by the way, increase the bandwidth and improve the availability of my wireless connection while you're at it.

Intel hitched itself to the promise of mobility early this decade, and its silicon technology and marketing have been key in redefining how consumers expect their computing resources to be delivered. Intel's Centrino mobile platform, and the accompanying highly successive advertising blitz, was easily a home run for the company during a streak of years when it was experiencing primarily strike-outs and pop-ups in other endeavors, from servers to cell phones.

More success in the mobile arena for Intel will continue to be driven by its processors and chipsets and its ability to help the world create more expansive wireless infrastructures. But Intel and laptop manufactures know battery life remains the big wall of limitation.

"There's really nothing significantly different that's going to happen (with battery technology) for the next two to three years," says David Perlmutter, senior VP and general manager of Intel's mobility group. "Right now the industry is working primarily on improving the manufacturing and reliability of traditional lithium-ion batteries."

On Monday, InformationWeek will look at a variety of alternatives being developed for battery technology. There are some based around changes in current chemistries to reduce volatility that are scheduled to be available to equipment manufactures as early as next year. There are others that include miniaturized combustion engines and hydrogen fuel cells that still require years of development.

"Fuel cells look attractive, but fuel cells have been just around the corner for decades," says Ross Dueber, president and CEO of Zinc Matrix Power, who promises his "safer" batteries based on silver and zinc will be ready next year. But the Zinc Matrix solution currently has a very short life of about 25 recharges.

Those touting alternative chemistries and approaches point out that when lithium-ion technology was first introduced in the early '90s, it had many of the same shortcomings that the new alternatives will now have to overcome. As the lithium ion came to represent the lightest alternative with the longest running time, it quickly became pervasive. And as it became pervasive, volume production has made lithium-ion batteries relatively inexpensive.

Those same attributes will determine the eventual successor to the lithium-ion approach. Although consumers appear unwilling to accept abrupt changes that would reduce running time or significantly increase cost, the public's patience with potentially hazardous batteries is surely waning.

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