Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Lenovo Battery Sudden Death Syndrome

I'm a proud owner of a Lenovo ThinkPad X61s notebook. I bought it just over a year ago and I've been thoroughly happy with it. Until a month ago.

On October 16, two days after the end of my battery's one-year warranty, I came home after leaving the laptop plugged in during the entire day and, without thinking twice, unplugged the AC adapter as I usually do to take the laptop to the couch. The laptop turned off instantly and would not power back up with the battery. The ThinkPad Power Manager had this to say:


With the battery connected, the battery light on the front of the laptop flashed rapidly orange (it's supposed to be flashing green when charging and solid green when finished charging). Note that this happened suddenly -- the day before this happened, I had about 4 to 5 hours of battery life as usual.

I immediately called customer support and was greeted by a polite yet very unhelpful man. He was unable to help me in any way because my warranty had expired 2 days prior. It's a little silly, but I don't blame him; he's just following company policy. It looked like I would have to figure this out on my own.

From what I had heard, one of the most common causes of failure of Lithium-based batteries is failure of one of the cells (this battery pack, for example, is made up of 8 cells). The charging circuitry then avoids charging or discharing the cell, since damaged Lithium cells can be quite dangerous (explosions, etc.). Sometimes, it's as easy as replacing that cell; failed cells typically have a very low voltage, usually lower than 1.5V.

So, what does a good reverse engineer do with a potentially repairable battery pack? He cracks it open. WARNING: DON'T DO THIS AT HOME. It could literally blow up in your face.
Here's what a ThinkPad X61s 92P1172 battery looks like inside:


At this point, it's worth noting how the cells are connected in such a battery. The 8 cylindrical cells (part number "LH7M2D8") are grouped into 4 pairs. The two cells in each pair are in parallel, while the pairs are in series. If the cell voltage is Vcell, then the total voltage Vtotal = 4 * Vcell.

I measured each of the cell (pair) voltages, and they were all approximately 3.97V. According to TI's Using NiMH and Li-Ion in Portable Applications (Figure 1), this is a normal voltage for a mostly-charged cell. In fact, the Power Manager applet showed a total voltage of 15.86V, which adds up. However, it's debatable whether the PM reading should be trusted, since, not knowing exactly how the PM works, there is a possibility that the battery is in fact damaged and the reading is stale data from when it was last healthy. Either way, my multimeter confirmed the cells have a healthy voltage (I don't know enough about Li cells to say for sure that this means the cells are completely healthy). I also haven't tried measuring their voltage under load (a small resistor), since that's fairly dangerous if not done properly and I would prefer to avoid any fires until it becomes absolutely necessary.

And this is about where I got stuck. All signs so far point to a defective charge controller or a corrupted controller nonvolatile memory. I have tried doing the "reset battery gauge" procedure in Power Manager, but that results in my laptop hard-crashing (powering off) and nothing happens to the battery. I'm quite open to suggestions.

Thanks for reading, see you next time! :-)

41 comments:

Nikos said...

Hi, we are in same situation here. I have a Lenovo 3000 N100 laptop with 3-cells battery and in sort, i did test my battery with external load (~300mA) and last for several hours as it should, then i recharged the battery with a multi-voltage wall transformer (LM317 inside). I believe the cells are ok and the problem is at the circuit board but i am stuck there because i cant find information for the ic's that have. I did find any problem with the other components. Have you make any progress with your battery?

dhung said...

I have a x61 with the same problem.

I know for fact that the cells are still good, but power manager thinks there is something faulty, therefore has basically written a limit on the charge capacity to the controller in the battery pack.

The reason I know that the pack is still good is because I monitor my battery's capacity on a weekly basis (hey that's what engineers do ok). I had roughly 65Wh before I ran the power manager reset. And afterwards, the battery only held about 36Wh. The pack was designed to hold 74Wh, but I've used it for about 11 months so 65Wh makes sense. However, the resulting 36Wh tells me that the power manager has a bug.

The cells are connected in series, therefore the cells have to be balanced in order to avoid cell reversals during discharge. The thing is that, cell balancing actually takes a very long time (sometimes up to days) because once 1 cell reaches the maximum voltage the controller will stop the charging process to avoid overcharge. Then the controller has to balance the cells by first discharging the 1 cell, or by passing the current from the 1 cell to the 2nd cell. Similar to a bubble sort in programming. As you can imagine, with 8 cells this can take a long time.

Now, this is also where the power manager may have a bug with its reset. Once any of the cells reaches the maximum voltage, the charging stops. However, this doesn't mean that all of the cells have been charged. The power manager then discharges the battery immediately, and obviously the resulting capacity will be much lower since not all of the cells have been fully charged. With the new "lowered" capacity value, power manager then writes to the board in the battery pack limiting the charge capacity.

This is just my theory. I have been playing with LiFEPO4 batteries on electric bicycles for the past few months and this is what I have learned about them.

I will be taking apart the battery once Lenovo rejects my request for a replacement.

dhung said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Guy said...

well i see this post i quite old, but i hoped that maybe someone has found a solution by now- as i am facing the exact same problem with my R61, a few days after my 1 year warranty expired....
i'm not so keen on buying a new battery, because after reading in a few places on the net, i found out that it might be the laptop itself who's caused the failure, what might cause the new battery to fail in no time.
if you have a solution- please post it here or something.....
thanks!

Anonymous said...

R61e .... same scenario. Argh.

ben said...

Er ... me too, with a Z61m laptop and a seventeen-month old 9-cell battery pack. No warning for me, either.

ben said...

PS Your link to the third picture is broken, and I'm quite keen to have a look at it. Would you be so kind?

Catalin Patulea said...

Fixed! Thanks for letting me know.

BiLLY said...

Hi, I have the same problem. Thinkpad T61 14W. My old 9-cell battery works and I wanted to have smaller 4-cell battery, so I have ordered two 4-cell batteries from this page http://www.portablecomponentsforall.com/thinkpad-t61r61-cell-standard-battery-p-43604.html
Immediately, after inserting new battery, amber light rapidly flashing and message "A battery error, battery cannot be charged" appeared. Same for both batteries.
Any clue?

Anonymous said...

Same problem here with my 30 month old R60. Battery seemd to work fine with Linux until I started Windows for the first time in month giving it enough Internet time to for all applications to update themselves. Must be this PowerManager updated itself and figured my battery was not good any more?

Is a broken battery so dangerous to justify deactivating it completely even though it seemed to work just fine before?

J said...

I have lenovo x61 laptop and my battery suddenly decided not to work after 1 month of expired warranty. I believed lenovo did this for profit. Because before my warranty expired, lenovo customer called me to extend my warranty. I said "no". They planned a bug in a power management software. I have dell for years and the battery still good. We should all boycott IBM/lenovo. This philosophy caused GM to go down. I can't believed lenovo customer won't talk to me because I have no warranty. This practice give me bad taste. I WON'T BUY IBM/LENOVO AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!1

LvT said...

The same happened for me. I have x61 tablet. It happened after about three weeks since I installed windows 7 with all the drivers and lenovo power manager. I have been running the laptop fine for about a year with windows XP. Any sort of a solution would be appreciated.

Rob said...

Well, my problem is a bit different, i gave my battery a can of beer to drink that leaked in my backpack where i carried my battery. It seems there are ppl reading this with engineering experience. i unfortunately am on an exchange in brazil right now and therefore don't have access to proper measuring tools to check the voltage or anything.
after the accident it didn't work anymore, although the power manager recognizes it as 100% fully charged (how it was prior to the accident), but as soon as i disconnect from the grid the laptop is dead. i figured there was no way to get replacement for this (fairly new) battery from lenovo and opened it. one of the cells seems to have leaked, it seems to be "dirty" under the plastic covering it. i took that one out, does it matter, that there is now only 1 instead of 2 cells connected in line? and where can i find the "gauge reset" thingy ppl are talking about, my stoopid win7 power manager doesn't seem to offer that.
any help highly appreciated!

Justin said...

If you got liquid in your battery, be very careful! Lithium cells react quite violently to liquid, so if any should get into one of the cells you'd be looking at an explosion.

Rob said...

ok i just confirmed the cells still do have power. the problem is, i cannot seem to get the stupid power manager realize the battery is not at 100% (it even says that after i took some of the cells out). The button "battery maintenance" is not available in the stoopid power manager, god knows why, prolly because it still supposedly is 100% charged. well, i ordered a new battery, guess i have to trash mine :(

Anonymous said...

maybe there is something wrong with the ic (bq29330). this is from texas instrument. some manufacturer use this ic for their battery pack.
check this http://focus.ti.com/lit/ds/symlink/bq29330.pdf

Catalin Patulea said...

I think I looked up the datasheets at the time and couldn't find anything.. maybe TI has released them since, or maybe my memory is a bit fuzzy. The datasheets give me hope because they show each of the states of the controller. Hopefully I'll have some news about this soon.. (though I have quite a few projects on my plate at the moment so don't hold your breath ;) )

Anonymous said...

Rob,
I have the same problem
A new battery has decided your problem?

Anonymous said...

make sure you give ibm's pc-doctor [*] utility a go before attempting any battery fix - it has a 'rundown battery' option which will completely drain the battery. performing several cycles of full charge & discharge helped me regain ~30wh.

[*] http://www-307.ibm.com/pc/support/site.wss/document.do?sitestyle=lenovo&lndocid=MIGR-56222
[**] http://www.thinkwiki.org/wiki/Maintenance

Anonymous said...

So, no solutions yet?! Anyone?!

helix said...

I think it's simple.
An internal timer in the battery decides if you need to buy a new one.
Thank you Sanyo..
It's the same as the ink cartridges in a printer. They also stop working if you pass the date printed on the side of yje unit.

Anonymous said...

great

Anonymous said...

ThinkPad Battery Firmware Update for Windows to fix a low battery capacity problem - ThinkPad (Full version) --> http://www-307.ibm.com/pc/support/site.wss/document.do?lndocid=MIGR-75738

Tom said...

Same problem with a twist: updated BIOS a few weeks ago in anticipation of Windows 7 upgrade...coincidence?

computer: X61 tablet purchased 2007 Aug
Battery mfctr date: 2007-07-25

Battery has been doing well until now: typcially 3-4 hours on battery

Tom said...

Same problem with a twist: updated BIOS a few weeks ago in anticipation of upgrading to Windows 7.
...a coincidence?

Computer: X61 tablet purchased 2007 Aug
Battery had 3-4 hours until today’s flashing orange light.

Also, is it a coincidence that so many battery problems pop up in summer? Is the design too fragile for the heat?

Anonymous said...

I have the same sudden death problem(X61 tablet). Original 8 cell battery was working perfectly, pulled out the power cord to move the laptop and it crashed. Reconnected it and will no longer boot and only flashes orange. Bought a replacement battery and the same thing happened within a few weeks. Is this a battery problem or a computer problem? Called lenovo... because out of warranty they flat do not care that there is a problem. So do I just keep buying expensive batteries constantly. Will never buy lenovo again. Anyone know why this is happening to so many people. ?

Tom8778 said...

For $53 I bought a battery from BrilliantStore.com via Amazon.

My thought is the cost of a new Lenovo battery is a significant deposit toward a new tablet which would do all I need when I am not tethered. So I am trying a low cost battery. If it fails, the laptop will be a synch engine for an iPad or Android tablet.

PS
The BrilliantStore battery is physically different which is a pain, but it is working for now (too early to tell how long).


Problems with the BrilliantStore battery:
- the bottom is not flush and they use rubber to stabilize it, but the rubber falls off.
- I get warning messages from Lenovo that it is not supported which makes me wonder if they will play games with the battery.

Seth said...

I hate to bring this blog post back, but Google really seems to think this is the go-to place for ThinkPad battery issues. I am in possession of a Lenovo ThinkPad X61 with a really long warranty that is still in effect. Upon calling Lenovo they had me try a few things:
-Plug in the computer, take the battery out, see if it still runs.
-Try the battery maintenance (available by going through Lenovo's Power Manager, or whatever it is called and running the maintenance program)

That part failed for me, as I suspect you guys as well. The program charges up the battery all the way, then switches to battery power only to drain it, then charges it back up again. Only when mine was fully charged (it was already) and it kicked over to battery power, the computer shut off.

Being stuck there the Lenovo tech recommended a BIOS update, which I should have done initially, duh. So I'll give that a shot and if you don't hear from me later, that probably did it.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

To all the people having problems with battery drainage I have a bit of a wildcard idea for you to consider...bear with me and please read on.

I have been using IBM/Lenovo Thinkpads since 2002 and I have had to deal with various problems.

IBM and more recently Lenovo make robust hardware. Thinkpads are powerful tools and as high performance users we expect the very best and a user friendly set up. But is that the case? The going consensus on thinkpad forums is that IBM/Lenovo use every trick in the book to lock you in to their various thinkpad models.

By way of example, consider how difficult it is to change wi-fi cards - depending on the thinkpad model. You are locked in to these specific parts via the firmware coding. Moreover, Thinkvantage addons while useful may in fact be restricting the full power of the thinkpad. Do you really need it for anything other than easy access to some interesting bits of information!?! How much better are Thinkvantage controllers than default Windows 7 Pro.

I will bet 5 dollars/euro's/pounds that if you run your thinkpad with Ubuntu it will work perfectly and it will give a true power reading for the battery - in fact one earlier comment on here says exactly that. I have a dual boot set-up with Windows 7 (without Thinkvantage) and Ubuntu 10. If I have an issue in 7 I use Ubuntu as a back up. In the 3 years of using dual boot (previously in XP and earlier Ubuntu versions), I have never had a problem.

I have helped friends with various brand laptops and I have found that to get an objective assesment of a problem, it helps if you test the problem outside Windows and indeed outside Thinkvantage! A lot of people have commented on here that the Thinkvantage power meter is rubbish; perhpas you should see if the thinkpad works without it! You may be pleasntly surprised.

We all love thinkpads and I for one I will not sit idly by and let big firms decide how best to use my laptop or to lock me in to paying big sums of money for various things throughout the life of the laptop. Mercedes-Benz do a similar thing with their cars.

John said...

I've got an X61 Tablet I've had for about 3 years. A month after I bought it, I bought a spare battery.
I used it on battery at a meeting for 2 hours, it said it still had about 30% charge, so all is normal. The next morning I got the "battery has failed due to normal use" or whatever it is mesage, and it refused to charge.
I was glad I had the spare battery. It lasted almost exactly 3 weeks, had plenty of charge left at night, then refused to charge the next morning, exactly like the first one. An absolutely amazing coincidence. A quartz watch couldn't have timed the failures more perfectly.
I tried to buy a new battery at Batteries Plus. The power manager showed the type(?) to be something like "compatible" and it refused to charge it.
I love the computer, but there's no questtion in my mind that we're being cheated on the battery. I'll be very conflicted on what to do when it's time to buy a new computer.
John

pharmstudent said...

I have an X61 along with the rest of my class of about 83 students. We were required to purchase them. My entire class has had the same problem with the batteries suddenly stopping functioning, and most of them experienced the problem at roughly the same time. I am one of few that hasn't yet experienced the problem. The only solution from the IT department is to buy a new battery. I have to agree with the possibility that it could be a built in characteristic or, more likely, a component of the updates that are usually automatically downloaded and applied. I believe this because I turned off the updating feature soon after receiving the laptop because I consider them an unnecessary inconvenience. I also turned them off for a girl who is in my class at her request. We are two of very few who haven't had this problem and have yet to replace our batteries despite the same laptop usage as everyone else. It has been a significant amount of time since most peoples batteries were replaced. I am going on three years with the same battery (it doesn't have quite the life it once had but it still works adequately). Maybe try rolling back your system to before you installed the updates and see if your battery will still work.

lenovo battery said...

I recently brought ThinkPad SL510 laptop. It has a defective battery and it doesn't runs very long. I am quite frustrated with lenovo.

Anonymous said...

Hi!

The same for me with my T60. Just refused to work with the battery :( The power manages says, the capacity is about the halb of the maximum.
Is there any possibility to reset the internal controller in the battery pack?

Nikola said...

I am using ThinkPad R61i for three years now with a battery which could last for 1+ hours.

One day after installing Win 7 Ultimate I ended with a crashed battery.

Is it possible this is a software issue?

My earlier OS were XP and Ubuntu (dual boot), nothing similar ever happened.

Tom8778 said...

FYI, after applying a series of software updates, I tried my old battery again ... and it no longer gives me the orange light or dead battery messages.
The battery is now 4 years old and is good for a little over an hour, but the sudden death problem is clearly software related.
Very frustrating!

Anonymous said...

T410s, two years old - same shit. It is not what I expected in 2 week business trip.

razvan covaciu said...

!!!LI-ion batteries do have chips that controls number of charging cycles, when they add up to a specified number they automaticaly disable the charging process to avoid sweling and explosion, or any other damage to powered device or even operator, despite the fair properties of cells inside
!!!

marcusul said...

Hi,I have T400 from lenovo with 9 cells battery,design power 84 wh,after 3 year with 200 cicles,my battery is in good condition,about 45%,the power manager realy help,when I made the battery menenance my battery go up with 10%,now is about 55%,with no problems...guys..if u wanna keep your battery life please optimize from bios the battery and customize power plan on windows 7 with low performance on battery mode,and with charger optimize for battery lifespam from power manager,good luck,Laptop batteries are like children ...you must take care of them,read lenovo instructions

Adrian (YO3HJV) said...

Might be a late comment but the thing is a little bit more complex than one can imagine. So, there is a chip inside who monitors the voltage and the capacity of each cell pack (usually on extended packs, there are two cells in paralell) to decide if the pack is OK or not and also to measure the input and output capacity (gauge meter). That circuit need a reset from time to time to reestablish the relation between the voltage and the overall capacity. This is the "battery reset". The battery pack also communicate with the computer at a very low level, BIOS controlled laguage, via a serial interface, usually I2C. The charger circuit inside the computer listen for specific information from the battery pack ad take decisions like charging, not charging or reject the battery due to some failure. Also the version of the software may have some bugs which determines erratic behavior. It might be usefull to know that a Li chemistry battery does not like the 100% charging and a 95% limit can and will prolonge the battery life more over the "500 cycle" life! Not too many knows that iPads usually use around 90% from the overall capacity of the battery and this is one reason for the life of that devices. The other is Quality controll. There might be failure but: Use an up-to-date BIOS FW, use adequate and up-to-date drivers and software for Power management and set the limit of the charging at 90 - 95 % and you will have a happy battery! Another thing, Li chemistry does not like high temperatures so try to cool down the laptop by maintenance of the main fan. I have a T43 with a 2010 battery, a X61tablet with a 2011 battery and a X61 with a 2012 battery. All are extended, all are "compatible" not originals and all are over 85% of their factory capacity, except the T43 which is at about 74%. Regards from Adrian, yo3hjv

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the very, very useful information and advice, Adrian!
Do you have any advice on where/ which brands of "compatible" (non-original) batteries to buy?
Multumesc!

Phan H. Duy Thai said...

Sorry for waking up everyone.
Seem like everyone forgot about this.

I have had the same problem with my T430 battery.
the battery just died overnight. Exactly like OP.

I have opened battery pack and measure the cells. They are all 3.9V which is 95% full like what PM reported.

So yeah I guess the problem is the battery controller bq8030 and bq29330. can't find bq8030 datasheet anywhere. The fuses are not blowing up yet.

I was thinking about buying a new genuine Lenovo battery for this laptop. But after reading everyone cases, I said f* it!