A long, long time ago, ancient computer users thought to themselves, “This is great, but I’d like to watch YouTube in bed.” And, thus, the laptop was born: a portable computer you can take anywhere you want. That portability is the whole point of your MacBook, ThinkPad, or other notebook computer, and, of course, a big battery makes it happen. Lately, though, I’ve wondered: Does a laptop need a battery to work?
It’s not just an arbitrary thought experiment. Sometimes, a laptop’s battery kicks the bucket and needs to be removed. Sometimes, old batteries no longer charge at all, and instead begin to build up a flammable gas, expanding the battery outward. You can see this expansion in action with all sorts of devices on Reddit’s r/spicypillows. While swollen batteries are most associated with aging batteries, newer batteries can suffer, too, either from damage or issues from manufacturing.
No matter how it happens, a swollen battery in your laptop is bad news, and it needs to be removed. If you don’t know how to properly remove it yourself, carefully take it to a technician that can. When the bad battery is removed, the next step is usually to replace it. But, what if you didn’t? Could you save the money and continue to use your laptop without its battery, so long as you can live without the portability?
The short answer? Yes. (But it depends).
After all, your laptop might be a portable computer, but it’s still a computer: Your desktop computer doesn’t need a battery to power all of the parts you need to compute (CPU, GPU, RAM, storage, etc.), and all of those parts are, obviously, still present in your laptop after a battery removal (at least they should be).
Sure, a desktop computer relies on an external power supply to run, but so does your laptop. Your charger isn’t there to simply charge the battery when it runs low: When you plug your laptop into power, it’s actually running off the power adapter, rather than the charging battery. You see this in macOS when you look at your battery settings: On the go, you’ll see “Battery” as the power source, but when you plug in the charger, you’ll see it switch to “Power Adapter.”
YouTuber Ask A Computer Geek has a great video on the subject: He disconnects the battery from his laptop to demonstrate how it will still power on and run when connected to AC Power. Of course, nothing happens when the power is disconnected, same as you’d expect from a desktop machine:
Not all laptops are created equal
This might be the case for Windows machines, but on macOS, it’s another story. Even though macOS tells you it’s running on the Power Adapter when you plug in the charger, it’s inadvisable to use a MacBook without the battery installed. In fact, it might not even work at all.
If you manage to boot up a MacBook without the battery in place, you’ll suddenly think your laptop aged five years. That’s because the software, recognizing there is no battery, underclocks (slows down) the processor significantly. While it’ll work, and you’ll be able to use your MacBook without the battery, it’ll be a much slower experience, and, in turn, not a fun one.
As such, it’s likely not worth trying in the first place: If you need to remove the battery in your MacBook, you should pay for a new one to properly use it. Then again, that advice probably applies to all laptops anyway, since removing the battery entirely also removes half the functionality of the machine.
But this article isn’t about whether you should you use a laptop without a battery: It’s a question of if you can. And you can! So, if you’re going to try using your laptop sans battery, whether to save money, while you wait for a battery replacement to come through, or because it seems fun, there are a few things to keep in mind.
How to use a laptop without a battery
To start, make sure to use the power adapter that came with the device. Without the battery, the power supply needs to work as the manufacturer intended. Any deviation in the amount of power puts the operation at risk, since there’s no battery backup in the laptop to pick up the slack.
Speaking of which, you’ll need to be very careful with the data on your laptop now that you’re running on a power adapter alone. If there’s a power outage, or you knock the plug out of the wall, your laptop will turn off instantly, putting your entire system at risk. Save all the time. Better yet, use programs with auto-save features.
Don’t forget to fully power down your machine before unplugging it from power, too. You might be used to ripping the plug out of your laptop before leaving the room, which you can no longer do for obvious reasons, but you need to make sure the machine is 100% shut down before moving it. If it’s still working through the shut down process, and you unplug it, that’s risky business.
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