Blog Post

Laptop: The Computer to Have in a Power Blackout

One of the reasons I’m a die-hard laptop aficionado is that I live in a rural area where power blackouts are not uncommon. Late November usually brings at least one with the arrival of the first major winter storm. This year proved no exception, with a major gale roaring in off the Atlantic last Friday evening.

I was prepared, but by the time I went to bed, although the lights had flickered a couple of times, the power was still on, and I was beginning to be a tiny bit optimistic that we would dodge this bullet. No such luck. I woke up around 4 AM, and the wind was screaming. Gusts had been forecast to about 45 MPH, but I would estimate we were getting more like 60 MPH sustained for about half an hour, at which point the lights died. I called the power utility and went back to bed.

Hardly a Break in Routine

Unsurprisingly, the power was still off in the morning, and the utility’s recorded message predicting restoration at 6:00 PM, but deadlines don’t wait, and I had two newspaper columns to write. Happily I had to hardly break my usual Saturday morning routine. I usually do morning work on one of my Pismo PowerBooks, so I grabbed the one with a 4200 RPM hard disk, cranked the display brightness down a few notches, and got to work at about 10:30. By 2:00 I had both articles written, plus had spent about an hour dialed up to the Internet with the computer’s internal modem, answering emails and doing research, and at the session’s end the old G4-upgraded Pismo’s FastMac TruePower 6600 mAh extended-life battery, which provides an advertised 43% more capacity than the original Apple battery, still had 45 percent of its charge left. With two of these units fully-charged you’re good to go for an entire eight-hour work day, and well beyond with a bit of battery conservation strategy employed.

The Laptop Advantage

Laptops have some major advantages over desktop computers in power blackouts. While you can get relatively inexpensive UPS (Uninterrupted Power Source ) devices that will keep your desktop running for five to fifteen minutes, long enough to save your work and shut down in an orderly fashion, you’re not going to be able to do any real work on a desktop during an outage. To pull that off you’d have a gasoline, propane, or diesel fueled power generator, a large power inverter with plenty of battery power and recharge facility to back it up (power inverters are extremely inefficient), or a high-end (and very expensive) UPS.

On the other hand, you can keep a laptop computer going for a couple of days on its internal battery if you ration your use, and indefinitely if you keep a second battery, plus with a cheap power inverter and a car battery, you should be able to ride out even lengthy power interruptions if you have a means of periodically recharging the battery (ie: enough gas in the car).

The Proprietary MagSafe Adapter is a Problem

I also have a Kensington 70 Watt AC/DC Power Adapter (unfortunately discontinued) that works with 12 volt input as well as AC wall current, and which has proven very handy for recharging laptop batteries from a car battery or portable power pack during past outages. Unfortunately this adapter doesn’t support Intel-based Apple notebooks due to the proprietary nature of Apple’s MagSafe adapter, which they have thus far refused to license to third-party manufacturers. Apple does make a Magsafe Airline adapter, but it only works on aircraft and not in cars.


Happily, MCT Inc. offers a couple of solutions that include a genuine MagSafe cable for either Macbook/Macbook Pro or Macbook Air. Now you have no excuse for your battery going dead.

One Response to “Laptop: The Computer to Have in a Power Blackout”

  1. Perhaps Mac users need to adopt a policy: Whenever Steve Jobs or any other Apple exec is at a public venue, we ask they when they’ll license this adapter to third parties.

    If asking hasn’t worked, maybe nagging will.