The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Chicago Electric 5-in-1 Power Pack Review

Charging a Chicago Electric 5-in-1 Portable Power PackEven though we haven't set up the solar panels from our plug and play solar backup yet, I wanted to test out our Chicago Electric 5-in-1 Portable Power Packs and see what kind of use we'll be able to get out of them.  We charged the power packs up using house AC for 48 hours (as instructed in the manual), then I plugged my laptop into one power pack and turned on the inverter.  Everything was going just fine...until 13 minutes later, my laptop stopped drawing juice.  I turned the inverter off and on again --- still no electricity.  Did I break it already?

Charge meterAfter a more thorough read of the manual, it sounds like it's best to turn the power pack's inverter on for a two minute warmup, turn it off, plug in the laptop, then turn the inverter back on.  After following those directions, my laptop ran quite happily for another three and a half hours.  It probably would have run longer, but we want our power pack's battery to last as long as possible, so I turned it off when the indicator hit 50% charged.

AC plugs and inverter switchEven though my laptop's power block rates its energy consumption at 60 watts, a previous experiment with a kill-o-watt device estimated the laptop's actual usage at 25 watts.  (The much higher wattage listed on the power block assumes that I have lots of USB devices plugged in, which I seldom do.)  So I drew roughly 94 watt-hours from the power pack --- a bit less than half of the 216 watt-hours the battery is rated at holding.

The only (very minor) flaw with the power pack is that the inverter has a fan that's about as loud as a desktop computer.  I'd gotten used to the near silence of my laptop, but I know I DC power plugwon't be complaining about a little white noise when I enjoy nearly four hours of laptop use during a power outage.

Although I'm quite pleased, I've got another trick up my sleeve to stretch our power pack usage further.  The power pack has two cigarette-lighter-type slots in the front, so I'm going to buy a "car charger" for my laptop and see how much more runtime I can get when I'm not wasting energy converting DC to AC and back to DC.  Stay tuned for more information as the experiment progresses.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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The rated power on a power supply will always be higher than the normally used power. Power supplies are designed and rated for a worst-case scenario.

Mind you, this is a good thing! If you use a power supply over its rated capacity you may get voltage drops which can crash the laptop if you're not using the built-in battery. It might also affect the lifetime of the power supply negatively.

If you switch off all the power saving features, turn up the screen brightness to maximum and play DVDs constantly and attach lots of USB gadgets, you would see a marked increase in power usage.

Comment by Roland_Smith Fri Sep 10 11:56:07 2010
That makes a lot of sense. A good reason to have a kill-a-watt device on hand when planning for power usage rather than just reading the ratings on the label.
Comment by anna Fri Sep 10 13:27:42 2010

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