On 14-Sep-95 Apple announced it has stopped shipments of the new PowerBook 5300 product line due to potentially dangerous problems with the product’s lithium-ion battery packs. The problems do not impact any other PowerBooks, including Apple’s new PowerBook 190 and Duo 2300 models (see TidBITS-292). Apple has recalled the roughly 1,000 units shipped to dealers and resellers, and reports indicate only about 100 units actually reached customers.
Details are still sketchy, but apparently at least two of these battery packs failed "catastrophically" at Apple’s main campus while recharging, with at least one battery catching fire.
Apple plans to replace the lithium-ion batteries with nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries currently in production for the PowerBook 190. Although no ROM or hardware changes will be required, Apple will install a system extension to handle the NiMH batteries. The NiMH batteries have rated capacities of 26 watt-hours, which Apple says will translate into about 20 percent less battery life than what had been projected using lithium-ion batteries. The switch should make supplies of the 5300-series and the 190 scarce for some time.
It’s unclear whether the problem stems from the engineering of the 5300-series, its charging circuitry, or a manufacturing problem with the battery packs. Sony makes most lithium-ion batteries, and lithium-ion batteries are currently used in other consumer electronics products, including non-Apple laptop computers. Though lithium-ion batteries give superior performance compared to other battery types, they contain flammable electrolytes and require more precise charging voltages than other batteries. Lithium-ion battery packs do have safety features built into them – including a micro-controller, temperature sensors, and a mechanical valve to release pressure – that should prevent severe failure even in extreme circumstances.
If you own a 5300-series PowerBook and haven’t been contacted, turn it off, unplug it, and call your Apple dealer or 800/SOS-APPL.