Fun experiments with laptop battery
The Anarcat at
After reading up on a eye-opening blog from Petter Reinholdtsen about laptop batteries, or more specifically Lithium-Ion laptop batteries, I figured I needed to try out the "TLP Linux Advanced Power Management" that I had been keeping an eye on for a while. tlp is yet another tool to control power usage on laptops (mostly Thinkpad, mine is a X120e). The novelty of tlp is the "hands off" approach: everything should be automatically configured for you...
Obviously, that means I then went on working for a few hours on breaking and fixing my laptop in random operations. I opened a bunch of pull requests on the interesting battery status package that Petter produced to make it work with my setup and make it display graphs directly (instead of into a file). I also rewrote the graphing tool in Python with SciPy in order to have cleaner labels and be able to deduce the date at which a battery would be completely unusuable because it can't recharge high enough. (At the time of writing, the battery estimated death time is december 7th, but that data is skewed because of a quick change in the battery charge after the BIOS upgrade, below.)
I then went on to try to limit my laptop charging to 80%, since this seems to make the battery last longer (sources from Petter: 1, 2, 3). Unfortunately, even after building a local (and trivial) backport of the tlp package to Debian stable (8.2/Jessie), I still couldn't access those controls, as TLP is really just a set of shell scripts that glue a bunch of stuff together.
The backport was simply:
apt-get source tlp cd tlp*/ debuild sudo dpkg -i ../tlp*.deb
I read here and there (and in Petter's post) that I needed the tp-smapi-dkms package, so I went ahead an installed it:
sudo apt install tp-smapi-dkms
(Yes, Jessie has a neat
apt command now, it's great, upgrade now.)
Unfortunately, this still didn't work. I think the error back then was something like:
thinkpad_ec: thinkpad_ec_request_row: arg0 rejected: (0x01:0x00)->0x00 thinkpad_ec: thinkpad_ec_read_row: failed requesting row: (0x01:0x00)->0xfffffffb thinkpad_ec: initial ec test failed
I have seen suggestions here and there to try the acpi-call-dkms package, but that was useless as it doesn't support my model (but may work with others!). The error there was:
acpi_call: Cannot get handle: Error: AE_NOT_FOUND
Note: I still have it installed - it's unclear what impact it has, and I do not want to break my current setup.
So I then started to look at upgrading my BIOS, for some reason. I was
running version 1.13 (8FET29WW) from 05/06/2011. I was able to update
to 1.17 (8FET33WW) from 11/07/2012, using the
memdisk binary from
the syslinux-common package, with some help from the quite useful
sudo apt install syslinux-common grub-imageboot wget https://download.lenovo.com/ibmdl/pub/pc/pccbbs/mobiles/8fuj10uc.iso sudo mkdir /boot/images sudo mv 8fuj10uc.iso /boot/images sudo reboot
I found the image on the Thinkpad x120e support page from Lenovo (which happily bounces around, so don't rely on the above URLs too much). When I rebooted, I was offered to boot from the image by grub, which went on fine, considering it was running some version of DOS, which is always a bit scary considering it is software that is somewhat almost as old as me.
I wish I could have installed some free software in the BIOS instead of the outdated crap that Lenovo provides, but unfortunately, it seems this will never be possible with Libreboot or Coreboot, mostly because Intel is evil and installs backdoors in all their computers. Fun times.
Fortunately and surprisingly, the update worked and went on pretty smoothly. After that, I was able to set the charge limit with:
echo 80 | sudo tee /sys/devices/platform/smapi/BAT0/stop_charge_thresh
Amazing! I had almost forgotten why I almost bricked my system on a
thursday, good thing that worked! Now the fun part was that, after
some reboots or something I did, I am not sure what, the above
stopped working: I couldn't load the drivers at all anymore,
treating me with a nasty:
thinkpad_ec: thinkpad_ec_read_row: failed requesting row: (0x01:0x00)->0xfffffff0 thinkpad_ec: initial ec test failed
Now that is some obscure error message material! Fun stuff. I tried uninstalling tlp, the smapi modules, the acpi-call modules, rebooting, turning the machine off, removing the battery, nothing worked. Even more hilarious, the charge controler was now stuck at 80%: I had artificially destroyed 20% of the battery capacity in software. Ouch.
I think this may have been related to uninstalling the
tp-smapi-dkms package without unloading it at first. I found some
weird entries in my
kern.log like this:
tp_smapi unloaded. thinkpad_ec: thinkpad_ec_read_row: failed requesting row: (0x14:0x00)->0xfffffff0 hdaps: cannot power off hdaps: driver unloaded. thinkpad_ec: unloaded.
I think that after that point, I couldn't load either module, not even
After tearing out a few more hairs and hammering my head on the
keyboard randomly, I thought I could just try another BIOS upgrade,
just for the fun of it. Turns out you actually can't rerun the
upgrade, but you can change the model number through the same
software, and this seems to reset some stuff. So I went back in the
ISO image I had loaded earlier, and went on to change the model
number (actually setting it to the same value, but whatever, it still
ran the update). It turns out this seems to have reset a bunch of
stuff and now everything works. I can use
tlp setcharge and all
the neat tools go well.
The two key commands are:
# limit charging to 80% of the battery, but not lower than 40% sudo tlp setcharge 40 80 # clear the above setting and just charge the battery to 100% sudo tlp fullcharge
It seems that the
40% bit isn't supported by my laptop, but
whatever: the battery stays charged when on AC power anyways, so I
don't really understand what the setting is for in the first
place. The error there is:
smapi smapi: smapi_request: SMAPI error: Function is not supported by SMAPI BIOS (func=2116) smapi smapi: __get_real_thresh: cannot get start_thresh of bat=0: Function is not supported by SMAPI BIOS
The second command is what I will need to remember to run before I unplug the laptop for a trip. I suspect this will be really annoying and I may end up disabling all this stuff and just yank the power cable out when the battery reaches 80%, by hand, when I need to.
But it was a fun geeking out, and hopefully this will be useful for others. And of course, the graphs from Petter will be interesting in a few months... Before the BIOS upgrade, the battery capacity was reported as 100% (actually, at 100.03%, which was strange). Now, the capacity is at 98.09%, which is probably just a more accurate reading that was fixed in the BIOS upgrade.
Finally, also see the useful thinkwiki troubleshooting page and especially their interesting BIOS upgrade documentation which inspired me to write my own version. I would have gladly contributed to theirs, but I seem to have lost my password on this site, with no recovery possible... The arch linux wiki has obviously excellent documentation as well, as usual.