Dell laptops reject third-party batteries and AC adapters/chargers. Hardware vendor lock-in?

It seems that Dell has set up their hardware to be very consumer-unfriendly.  Ever since the charcoal gray Dell Pentium 4 laptops came out, Dell started to force out third-party power-related items for some reason.  Dell laptops that take PA-9 series AC adapters have to be sent some sort of special signal that indicates a 90W-capable PA-9 adapter is plugged in, or else the laptop assumes a PA-6 is plugged in, issues an ominous warning about how it’s lowering the unit’s performance because of the adapter not being right, and forces you to press something in order to continue starting up.  Of course, using a different connector from the PA-6 type would have solved that problem much more easily, as no one could accidentally plug a PA-6 into a PA-9 power jack, but apparently Dell didn’t think about that.

The same thing happened when Dell transitioned from PA-10 to PA-12 adapters: they kept the huge outer ring with the tiny center pin, but the PA-12 tells the laptop that it’s the higher wattage model.  This sort of makes sense, though: a processor that requires the extra 25W boost to run at full speed would overload a lower-wattage adapter and present a possible fire hazard, or could just burn out the adapter and force the purchase of a replacement.

However, I have noticed a very annoying trend as of late: Dell laptops that use a PA-10 or PA-12 adapter seem to be very good at figuring out that an attached adapter is third-party, particularly the ones requiring PA-12 series.  I have purchased numerous Dell replacement adapters from third-party vendors, and it seems that initially these adapters work perfectly fine without a hitch for about a month.  Then, at some point, the laptop decides that the adapter is no longer a correct PA-12 adapter, claims that it doesn’t recognize the attached AC adapter, and has the usual tantrum.  How can an adapter work just fine for a month, then suddenly be not good enough, despite obviously powering the unit just fine?  What makes this even worse is that some units refuse to charge the battery when this happens. It sounds more like Dell is attempting to lock out third-party hardware (and doing a very good job of it) than trying to ensure the unit receives adequate wattage.

The saga continues with the plethora of third-party Dell batteries out there that these Dell laptops refuse to charge after an obscenely short time.  There are widespread reports on the Internet of people purchasing Dell replacement batteries that eventually stop working.  Of course, some failures are inevitable, but the problem being Dell’s doing became obvious after we helped at least four separate customers purchase (from four totally different vendors) third-party Dell replacement batteries for GD761 and KD476 laptop batteries.  In all four cases, the batteries would charge and work wonderfully, often holding a charge for hours of off-AC use, and then one day, for no apparent reason, the Dell laptop determines that the battery is not a valid battery and refuses to charge the battery with an annoying orange blinking battery light.

One or two batteries would be easy to write off as a fluke or a bad batch or a coincidence, but four batteries from four different vendors, all of which are similar only because they don’t have a “DELL” brand stamp on the pack?  It couldn’t be more obvious that Dell has put special circuitry and programming into their laptops to disable third-party batteries.  I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, but I call it how I see it, and four totally different batteries can’t all be wrong.  If Dell didn’t charge $200 for a replacement battery that costs less than one fifth of that to make and bring to market, I’d just tell everyone to buy replacement batteries straight from Dell.

The problems appear to be ongoing and systemic, too; for example, one poster reports that his two otherwise identical Dell branded batteries for a Dell Latitude XT and a Dell Latitude XT2 are not interchangeable, despite having the exact same Dell part number and being official Dell batteries.  If these laptops have serious problems recognizing official Dell batteries, what does that imply about non-Dell branded ones?  It sounds like Dell has spent too much time engineering ways to lock out third parties and not enough time thinking about their customers’ needs.

What would motivate this?  Two things.  One, profits from battery sales (and upgrades and accessory sales in general) are Dell’s biggest money maker, and two, every $200 battery sale seems (based on some third-party replacements being $50 or less) to carry a gross profit of over $150.

The problem is that I can buy any third-party component I want for an HP or Toshiba or Acer or Gateway, and it will gleefully run with my choice.  Dell appears to be the only computer manufacturer (sort of; Dell owns the Alienware brand) that designs ALL of their computers to discourage or outright block third-party components.  Even the desktops tend to be either the long-defunct and universally hated BTX case form factor (like a Dimension E510) or a small form factor variant of BTX (think of the XPS 200, which also has an extremely serious design flaw that causes the hardware to overheat).  Replacement motherboards for these desktops MUST be a matching Dell board, which usually forces the buyer to purchase even more parts to fix a motherboard failure, because now the computer’s case, power supply, and CPU heatsink/fan assembly all have to be replaced as well, often pushing the costs of a motherboard replacement above $200.

Such is the hidden cost of buying a computer from any manufacturer that does not adhere to the long-time industry de facto standard ATX form factor.  Every major computer parts outlet such as CompUSA and Newegg sells ATX cases, power supplies, motherboards, and standardized heatsink assemblies that only change depending on the type of socket a processor fits into.  Any computer tech worth a fig can find a replacement part for a fully ATX compliant design in a matter of minutes, and physically install or replace it without a single problem.  These weird cases that some manufacturers use now are a serious problem and the benefits of sticking with ATX compatible designs deserves an entire essay all by itself.  For now, just be sure that if you buy a computer, it doesn’t have one of those giant holes in the front and it isn’t a cute-looking itty bitty tiny case.  Also, when you look at the rear of the case, all of the connectors should be on the LEFT side with all of the add-in card slots on the BOTTOM; if either or both is reversed, it’s not ATX and you’re getting ripped off and locked in to that vendor’s own exclusive premium-priced parts inventory.  In other words, the cost to get OUT of that computer will be higher than a standard design.

I seem to have diverged from the original point, so in closing, I’ll just say this: DON’T BUY DELL LAPTOPS.  If nothing else convinces you, this will: one of my techs worked for Dell’s premium (paid) tech support (and was the highest rated support agent in the building!), and I ran all of this by him just to be sure that I wasn’t blowing smoke from my backside.  Not only did he agree that I’m hitting the mark squarely, he also confirmed with this exact quote: “I would NEVER buy a new Dell laptop.”

36 thoughts on “Dell laptops reject third-party batteries and AC adapters/chargers. Hardware vendor lock-in?

  1. agreed, considering how low quality dell made merchandise is, hard-wiring it to be incompatible is a double whammy for dell owners who have a battery wear out, who are quite common like myself.

    olny solution I can think of is dont buy dell again

  2. The short life span of third-party batteries is an issue that I have encountered. The original battery with our Dell Inspiron lasted about a year or so. The second (third-party) about six months. And now the third (third-party) is working but the orange blinking light started on the second day. All of these were used sparingly off the ac adapter (battery only) After the third one I started wondering if Dell had some thing to do with it. My fiancee thought I was nuts, but your posting confirms my suspicions. Thank you !! I immediately posted your posting onto facebook for others to see and plan on writing to Dell. This type of practice needs to have the light of day shined on it. Hopefully when Dell starts seeing their sales go down they will change.

  3. I can vouch for this too. I bought a 9-cell replacement battery for my Dell Vostro 1520, and I got the blinking light and “not recognized” warning on startup, even though the (partially charged) battery powered the laptop fine. Then one day, without warning, it charged fully, and I was able to use it off and on all day while traveling. It hasn’t charged since. It was a fluke (or rather, a glitch in Dell’s evil plan). It is painfully obvious that the laptop is just sort of arbitrarily deciding not to charge the battery.

    Still, I bought another battery, from another supplier, to make sure that it wasn’t the battery. Same problem. But this one came in an uncharged state, so I couldn’t even test it. The hilarious thing is that these two 9-cell batteries (at least one of which would last twice as long as the original Dell battery when it was new, if only I had a way to charge it) together cost barely over half as much as a single replacement 6-cell from Dell. Four times the value, half the price. Dell sucks.

    You know, I used to think that all the complaining about Dell’s poor quality was just from Mac fans who cared more about what their computers look and feel like than about what they can do. After all, Dell was the cheapest way to get a computer of given specifications, so who cares if it’s a little rough around the edges? I felt validated with my previous Dell laptop which worked fine, and in fact still runs just fine with a 3rd party battery.

    I don’t know if Dell has changed, or if I was just lucky until now, but my most recent laptop has definitely soured my opinion of Dell. As soon as I got it, I could tell that the construction was flimsier; the battery life decayed rapidly, then one of the battery’s clasps broke off; and of course now it’s impossible for me to find a decent replacement battery as explained. I visited their website: Dell doesn’t even sell a 9-cell battery for this model, at least not anymore. And yet they deliberately made it impossible for anyone else to make batteries for it? This is very much not okay! My entire family has bought Dell pretty reliably for a long time now, but I think this laptop marks the end of that pattern.

  4. Wow, I thought I was imagining this. I have a Dell Latitude D630.
    Months and months ago, I started charging and running it from one of those universal chargers that Radio Shack sells. Initially, I got the obnoxious “warning” about having a non-Dell adapter, but IT WORKED. And what’s more, it CHARGED THE BATTERY. Yep, for months.
    And all of a sudden, about a week ago, it decided that it would run off the charger, but not charge the battery. Figuring that the battery, after 2 years, probably was actually going bad, I ordered a new one (not Dell) last night. Then today, I happened to plug a “genuine” dell adapter into the machine, and lo and behold, it charges the battery just fine.

    So, apparently, they are so sinister that they keep track of how long you use a non-Dell adapter, and then decide to just “quit charging it.” Maybe they think they are being magnanimous letting it charge at first, (“Oh, the poor slob left his Dell charger at home. Let him charge it on a 3rd party device a few times. HEY! He’s using that darn thing all the time. Cut him off… NOW!”)

  5. Yes, I have Dell E1505 Core 2 duo for about 3 years. Original Battery could not hold up power anymore. Then the nightmare came.
    I bought new 3rd party battery and it worked fine for 2-3 weeks. Then it start to say charger is not correct model and battery will not charges(Even I used original Dell charger). So I decided to buy 3rd party charger, and it’s not work and keep say the same thing. So I thought maybe 3rd party charger and battery are not good. So I bought 2 more chargers and one more battery.

    Now I have 2 new 3rd party batteries and 3 new 3rd party chargers. And all are not works, my Dell batteries could not be charged still? I gave up and do not care about this. Just use only outlet for this Dell and no more Dell for me.

    I called Dell and they said I need to purchase their Genuine parts(Charger and Battery total near $200) to TRY. If after I bought and it still not works, they said it could be mainboard problem, which it’s expensive to change. So I give them f…k.

    The better way, I recommend(If you’re out of warranty) you to pay $375-$400 for new i3 Toshiba/Acer /HP computer at Officedepot or Officemax (Check Weeklyads) I think they have a good deal on their weekly ads.
    Do not try to fix your Dell. It’s not worse!


  6. I got trapped as well with my new Lattitude. The only solution so far is to disable SpeedStep(tm) in the BIOS. So I can ran at least with 2.5GHz, but all the time. But my 120W HAMA power adapter is strong enough.
    There must be a trick to disable this “feature” somewhere but DELL support acts as they do not understand me.

  7. Well, my battery has died no.w too. I am upset that I have to buy a DELL battery. I might as well just buy a new laptop. Those batteries cost 150.00. That is nuts. BUT here is my problem too. My charger is an official DELL CHARGER that came with the computer. However, every time I plug it in…it tells me it is NOT an official DELL charger. I have to replug it in several times before it works. I basically just have to leave it plug in and use in while plugged in. I wish I had known about this problem with Dell.

  8. A BIOS update will rectify the battery recognition. I have just installed a $45 after market battery in my Vostro 1520 but only after updating the BIOS to V08. And the BIOS will not update with the unrecognised battery installed.


    Dave Wain

  9. Back again. After two days of joy and love with my new battery purchase and successful BIOS upgrade, my laptop is now reporting ‘battery not recoginsed’. I have tried the reset – hold on/off button down for 10 seconds with both battery and AC power cord uninstalled – to no avail. (Reset has worked before). My old authentic Dell battery is still working with limited life.
    Other than this battery issue – which I can partly understand that why should Dell uphold a warranty when someone else’ s power source has been used – I have no problem with at all!

  10. OK. I have re-establish some love between my Dell and my non-Dell battery. Started laptop with the battery in but NO power cord. (Luckily it had some charge left in it). Gave me the low battery warning, pressed F1 to continue with all digits crossed and once Windows was loaded I plugged the power in and the battery started charging.
    BTW I am using BatteryBar as a battery monitoring app as dell doesn’t seem to provide one like other HW suppliers.

  11. I’d love to read this. How about a black on white option? Short of copying and pasting it into a text document, there’s just no way I can handle the eye strain. 🙁

  12. I’m having the same issue of my Dell Inspiron 15R laptop not recognizing a third-party battery AND a third-party a/c adapter. I read on another forum that you could take out the new third-party battery and put the old Dell battery back in, then the new one again and it would charge. I tried it and it worked without the “not recognized” error. However, the next day, the a/c adapter randomly decided it wouldn’t charge the battery after it had just done so a couple of hours beforehand!

    I can’t handle the stress of that kind of unreliability when I depend on being able to charge my laptop when I’m out and about.

    I’ve flamed Dell on their Facebook page for this practice and got a prompt response from their moderator. We’ll see what happens from here.

  13. These stories are all too familiar. I have a 10yo Toshiba Satellite laptop which was used intensively for more than 5 years, and is still used regularly now. The battery is STILL in top condition – it powers the computer with no apparent strain even at the max CPU speed with both fans going flat out, it has very low loss in power-down, and it’s never failed to charge.

    In contrast, the battery on my 4yo Dell Vostro 1510 began having charge retention problems after about 3 years, and in the past 2 weeks has packed up altogether after its usable off-adapter life fell to just a few minutes – the computer still recognises it, but it won’t charge, and the machine won’t run without the adapter plugged in. I’m certainly not going to invest UK£125 in another battery (not when a brand new computer costs less than UK£400), and after reading this and other forums, I’ve ruled out third-party batteries (even apparently “genuine Dell” units); I’m also wary of fiddling with the BIOS, just in case the computer suddenly decides not to run on the adapter either … then I really would be stuffed.

    To make matters worse, the power socket on the Vostro is so flimsy that the adapter plug frequently falls out; this was acceptable while the battery was usable … but now, of course, the computer abruptly turns off, with all the associated problems of data loss and subsequent reboot.

    I’m about to order a new PC. This time it’ll be a Toshiba. Congratulations Dell … that’s another alienated customer.

  14. I used non OEM chargers on two different Dell Latitudes. I got the silly charger message. It wasn’t very long after that before both laptops wouldn’t charge the battery. The battery wouldn’t even charge with a genuine dell charger. I had to replace both motherboards to fix the problem. It seemed like dell set them to self destruct to teach me a leason about non OEM components.

  15. I am having some pretty serious problems with my Dell Inspiron 8600. First of all, it always thinks it is connected to AC power. Even when running on battery. Every time I power it up, it gives me the whole power type not recognized thing. This is a very serious problem for me for two reasons. The main reason is that it cannot charge any battery whatsoever. I have to carry around a similar (broken) laptop to use as a battery charger. Even now, my laptop is shut off, not plugged in to AC, and it is still blinking the orange and green battery lights. It thinks it is plugged in to AC and is rejecting the battery. The other reason why this is a huge problem for me is that it doesn’t allow the processor to run at its full speed. It only has a 1.5 GHz processor to begin with, and this horrible problem makes the computer chop that down to 600MHz! It is HORRIBLY slow! Does anyone have any idea how I can convince it to charge my battery and run at full speed? Even if the battery problem cannot be fixed, I really need the processor running at its full speed. If anyone has any recommendations, please let me know. Thanks!

    1. You can flash it if you create a dos boot disk and add the bios install to it. I did this just this past week. Still did not help the battery/adapter not recognized problem though.

  16. Unfortunately you can’t flash the bios unless you have a battery installed. If the laptop doesn’t recognize the battery, then the bios can’t be flashed…

    1. I do agree with your point of view. It comes to the same configurations Ford does in the auto industry ! Making their parts a tight off so the aftermarket won’t touch it for a profit margin too small to even do it ! Did I tell you I will never buy a new…..or used Ford !

  17. Just like the printer companies do.
    You save good money putting in an aftermarket ink cartridge. The printer checks the firmware and doesn’t see it’s own product so it downgrades the resolution or refuses to work at all or other cute little tricks.

    And of course the printed page looks like crap, supposedly to prompt you to say, gosh nothing prints half so nice as the original genuine Samsung/Lexmark/Epson/Dell/HP cartridges at 10x the price.

    As per the Lexmark support site;
    “1. Will this firmware download interfere with the operation of my printer cartridge?
    The firmware update should enhance your printer’s performance, not interfere with it.

    The only way the firmware update will interfere with printer operations is if you have been sold counterfeit cartridges or cartridges that are otherwise not authorized for use in your Lexmark printer. If you are using genuine Lexmark cartridges, the firmware will in no way interfere with your use of your device. But a new firmware update may restrict the use of counterfeit or unauthorized cartridges.”
    Some cell phone manufacturers also nuke your charger forcing you to buy their jiggered equipment.
    Dell just doesn’t admit it.
    You DO recall those old Dell power supplies that looked like industry standard, but were proprietary?

  18. Ok, got a Dell laptop from my son and after a month, finally got the bios warning, so I researched it a bit.
    The problem arises from several poor design decisions.

    1. The first one being Dell deciding to hold users hostage until they buy Dell’s overpriced AC adapters.
    And if you don’t, we’re going to run your expensive equipment that you bought at a fraction of it’s potential speed.

    2. The center pin comes directly from a chip in the power supply – directly as in no circuit protection for said chip.
    That’s the chip that signals the MB “it’s OK, they spent a bunch of money with us, you can run normally”, and gives the secret knock and handshake.

    3. The PS cable is unshielded – unshielded as in 5′ unshielded antenna leading directly into the PS chip.

    4. The plug is often cavalierly soldered. Often the bare power wire being separated from the ‘signal’ line by only air. Since 19.5V @10.8A is over 210Watts (on my official Dell branded PA-7E PS which is built like it needs control rods) that’s an accident waiting to happen.

    5. Don’t know if there is any protection on the MB side against static or accidental sudden 210Watt surge on the signal pin. I suspect that would be detrimental tho.

    To recap, you have almost 11 amps of DC power poised in very close proximity to a line that leads directly into the output of the “spend more money at Dell” chip in the power supply. All it takes is once or a static charge on the ‘antenna’ and your Dell power supply is now only a regular power supply. Still puts out the same power but no longer has the chip sending the Pythonesque Wink, wink, nudge in the arm signal to the laptop.


  19. I got my older son’s Dell laptop to replace my old P4 Toshiba. He gave me 2 power supplies and one of them has bit the dust with this problem. System bitched at me during POST on this PS and refused to charge the battery. I, moments ago, swapped power supplies and it went from 1266MHZ to 2670MHZ (ala CPU-Z) and started charging the battery again. FSM and CPU multiplier both jacked back up.

    Make no mistake, they make some great equipment but then they screw you to the wall with crap like this.


    I will NEVER buy another Dell laptop.

  20. I have noticed this happened after a a software update from MS. I did not update ANY Dell firmware etc. just the recommended MicroSoft fixes. Are they in on the game? wouldn’t surprise me. Ugh, AND I bet these batteries are NOT made in the USA, if the want to use the argument to protect American Jobs, These are made in Asia sold here so it helps MAXIMIZING profits.

  21. I had an older (4-5 yrs old) Dell e1550 I bought a off-label ac-adapter for and it worke for about 3 weeks, then nothing, , Now we have a the Studio, about a yr old, battery and cord went, bought third party replacement and both failed int he first day after charging it once. Now i know its not just me.

  22. Workaround for third-party batteries
    I have a Latitude E5510 and a battery from China. Dell’s battery check software is on the BIOS so just boot your computer and then put in the power cable – works every time for me.

  23. lol, since i got an old Dell Inspirion Notebook from my office, i have exactly the same situation here: At one day it was telling me, that i had not an original power supply pluged in. So it was working ine for weeks and still is working fine (even rechaging) i think, there will be the moment, where it stops recharging? WTF

  24. In case anyone was wondering about getting a new Dell with Christmas coming and all, I asked their team if there would be a version without the vendor lock-in software – or at least an accessible “off” switch. The answer was no.
    Battery is what – $150 max – loss of custom for a new Dell $2000 – go do the math Dell.

  25. i have talked to dell about the problem with the chargers and battery’s and they told me that if i was to buy the one or two year services that they can go in to the camand promop and change something in there under the admin that will then allow the full use out of the computer and will even allow the battery to charge and if any one has found out how to do that please let me know i like the laptop i have its just really annoying that i have to turn it off if im going to the other room because it wont charge my battery

  26. I found that if there is enough battery power to get through the bios and start booting windows, I no longer get the orange flashing light and the charger will charge my 3rd party battery, which has now been working far longer than the original Dell battery.

  27. Dell isn’t the only company blocking 3rd party components. HP BIOS whitelists acceptable WiFi adapters in its notebooks and installing a non-HP WiFi adapter or an HP WiFi adapter not in the BIOS whitelist will result in the adapter being software disabled by the BIOS. HP’s reason for this is that HP doesn’t want the liability of WiFi operations out of band (on frequencies prohibited) by various countries in which HP sells computers, many of which are extremely restrictive – to the point of paranoia – about unauthorized radio operations. Dell’s motivations about the batteries appears to be avoiding exploding/burning battery liability exposure by the way Dell notebooks manage batteries. Thank all the lawyers who made their fortunes in the endless litigation over batteries for this behavior and the staff lawyers who obviously designed Dell’s anti-litigation battery strategy.

  28. If dell is seriously interested in users safety in terms of exploding batteries and not in the mission of robbing its own customers, they could reduce the battery prices to somewhat genuinely possible level, at least, a quarter of the current battery prices.

  29. So I came on this post a little late. I have used the aftermarket battery for a few weeks. I tried to boot the laptop a few times, but never quite got there. Now, it does nothing. Neither does the original, which is most likely completely dead by now. However, the laptop is also dead on just the original (Dell) charger now. If I’m faced with buying Dell prices for a genuine battery, or buying a new (non-dell of course) laptop I’ll buy a new dell battery. But is there any way, I’ll even be able to get it too boot up now even with a new Dell battery? Thanks for your help.

  30. Thanks for the advice. I’ll see if I can track down another charger to try. I’m a bit reluctant to pay Dell money for another charger with no guarantee it’s going to solve my problems. Since my post, I now have it plugged in to the charger with the original Dell battery. After 30-60 minutes, it will make a few loud beeps, the lights across the front (power button, settings, etc.) give a few flickers, and it shows all the signs of a laptop about to boot up (drives spinning, but nothing at all displayed on screen), and then it goes dead again. I wonder is the battery so stuffed it just can’t get and keep enough charge to boot up, or is the charger delivering power, but just not enough? I suspect the latter would be unlikely; I’d imagine the charger would either work, or not work, rather than ‘kind of’ work delivering insufficient power (it is the original Dell charger)? All that said, if I try to run it on just the charger with no battery fitted, it does nothing, which does play back to the charger idea. Appreciate your thoughts. Many thanks.

  31. I tried to purchase a battery from Dell for my Inspiron 15 3576 and they don’t have one . They offered a rebuilt one from another supplier for $119. I told them no! I am never going to purchase a Dell product again, unless it’s a comic book.

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