Monday, September 29, 2008

Everybody Needs a Good Charger: La Cross BC-900

I just put in my order for the La Crosse Technology BC-900 on Amazon for $40. With an extra SB-20 (actually, two more, but one isn't working) I'm going to need to have more Ni-MH batteries in the rotation. Plus, my son just got a Game Boy Advance, which is pretty frugal on batteries, but it'll be nice to have some rechargeables for it. My goal is to never buy an alkaline battery again!

My existing charger is as old as it could possibly be, a Radioshack fast-charging model bought soon after NiMHs came out. Let's just say it does a good job of making the batteries VERY hot, which is horrible for battery life.

If you charge a decent number of batteries (running flashes, for example!), it is worth getting a "good" charger for battery conditioning. If you charge a LOT of batteries, you could get a second 8-cell slow charger, but you'll still want to be able to test and condition batteries with a good charger. Good chargers like the BC-900:

  1. Charge each cell individually (so you don't have to match discharge state)
  2. Give you status on the condition of each cell in mAH capacity (so you can toss the bad ones)
  3. Monitor temperature when charging (the number one destroyer of NiMH batteries)
  4. Never overcharge the batteries
  5. Do conditioning cycles (discharge fully, then recharge)
  6. Give you full control over charging rate (if you have time, do the safer, slow charge)
I'll review the BC-900 when I get it, but Amazon has great reviews on the BC-900 and it's competitors. The high-level survey is:
  • La Crosse Technology BC-900 AlphaPower Battery Charger ($40 shipped) Actually the older model, although it charges at higher currents than the BC700 (1000mA and 1800mA). Includes 4AA and 4AAA batteries (not great capacity, but you can always use more batteries), 4 C and 4 D adapters (letting you put your AA batteries into units that take C or D batteries -- my daughter has a toy that could use those!), and a carrying case (which I don't really care about).
  • La Crosse Technology BC-700 Alpha Power Battery Charger ($30 shipped) This is the newer model and it may have slightly newer firmware (charging logic). Nothing has been published about firmware differences though, so I expect they're slight if anything. Doesn't include batteries, adapters, or case. But cheaper!
  • Maha Powerex MH-C9000 WizardOne Charger-Analyzer ($64 shipped) The big momma charger on the block, allowing 2000mA charging rates for all four batteries (the BC-900 can only charge at 1800mA for two). More expensive, though, and the user interface is annoying. Does include a few more reconditioning/break-in features that the La Crosse chargers don't have. I think it includes 4 batteries, but I haven't been able to confirm.
  • Sony BCG-34HRMF4 Battery Charger with LCD Display and 4 AA Ni-MH Rechargeable Batteries ($29 shipped) This is probably the best of the rest, but it lacks a display of the actual capacity of the batteries and instead displays 1/4, 1/2, 3/4, full for each cell. The price includes 4 AA batteries (2300mAh, I think). If you are really tight on money, this might be a good option.
(mouse-over those links to see current prices)

I went with the BC-900 because I'd like to have that extra 33% charging rate in case I need to get some batteries charged in a hurry and the extras (8 batteries, adapters, case) make the extra $10 worth it. I'll let you know how it works when I get it!

Also, it is worth noting that the prices on these chargers fluctuate A LOT and it appears they're currently lower than they've ever been before. It's a good time to buy!

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