• Powerex C9000 AA/AAA Charger review

    This may seem like an odd spot for a battery charger review but with any people pushing over into the realms of photography or using rechargeable batteries for a myriad of devices, it seemed appropriate. In my case, my requirement for this charger stemmed largely from the digital photography side. I have a D700 along with a battery grip and some external flashes. The battery grip takes 8 AA's and the flashes each take 4 AA's. That alone see's me having 16 AA's in my camera gear at any given time. Add 2 AA's for my mouse, 3 AA's for my keyboard, another 5 AA's for my wife's setup and 16 AA's spare and ready to go at any point in time amounts to a lot of batteries.

    Introduction

    Recently I've started to encounter some issues with these batteries. Sometimes they'll sit for a little while and lose their charge pretty quickly. In some cases, I put batteries in my battery grip only to have them die after a day or two with minimal shooting and whilst I suspect the issue is only with one or two of them, it's a little like a sports team where one bad apple can spoil it for the rest (no pun intended). My energizer charger only has room for 4 batteries and while there are chargers that cater for 8 or more, I felt it was time to start evaluating the batteries and dumping those naughty ones who are starting to let the side down. This is probably exacerbated by the fact that I've acquired my batteries over a 3-year period and there is no indication on the battery that makes it clear how old it actually is. Energizer also hasnít changed their design much so my 3-year-old batteries look like my one year old ones. Technology has also moved on a bit in the battery world and whilst older batteries lost about 5-15% per day, some of the newer designs only lose about 1% per day. This is part of the reason I decided to buy another 24 AA's to cater for some of the one's I'm dumping.



    After a bit of research, one name seemed to come up consistently and that was the Maha Powerex C9000 although at $80, it's not cheap. The pictures of this charger can be a little deceiving when you first see it on the web, because this little baby isn't little. I thought it was about 20% larger than my Energizer charger but in reality, its about 3 times the size and it's only when you look at the Powerex range on YouTube videos that you understand how big it actually is. This video from Protog does a good job of showing you the types of chargers Powerex do:



    The C9000 has a myriad of options but in reality, only a handful will be used by most users. In my case, the main functions I'll be using will be charging and evaluating old batteries with the odd bit of conditioning as and when required.

    The options available are:

    a. Charge Mode - Recharges the battery at the selected rate.
    b. Refresh and Analyse Mode - First recharges the battery, rest for two hours, discharges, rest, then recharges again. Charging and discharging rates are programmable.
    c. Break in Mode - Applies a 16-hour 0.1C charge (0.1 times the capacity of the battery), rest of one hour, followed by a 0.2C discharge, rest again, and finally a 16-hour 0.1C recharge again.
    d. Discharge Mode - Discharges the battery at the selected rate.
    e. Cycle Mode - Performs a charge-discharge cycle for a programmable number of times. Charging and discharging rates are also selectable. At the end of the cycle, a final recharge is applied.



    The initial setup may be confusing but it's actually not as bad as it seems. If it comes to charging, simply plug in the batteries. If you want to set a specific charging rate (default is fast), you can do this when you plug in the batteries. When you first plug a single battery in, the charger starts giving you options and one of the perks of this charger is you can define individual options for each battery. Let say for argument sake you find a pack of 4 batteries only last an hour when they should last a day. It's likely only one is the guilty party but if you plug them in, as they start charging you'll see which battery has the lowest charge and you can set the charger to evaluate that battery while the rest are charged normally. In the majority of cases, you'll be doing the same for all but the flexibility of individual battery options is great although it can be confusing when you start using the charger.



    Overall, I evaluated about 40 batteries through a couple of weeks and found a couple of duds in the process, but its only in the last two weeks that the charger has truly come into its own. With the arrival of my daughter, I left a set of batteries in the charger and forgot about them. After about 3 days I went into the office and noticed they were in the charger but werenít charging. What surprised me was the decline in the battery storage in just 3 days so I decided to leave them. 2 weeks later they were almost dead which ties in with the 5-15% charge loss found on older batteries. In short, if youíre using a large number of rechargables and putting them on the shelf while you charge others, they may not be charged by the time you use them, even if the period is as short as a couple of weeks. My current set of batteries have only 30MAH or about 2 minutes of use in them. Compare this to the 15% that Powerex Imedion or Samsung Eneloop lose in 6-12 months and you start to see a reason to upgrade your batteries.

    Negatives

    This charger is mostly good but if I could change anything on the charger it would to follow the default for the first battery added and only change the subsequent batteries if selected. By default, it charges irrespective of what option is selected for the first batter. I.e. if I select an evaluation on battery 1, it's likely I want the same on 2, 3 and 4 so it should default to that rather than expecting you to configure each individually. It doesn't take much time but it's a simple usability issue they could address in the software in future.
    The second negative is that I noticed it that when it finishes charging it doesnít maintain the charge if you leave batteries in for an extended period. As mentioned previously, there are up sides to this but I would prefer it if this was configurable so the charger would recharge the batteries if they hit below a certain recharge level.



    Conclusion

    When it comes to chargers, the Powerex C9000 really is a good charger, and so it should for the $80 price tag. I have no regrets with buying it but Iím still tempted to invest in an 8 bay charger at some point in time (C801D) to allow for faster charging with a larger amount of batteries. The C801D is $50 more so if the $80 price tag of the C9000 doesnít scare you, this may be one to consider as an alternative.

    The C9000 isnít for everyone and itís likely to be an overkill for most conventional battery users. My personal thoughts at this point is that if you having battery issues, my recommendation is that you first invest in Powerex Imedion or Samsung Eneloop battery upgrades and ditch the older batteries before considering the charger as this is likely to resolve most of your issues in the short term. You can pick up 16-20 decent batteries for the price of the charger and if your current batteries are a couple of years old, this is likely to be more valuable than the charger itself. In my case, the majority of my batteries seemed fine but it was the high discharge rate of older batteries that was creating problems and no charger or reconditioning is going to fix that. Losing 5% or more per day is always going to be a problem. These issues were native to the earlier NiMh batteries and technology has managed decrease the discharge rate of batteries.

    If you already have Eneloop or Imedion batteries and want a way to keep an eye on your batteries making sure you get the best out of them, then this is your charger although again, you may want to consider the 8 bay charger as an alternative.



    About the author

    Athol Hill is the Practice Lead for Stonebridge Systems, an SAP & OpenText implementation partner specialising in web and content management implementations and strategy.

    He is a certified SAP and Project Management Professional with a large number of implementations spanning the globe including Australasia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. When he isn't kitesurfing or spending time with his family, Athol writes part time for Mactalk on a range of subjects including iOS/OSX in the workplace, bleeding edge, product reviews and anything Mac. If you have something new and exciting to review, feel free to get in touch. He can be contacted via twitter on @themissionman or email on athol.hill@mactalk.com.au. Opinions noted here are Athol's own and aren't any official policy of position of his employer.
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