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I have an old but highly functional Dell Inspiron 1720 that I continue to use. The laptop is ~4 years old, but the battery is an aftermarket replacement about 18 months old. Two nights ago the battery suffered a catastrophic meltdown (popping noises, loads of smoke, etc.) while I was using it for simple web surfing. Here's a shot of the results:

Toasty!

I have always used it with a cooler pad, so there was no external damage (to me, for example) and fortunately I was awake and reacted quickly so I was able to get it unplugged and the battery off in a matter of seconds.

Immediately after taking the battery outside to finish dying, I removed the hard drives, hooked them to my desktop with a USB adapter, and found all my data still intact. Without replacing the drives, I also tried booting it from a Linux USB and it all appears to be working. Based on this full functionality, I would say the problem appears to have been isolated to the battery. My question now is: Can I feel safe using another battery with this machine?

The area around the battery terminals was coated in smoke residue after the event and, while it blew off easily with compressed air, it meant I couldn't really distinguish if there was any physical damage to the charging connectors. Anyone have experience with situations like this that can offer advice on testing the battery connection area or charging circuits? I would really like to continue using this as a real laptop, not just an easy-to-move "desktop" computer, tethered to the power outlet.

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Since it wasn't an original accessory chances are good that the battery was of poor quality. You should avoid the battery manufacturer. Other than that, I don't see a reason why the laptop shouldn't work with another battery. Any other malfunction would probably have fried more components, so you should be good to go. –  Zerobinary99 Sep 10 '13 at 21:27
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Most likely, this was a battery that gave out on you. If you have another battery you might try it in the place of the burnt up one, being sure to keep an eye to whether the battery gets overly hot or anything like that out of the ordinary.

What you might want to try is prying further into the battery (being careful not to get any acids on or in yourself (mouth eyes ...)) to see if there was anything on the battery that "popped" or if there is acid that is loose that could have been sizzling.

If there is nothing of the sort the most likely answer for those pops is a capacitor going bad and frying, which then probably caused either some DC that was being blocked to short or go open or .....lots of possible bad things in the laptop.

I say get some gloves, close your mouth, and see if theres juice coming from the battery or anything that looks like it would have made a popping noise.

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