Saving Power – Increase the runtime of your laptop with some simple steps and buying tips
Often times for laptops, prospective buyers can be more interested in the battery life of the product than the actual specifications and hardware that lie under the hood. After all, what good is a portable computer if it cannot run on batteries for as long as the user requires? In this FAQ, we offer some novice tips and buying guides that any current or future laptop owner can take advantage of.
Be sure to make the brightness of your computer to the lowest setting that is comfortable. To do this, look for a purple “Fn” button on the keyboard (usually next to the left ctrl key, sometimes the key has blue lettering instead of purple). After you’ve found the “Fn” button, quickly search for another key with a purple or blue sun with an up or down arrow(usually on the arrow keys or on one of the F1-F12 keys). Now while holding “Fn” press the button with the purple/blue sun and a down arrow. (Please note some computers do not have an Fn button so if your computer does not have an Fn button in that case, just simply use one of the F1-F12 keys alone)
Turn off all background programs that are not needed because they take up processor space which will use more battery.
Check that bluetooth and/or wireless adapter is off (if it’s built in).
4. Be sure to eject any discs out of your CD or DVD drive if you do not need them. The disc will still be spinning inside and consumes a ton of energy.
5. If you are running very low on power, or are watching a DVD, your laptop may have a way to turn off the LED lights (Power light, hard drive activity light, etc.). Check your owners manual to see how.
Unplug any USB devices you are not using (iPods, Flash Drives, External USB mice, etc.). Many of these devices draw power from your USB port, up to 500mA (about a half an Amp) and 5 volts. It adds up quickly depending on how many you have plugged in.
7. When you are not going to use your laptop for a short time, put it into standby or sleep mode. This will only leave dire essential components in the computer running such as the memory. And allow you to resume working on your computer quickly.
8. When you are not going to be using your laptop for an even longer time, put it into hibernate(Shift+Standby Button) mode. It will have the same effect as turning the computer off, but it will allow you to go back to working on your laptop just like in standby and uses little to no power from the battery.
Use Windows Power Manager
If a laptop will be running on batteries often, then the settings on the software end should be configured to reflect that kind of usage. Thus, the built-in Power Management utility for Windows 7 is a useful and user-friendly tool for optimizing battery life by manipulating laptop performance and behavior. The tool can be reached under Power Options in the Control Panel or just by typing in ‘powercfg.cpl’ in the Run Command window.
With the power manager tool, users are given direct access to a variety of power options. Windows includes a couple of pre-built battery plans such as power over performance, performance over power, and balanced. Of course, if you want more control over a power plan, you’d have to customize one yourself.
The Advanced settings window will let users do just that by allowing direct access to set behavioral commands for different computer components. For example, USB ports can be disabled and CPUs can be underclocked to conserve battery life. These are powerful and easily adaptable options that should be adjusted to fit the needs of the user.
Use a Virtual Drive
Use of a DVD drive can be quite taxing on battery life because of the mechanical spinning motor required to read discs. Consequently, avoid constant use of the DVD drive when running on batteries. Instead, files on a disc should be copied and accessed through the hard drive or a USB flash drive if possible.
More often than not, however, many users could be using the DVD drive for playing clips or movies during long flights or car rides. If this is the situation, it is recommended to avoid playing the movie directly off of the DVD and to instead use a virtual drive. A virtual drive acts as an ordinary DVD drive, but will play disc images off of the hard drive or flash drive instead of physical DVDs. The disc image will be an exact copy of the DVD and can be created with some help from freeware programs, but retail DVD movies cannot be copied for legal reasons.
Common virtual drive programs include Alcohol 52% and Daemon Tools, both of which have free versions for personal use. Virtual drives should take away the hassle of carrying around DVDs, all the while improving battery life.
Consider a Solid-state Drive Upgrade
A solid-state drive (SSD) has many advantages over traditional hard drive discs (HDD), but in terms of battery life, the biggest advantage is the absence of moving parts. This, in combination with its different architecture, allows for generally more efficient power consumption.
Most SATA-enabled notebooks can have the original HDD easily replaced with a SSD. The process is no different from swapping hard drives or upgrading to larger capacities.
The largest disadvantage when upgrading to a SSD is the associated cost. If you’ve ever wondered why some laptops are $700 and others are $2500, one likely reason is because the latter is fitted with a high capacity SSD. The NAND flash chips currently used in many SSDs can run for as much as $1.00 to $2.00 per gigabyte as of 2011, so it can cost more than a few hundred dollars just to match the capacity of a HDD. While the upgrade is simple, the price required is off-putting for many.
Choose Integrated over Discrete Graphics Solutions
For those in the market for a new laptop and battery life optimization is of utmost concern, consider looking for a notebook with an integrated graphics controller instead of one with discrete graphics. Discrete graphics can be more powerful, but can also acutely reduce the battery life of any notebook even if graphic intensive processes are not running. This is largely due to the raw speeds and die sizes of discrete graphics chips, thus these chips demand more power from the battery just to keep them running idle.
Additionally, most portable users do not necessarily need the high-performance capabilities of a discrete graphics chip. If web browsing, email, music, word processing, Farmville, and streaming video are on top of the to-do list, then the advanced, often more expensive dedicated graphics option is simply overkill for the user. A laptop with Intel GMA HD or AMD Radeon 4200 would suffice.
That is not to say integrated graphics are inadequate, however. Newer integrated graphics especially are much more powerful than the previous generations while remaining power efficient. This allows for smoother video and streaming performance and even support for full HD (1920×1080) resolution playback through an HDMI-out port. A prime example is the Intel GMA HD 3000or the new AMD Fusion APU. These new chips are powerful enough for light gaming and high-definition video playback on-the-go without the need for battery-draining discrete graphics solutions.
Purchase a New/Larger Battery
If buying a laptop online, especially from a brand name company like Dell, HP, Sony, or Lenovo, the buyer will usually be given the option to choose between a 6-cell, 8-cell, or 12-cell Lithium-ion battery module. A cell refers to one of the many independent, often cylindrical, lithium ion-based batteries that make up the entire laptop battery module itself.
Generally, a battery with more cells will last longer than a battery with less. This also scales quite nicely, as a 12-cell battery will last roughly twice as long as a 6-cell battery, assuming all else equal. Therefore, it might be worth considering a battery with more cells right from the get-go when purchasing a new laptop.
Be aware, however, that the larger the number of cells, the larger and heavier the battery module will be in general. Many laptops and netbooks nowadays dedicate almost the entire backside just for the battery. A module with a lower number of cells may fit snugly on the back, but a larger module will have some volume protruding outwards behind the laptop due to the increased cell count. Additionally, larger battery modules will demand more from your wallet, so make sure the extra weight and size will be worth the investment.
If the current laptop is more than a few years old, it is advisable to purchase a new battery if a new laptop is not yet worth the investment. All Li-ion batteries degrade overtime, so a battery that once provided 4 hours of use two years ago may only provide 1 to 2 hours today and will ultimately continue to provide less overtime. At this point, a new battery will aid laptop runtime much more significantly than many of the suggestions on this list.
While on the subject of batteries, certain new laptops allow for up to 2 batteries to be attached simultaneously for up to double the runtime. Thus, these laptops can be favorable options for future battery-conscious laptop owners. Examples include the Sony Vaio S Series and Lenovo’s updated ThinkPad series for 2011. With dual batteries, reaching double-digit hours when off the power grid should be easily reachable.
Consider External Battery Packs
An alternative but similar option is to utilize anexternal battery pack instead of the specialized batteries that were designed to fit into specific laptops. These rechargeable external batteries connect directly to a laptop’s DC-in port and often include a number of different connection cords to ensure compatibility with a wide range of laptop models. The biggest advantage here is the immense versatility of an external battery pack; it can power and recharge not only existing and future laptops, but also potentially other electronics such as phones, cameras, iPads, and other similar devices. Thus, its usefulness extends through multiple gadgets as each can take advantage of the portable power source.
A typical external battery designed for laptops can range from $50 to $200, depending on the size, features, and output power. Keep in mind, however, that the battery will be an additional burden for those constantly on the move. Most promise at least several hours of usage, but be sure to check the milliamps/hr (mAh) rating to be convinced. Estimated runtime can be calculated from the product of its amps/hr rating and the voltage output, divided by the laptop power use in watts (Ah x Volts)/(watts). Of course, this conversion is a very rough approximation, and as such should not be the sole determinate for selecting external batteries.