If there’s one thing that’s really important for PC users on-the-go, it’s battery life. Thanks to the massive performance enhancements in laptops such as the second-generation Core i7 and AMD FX CPUs, many users tend to look out for energy efficiency and battery life instead of just raw processing power. To prevent your laptop from running out of juice too soon, we developed the brand-new TuneUp Economy Mode which promises up to 30% more battery life. In this blog post, we’ll show you the technical intricacies of Economy Mode and give you an outlook on the power savings you can expect.
The mystery of battery life
While laptop makers (such as Asus, Sony, or Dell) tend to do everything in their power (pardon the pun) to save battery life, the operating system and installed third-party software often affect these advancements negatively. In essence, these two factors will effectively drain your battery faster and prevent your laptop from lasting as long as they potentially could.
- Windows XP/Vista/7′s power management: Windows’ own power management offers you three modes, “High Performance”, “Balanced”, and “Power Saver”.
While “High Performance” delivers on its promise by giving you full speed regardless of power consumption, “Balanced” mode, and especially “Power Saver” mode could do a lot more to save battery life. Here are a few examples of this energy-sapping behavior:
- CPU throttling: the CPU is one of the more power-sapping components in any PC or laptop which is why it should be throttled to lower clocks when you’re on-the-go and don’t need maximum performance. Unfortunately, even the “Power Saver” mode allows your processor to clock up to its maximum in some high-usage scenarios.
- Display brightness: while the CPU takes up a heavy chunk of battery life, the display is the number 1 power sucker on your laptop. Reducing the brightness can make a massive difference (think hours, depending on your laptop model). However, even Microsoft’s own “Power Saver” mode does not reduce brightness to its minimum levels.
- Devices: Other devices such as Wi-Fi adapters and your hard disk don’t tend to use their energy saving modes often.
- Windows settings: on desktop PCs or laptops (when plugged in), Windows has settings in effect that increase energy consumption. For example, Windows rotates wallpapers even when you’re running in “Power Saver” mode which causes frequent use of your processor, memory, and graphics card for just a few seconds. This small amount of time is just enough for these devices to wake up out of their sleep mode and consume power.
- Third-party applications: The increase in third-party software activity puts a heavy burden on even the fastest desktops and laptops. Third-party processes and services are responsible for a higher CPU utilization, as proven by this Microsoft case study (see graph below).
In our own analysis, we found that by having several dozens of third-party programs installed, the entire PC background activity rises significantly. Using Microsoft Performance Toolkit, we measured hard disk activity on a laptop with 3 GHz and 4 GBytes of RAM that’s been cluttered with a total of 40 startup programs:
Windows Performance Toolkit gives a graphical representation of the total disk activity (I/O counts). This graph shows the amount of disc accesses over the course of boot time. With a clean image, the background activity wasn’t even close to that:
As you can see, the disk I/O count went down to almost nothing with just a few spikes at the beginning of the boot process. And, again, that was just when booting the PC! The laptop’s hardware had no chance of getting a rest, as its components were never put into standby mode or a very low powered mode. This was because these third-party programs kept it busy.
As you can see, there’s potential for more power savings. At TuneUp it became very clear that, if a user is on the road and wants their laptop to last as long as possible, it does not necessarily need maximum performance, and this is where the idea for our TuneUp Economy Mode came into play.
TuneUp Economy Mode
Being on the road ourselves, we knew that Windows and third party programs reduce battery life drastically. After months of research with literally dozens of laptops, netbooks, and tablets, we developed TuneUp Economy Mode.
This feature prevents hardware components from entering high-power states, tweaking power-related settings, and turning off unnecessary third-party programs. It optimizes the following aspects of your PC and laptop to reduce power consumption:
- CPU throttling: TuneUp Economy Mode prevents your CPU from dynamically increasing its speed even if you’re on the road and want to save every minute of battery life.
- Hard disk: Makes sure that your hard disk enters standby much sooner than the default setting.
- Wi-Fi adapter: Economy Mode makes sure that your Wi-Fi adapter (another energy-sapping component) operates at its lowest power level, regardless of whether you’re plugged in or running solely on battery.
- Screen: Dims and turns off your screen sooner than usual in order to prevent the screen from consuming too much battery power when you’re not using your machine.
- Visual Style: TuneUp Economy Mode reduces visual effects so your PC or laptop’s graphics card consumes less power. For example, Economy Mode disables the transparent Aero effects and the wallpaper slideshow feature.
- Synchronization with mobile devices: Windows and third party programs run services that check for devices and enable synchronization with them. If you’re on the road, that’s one factor that is sure to reduce battery life. TuneUp Economy Mode turns these services off temporarily.
- Support for digital cameras and scanners: This is another service that sits in the background and consumes resources. It can eventually lead to a decrease in battery life and an increase in power consumption. Again, as long as Economy Mode is active, this service is disabled.
- Network sharing of media library: Windows Media Player’s network sharing feature is one of the more resource-intense services. It scans for other PCs on your network to share your media library. This feature is generally unnecessary, especially when on the road which is why TuneUp Economy Mode temporarily shuts this feature down.
- Quick search using index creation: The Windows search feature indexes files, shortcuts, contacts, and e-mails in the background to deliver a fast search. While this is a great feature, it’s not necessary to index (and thus consume power) while you’re on an airplane or taking the train with no electrical outlet in sight.
- Miscellaneous services: Besides these obvious power-sapping settings and services, TuneUp Economy Mode also shuts down services related to Windows Error Reporting, virtual machines, special encryption services, and rarely used communication services.
Of course it is you, the user, who ultimately decides which of these power saving features to enable. Obviously, if you accept more of our recommendations, your battery will last longer and your desktop PCs power consumption will go down. However, that doesn’t mean your entire PC experience needs to suffer because each and every aspect of TuneUp Economy Mode can be pre-configured. There are also two presets that’ll give you either the best possible battery life or the “best of both worlds”:
The first choice, “Options for maximum energy savings”, applies all the performance enhancements, and device standby settings described above while the second one, “Options for moderate energy savings” just turns off power-sapping services and features, letting you work with maximum performance when enabled.
Cool Tip: You can set TuneUp Economy Mode so that it automatically kicks in once you unplug your laptop!
What can you expect?
It all depends on the hardware of your machine, but we can guarantee you that you will feel the difference in battery life. In fact, in next week’s blog post, we’ll not only discuss how TuneUp Economy Mode fared in our own professional lab tests, but also collect some independent benchmark results from IT professionals around the globe.
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