Often times I find myself stuck in a conference room, on a long flight, or at the airport without an electrical outlet in reach. Since I tend to be on the go all of the time, it is critical for my laptop to have a long battery life—and for me to know the best techniques to save as much of the battery life as possible. I wanted to share some steps that I have perfected over the last couple of years to squeeze every last minute out of my laptop.
To prove how much battery you can actually save with the following tips, I tested battery life for each of my settings. For the test I used a 2009 MacBook Pro (running Windows via the Boot Camp software) with a 17” display, a Core 2 Duo with 2.93 GHz, 4 GByte of memory, and a GeForce 9600M GT graphics card. This laptop gave me 3 hours of battery life for basic office tasks and 2 ½ hours worth of full HD movie playback with the default settings. For the office test, I worked with Microsoft Office for 20 minutes, edited a photo for another 10 minutes and then copied some files from one partition to another for 10 minutes. For the HD movie test, I put on the 1080p digital WMV copy of “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”.
1. “Dim the lights, please!”
- Battery gain while working: +32 minutes
- Battery gain while watching an HD movie: +24 minutes
The display backlight can be a huge power sucker, especially on a 15” or 17” laptop. If you’re on the go, make sure to turn down the brightness to the lowest level you can tolerate. For example, my MacBook gives me 15 brightness levels; zero turns the display off, while 15 is the maximum brightness. When I’m in an airplane and watching a movie or working, I can usually adjust the setting between six and 10—depending on the lighting conditions of my environment.
2. Disable non-essential devices
- Battery gain while working: +27 minutes
- Battery gain while watching an HD movie: +19 minutes
If I’m in an airplane, I don’t need most of the laptop devices to be active and deplete the battery. I always disable all of the unnecessary devices in Device Manager. Note: most laptops have special software that lets you disable things like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, LAN, USB, or Web cams with a single click. If you don’t have such power management software or don’t want to use it, Device Manager is the way to go: open the Start menu, right-click on “Computer”, and select “Properties”. Open “Device Manager”, and click “Continue”.
To disable a device, simply open up a category (e.g. “Network adapters”) from the list, right-click on a device, select “Disable”, and confirm with the “Yes” button. When on longer flights, I recommend disabling the true power suckers of your system, including Wi-Fi and LAN connections, Bluetooth devices, DVD and CD-ROM drives, IEEE 1394 Bus Controller (Firewire), imaging devices (e.g. Web cams), and the infrared receiver.
You could even go further and disable all of your USB controllers and ports; however, on some machines, the keyboard and trackpad are routed through an internal USB controller—so you might lose your keyboard and cursor as well. I recommend not disabling it; in my tests, it only saved about five minutes of battery life. Another note: don’t connect unnecessary USB devices, such as keys, hard disks, cameras and phones, to your machine, as they can eat up the battery, as well.
3. Maximize Power saver settings (Windows Vista and 7)
- Battery gain while working: +19 minutes
- Battery gain while watching an HD movie: +14 minutes
If you’re on the go and use Windows Vista or 7,the power management features have been rewritten from scratch and will make your laptop battery last longer than under Windows XP. By default, Windows Vista and Windows 7 give you three, so-called “power plans”. The default, “Balanced” plan is very good, as it balances performance and battery life. But, if you need every last bit of battery life, you can save a bit of time by selecting the “Power saver” plan. To do this, click on the battery icon of your taskbar, and click “Power saver”. Note: This plan will noticeably reduce the performance of your processor and graphics card—so watching an HD movie with a smooth picture might not be possible anymore!
There are a few, more tips that will help prolong battery life even further. Curious? Read part two of this blog post that follows in two weeks!
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