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Summary:

Laptop users know that the battery in their system determines how much time can be spent using it away from the power outlet. Sometimes it may be critical to squeeze as much runtime out of the battery as possible. Here are 5 ways to do that.

Battery squeeze wide

Laptops are the top selling computers, and have been for a while. They have gotten easier to carry and cheaper, both factors making them the PC of choice for many. A lot of people leave the laptop plugged into the wall all the time, as they seldom venture out into the wild. Others are highly mobile by nature, and those folks know that sometimes squeezing the most out of the laptop battery is extremely important. Business travelers are often confronted with long trips where power outlets are few and far between. Keeping the laptop running on battery power is the top order of the day at such times. Here are 5 ways to squeeze the most out of laptop batteries. This article is focused on Microsoft Windows 7, but the concepts are applicable to any laptop.

Dim the screen and keyboard. It may be obvious that the laptop screen is a power-sucking component, but I often see travelers using laptops with the screen at full brightness. Nothing will drain the battery faster than a fully lit display. Turn the screen brightness all the way down, and then gradually bump it up until it is just barely viewable. This will extend your battery life tremendously, in some cases, for hours. If your laptop has a backlit keyboard, turn that off entirely. It’s not a big battery drain but all of the little things together add up to mean less time at the keyboard.

Kill the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. If you don’t need to get connected to a hotspot, kill the Wi-Fi. Many laptops have switches to do so easily, but for those that don’t there is usually a utility to turn the radios off. Even if you need the Wi-Fi you should definitely turn the Bluetooth off. This uses a radio and that means it needs power to function. You shouldn’t need Bluetooth at all while mobile. If you use a Bluetooth mouse, consider leaving it turned off so you can kill the radio. It may keep you running for a few more minutes before the laptop dies.

Put movies on a USB flash drive. If you normally watch DVDs on trips, consider ripping them to a USB flash drive. Spinning optical drives drain the battery rapidly, where USB drives take tiny sips. This can make a big difference when watching a movie on the plane. The same can be said for any content that is usually accessed through the optical drive. There are many utilities on the web that can get content from optical drives to a USB flash drive.

Turn off extraneous hardware. Every component on the laptop requires power, even when it is not being used. Most things on today’s systems don’t use a lot of power, but in critical situations where maximum runtime is vital it may be worthwhile to turn unused components off. These include Ethernet ports, fingerprint readers, optical drives, modems and various ports. Many laptops have utilities pre-installed to help turn these off, but even if yours doesn’t it can be done in the Device Manager. On Windows 7 laptops, this can be accessed by right-clicking on the Computer icon and then selecting the Device Manager link. Select the port or device you want to turn off and on the Driver tab click the Disable button. Don’t forget to turn it back on before needing it again.

Background/ unneeded programs. This one is only for those who must squeeze as much runtime out of the laptop battery as possible. Every system has a lot of programs running in the background, and these programs hit the CPU for processing power. This results in a power hit, and while it is very small everything has an impact. If it’s vital to get maximum runtime, turn off any background apps that are not actively needed for the work session. If there are programs you have installed that run in the background, such as desktop widgets, turn them off manually for the session. You should be able to do this safely for anything on a temporary basis, and save power by doing so.

These methods will go a long way to extending the amount of time that can be spent working on battery power. Hours of runtime can be added by aggressive power management obtained by these 5 steps. Some laptops, ThinkPads in particular, have a Battery Stretch setting which should also be used. This monitors the system aggressively when running on the battery, and when the battery starts getting low the system starts shutting down components to “stretch” more runtime. This utility is user configurable and should certainly be used for those extended times away from an outlet.

I also advocate getting a second battery for laptops, especially those who travel a lot. The cost can be significant, with some laptop batteries costing up to $200, but it is an instant doubling of run time.

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  1. Good article. Note however that turning off unused devices (per #4) can sometimes hurt you, particularly if you mess up your system’s ability to use USB selective suspend, which can result in your CPU being unable to go into lower power states.

    To verify this hasn’t happened, you can run the commandline “powercfg /energy” tool in Windows 7, which will generate an energy report HTML file describing any problems or warnings associated with your configuration.

    Ideally you can disable the USB controller to which your unused devices are attached. Most laptops have several USB controller nodes, I think mine has 4. One of them is used for the internal bluetooth radio, which I don’t use. So I disable that controller, and this ensures that it uses no power and has no impact on my system’s power management capabilities. If you use Device Manager to get to the properties of an individual USB controller, it will show you which devices are attached to that particular controller.

    Running “powercfg /energy” and fixing its errors is really my #1 tip, though.

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    1. Great advice, Brandon.

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  2. Jonathan Cohen Wednesday, March 3, 2010

    Also, your laptop may have its own power program where you can set the time before the hard drive spins down. In Win 7, you can set it to turn off wallpaper switching while on battery power. Disabling Aero and border transparency helps too.

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  3. A few more tips for extending battery run times:

    1. Go SSD instead of HDD.
    2. Get a Core i5 notebook with on-die graphics, and turn off any dedicated GPU.
    3. If your notebook has a LED display option, take it.
    4. Go 12-cell instead of 6-cell – extended batteries mean you’ll be hunting for an outlet less and avoid having to swap batteries.
    5. Invest in an auto/air charger – I carry that in place of my AC adapter.
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      1. Undervolt – you’ll need to research this and use some specific apps, but results have shown differences of up to an hour.

      BTW: the guy below is NOT me.

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  4. DON’T VISIT THE FAKE LUSCIOUS POSTERS LINK – MALWARE ALERT!

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    1. And fake poster is gone. Why do people have to be this way?

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      1. THX! :)

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  5. Nice tips but all can’t be used real time as we can’t make screen dim lighted because it might harm your eyes. And I think all the tips you have given are basic things which everyone knows but don’t out it into the action. I hope they start using this tips and get long battery life.

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  6. Hey, great article, if Brandon agrees, you should incorporate his idea into the article…not everyone reads comments.

    PS: James you look a little like a pimp with the golden bracelet :-D

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  7. I noticed you suggested putting ripped movies on flash USB drives instead of playing them from optical drives, but you didn’t discuss why USB flash is better than the laptop’s hard disk. The obvious answer, of course, is that accessing the hard disk keeps it spinning. But in practice, does it really work? I ran that test recently, and even though in theory nothing should have needed the hard disk (no other app loaded), Win 7 kept accessing it here and there. I have a cross country flight tonight, so I might try and fiddle with it again.

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  8. 6th trick…

    Disable unecessary services…

    Interesting automatic free tool “Game Booster”… iobits.com

    or for experts and manual intervention try SMART (free)from thewindowsclub.com

    Nice, isn’t it ?

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  9. I’d add, make frequent use of standby and/or turning off backlight the moment you pause in your work.

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  10. I haven’t noticed much battery savings by placing movies on USB.If it is a full length movie the hard drive is still used for buffering the video for smooth playback. On netbooks there is a huge delay before the frame rate catches up on all OSes on the same hardware – Win7,Linux,and OSX. Linux had best movie playing performance,but Win7 wins in the battery life dept. by about 12 minutes more on average. So if you have a multi-boot this may be an option.

    You can also underclock your processor and GPU to save some power, but most power management settings “should” do this for you automatically. Some BIOS allow you to both under and overclock your processor and GPU, which can also net in further power savings.

    Check out Process Lasso it can help you control your programs and background process management to maximize processing power as well as reduce power consumption on unwanted processes and programs. http://www.bitsum.com/prolasso.php

    Another tip is to custom configure a power mode for your laptop with all your low power settings in place so all you have to do is click on the power icon in the taskbar and select your optimized low power settings under Power Options.

    Last tip bring an external battery (Duracell DPM100 can be had for a mere $31 – http://www.buy.com/prod/duracell-dpm-100-duracell-100-watt-powersource-mobile-100-power/q/loc/101/205817783.html?adid=17662 )and adds about 2hours of battery life when an outlet can’t be found w/2 USB ports(to charge your phone,etc.) or spare replacement battery for your laptop just in case. :)

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