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14 Ways to Be Kind to Your Battery

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A little over ten days ago Apple (s aapl) launched a shiny new Apple and the Environment microsite showcasing the company’s commitment to greener production and business practise. So I thought it would be appropriate to take a leaf (pun intended) from Apple’s book and look at ways to be more energy efficient in my daily computing.

Mac OS X has some great power-saving features for MacBook users, but there are simple things you can do to squeeze those precious extra minutes of useful life out of your battery. And, to prove it to myself, I’m doing all of my writing today on my MacBook Pro in my garden, without the power cord. Oh yes, I’m living life on the edge, people!

Some of these tips are screamingly obvious; others contribute only modest energy savings. In aggregate, though, these tips can help you get significant life out of a single charge. So here they are, presented in no particular order of importance.

1. Dim the screen

Relatively speaking, that LED panel uses a fabulous amount of power, and, most of the time, simply doesn’t need to be so super bright. Turn it down to a comfortable level where you don’t have to squint to see what you’re doing.

2. Dim the Keyboard

The optical fiber backlighting in the keyboard can sometimes be brought to life even when you can see the keys perfectly well. When that happens, you can probably afford to turn it down a bit.

3. Stop Playing DVDs/CDs…

Your optical drive uses a motor. And a laser. They exhaust batteries in no time.

4. …and Stop Playing Video/Music from the HDD

Sorry, I know you stopped using your Optical Drive, but playing music or video is a power-guzzling process irrespective of where the source files happen to be.

5. Spin Down That Disc

Avoid doing anything that requires the hard drive to spin. Be mindful of the applications you run, and avoid those which require lots of read/write activity. Also, pop in to your System Preferences ? Energy Saver and select “Put the hard disk(s) to sleep whenever possible.”

6. Go Easy on Your CPU

You can’t put the CPU to sleep, but you can go easy on it. Cycles spent crunching numbers equals battery drain. Quit anything you absolutely do not need. Mail, iCal, iTunes and goodness knows what else, even when hidden, are claiming CPU cycles.

7. Select the Right Video Card

If you own a late 2008 model MacBook Pro or later, you’ll have two graphic chips at your disposal. There’s the NVIDIA 9600, ideal for web browsing and text editing, or the more powerful 9600M, a better choice for gaming and video editing. In your System Preferences, choose Energy Saver and select Graphics: Better Battery Life. This will tell Mac OS X to use the 9600 chipset rather than its power-crazed big brother.

8. Internal Fans

Your MacBook should do a decent job of managing its own internal cooling, but if you’re competent doing this yourself, you might consider using a tool like smcFanControl to spin those things down. Just don’t blame me if you melt your MacBook as a result. (Seriously, if you don’t know what you’re doing, don’t even try this tip!)

9. Switch Off the Radios

Your Wi-Fi and bluetooth radios don’t have to be on all the time, do they? If preserving power matters to you, turn them off.

10. Ditch the Mouse

If your bluetooth radio is turned off, you can pack away that wireless Mighty Mouse. Using a wired Mighty Mouse? You should pack that away, too; that laser is sucking-up the juice.

11. Unplug That iPod!

If you keep your iPod or iPhone connected to your MacBook, remove them. Even if you’re not actively syncing them (and you’re not — if you followed my advice, iTunes is turned off by now) they’re keeping their own batteries topped-up via that good old USB copper. Your MacBook’s battery will thank you for unplugging them.

12. External Drives

If you’re using USB-powered external hard drives for backup/storage, unplug them (but be aware this means your backup routine may be disrupted!) Even if you’re not using your external drive all the time, remember that if you invoke an Open or Save As dialogue, those connected storage devices will spin-up on the off-chance you want to use them. If you don’t, that was power wasted!

13. Close the Lid

If you are going to be inactive for a while, consider putting the machine to sleep (or if you’ll be inactive for a long time, go one better and shut-down completely.)

14. Plan Ahead

If it’s at all practicable, plan what you are going to do before you even power-up your MacBook.

So there you have it. Combine these tips into your daily mobile-compute and you ought to see some serious improvements in productive, working battery life. Also, remember to let your battery fully drain at least once a month.

How well did I do here in the garden today? I squeezed about four hours out of my battery before I had to plug in. Give it a try, you might be surprised at just how much power your little lithium friend can muster.

How do you maximize battery life? Short of actually plugging in to the nearest wall or carrying spare batteries (that’s cheating!), what tips have I missed from this list? Share them in the comments below.

28 Responses to “14 Ways to Be Kind to Your Battery”

  1. Okay… Is it good to drain your battery everyday? Because I turn my computer on not even knowin how much battery it has in it! And then let it go until it says your running on reserved battery power…

  2. One thing I do instinctively do is invert my screen (ctrl + alt + apple + 8). I don’t know if this really works, but I tell myself if saves energy then it follows reason that inverting the screen will too…right?

  3. Michael Fuchs

    3) .. writing in TextEdit & pasting to Pages, Mail et al. only when U need to ?
    4) .. playing iTunes only from playlists (recommended for iPods) ?
    5) .. turn off “Show all file sizes” in Finder (Apple default & actually quite annoying) ?
    6) .. check Activity Monitor for unneeded activities, though this might prove tricky – would safe-booting take care of that ?

    These are just from the top of my head & might not save That much (question marks are for real & answers would be appreciated), but the points given are mostly common sense & do imo not warrant this much blogspace …

  4. Sure the post is written in a way that it seems you have to shutdown your macbook in order to be kind to the battery, but I do not read it literally. Of course you should watch movies or listen to music, and even have a disc in the optical drive. Of course you should put the display brightness in a level that is comfortable for you according to your lighting conditions at any given time, and you should put all your needs above any energy saving considerations, because you bought a computer for a reason.

    But, you should be environmentally aware, and be conscious as to what you really need. Perhaps you keep yourself opening and opening programs, and there some that you’ve had open for hours without touching them. So close them. This is good for your battery and for your RAM and speed too! Perhaps you put your mac to sleep when you left a place where there was wifi, and later you arrived to your country house where there’s no connectivity, so why do you keep AirPort on? Maybe you bought the latest CD from your favorite artist and you put it in the drive to import it to iTunes, but after you did that, why do you need to keep it in the drive?

    Bottom line is, be kind to you battery and the environment, but do not stop from enjoying your Mac. You bought it for a reason!

    And as a side note, I too would have preferred to see actual numbers and estimates on how each of these actions helps increasing the battery time. For instance, I’m sure the optical drive consumes a lot, having a motor and a laser, but I wonder how beneficial is exactly to turn down AirPort, which I guess would consume substantially less energy.

    Anyway, good article.

  5. What about using the 13″ MBP’s 60W Magsafe adapter on a 15″? And vice-versa (an 85W from the 15″on the 13″)?

    They look identical, and they both work to charge the other battery. Am I damaging my battery by using the wrong one?

  6. Item 7 is incorrect. I know that I’m being a stickler, but the 15″ and 17″ MacBook Pros ship with the 9400M and 9600M GT. The 13″ ship with only the 9400M. I think the readers probably understood what was written, but there isn’t a MacBook Pro model with a 9600 and 9600M setup.

  7. Martin Bowen

    On my Samsung netbook, there is a software option to charge the battery only up to 80%. This means that I can leave it plugged in all the time if I choose, and this won’t make the battery age prematurely. I wish i could do this on my MBP (2nd battery already, and dying fast). I’ve seen no Mac software that can configure the battery charge process in this manner. Have you?

    • I might be mistaken, but if you condition the battery to only charge up to 80%, the next time you go to charge it 100%, the battery think’s it’s maximum is at 80%. Granted this takes awhile to happen, but you can malcondition your battery. Leaving a battery charged all the time should be a very bad thing, since you’re not only charging your battery, but your draining it as well (at the same time). This puts a lot of wear and tear on the battery.

      The only way to calibrate a battery is to kill it (completely drain it), then let it charge back to a 100%. Kind of like hitting the reset button.

  8. Tip 8: Internal fans

    Actually smcFanControl does not spin down your fans. The fans always run at least at the speeds determined by Apple. What smcFanControl does is allow you to run them faster for additional cooling. As such It is great for hot laptops. But not so much for inclusion in a list of power-saving tips.

  9. Adam Jackson

    Many of these were certainly obvious. It would have been valuable if you could have posted data on this. Like get a 13&15 inch MacBook Pro and follow these steps and let us know even in an unscientific way how it benefited the battery life.

    My MacBook Air w/ everything up and iPhone plugged in (keyboard, wifi bluetooth, monitor) and iTunes playing will display 1hr and 45 minutes. If I turn the monitor down to 10%, disable all radios and turn keyboard off and unplug iPhone, it goes to about 6 hours.

    I’ve never eliminated things 1 by 1 but it would be need to break down how much disabling wi-fi actually increases the battery time.

  10. I love this blog and its articles, but this article was not well thought out.

    This article pretty much told me to use my mac in “paper weight mode” to save the battery. I bought my MacBook to work on it. If that means I have to bring a power cord, then let it be. But I plan on using the web, Photoshop, iTunes, wifi, Bluetooth, etc. That’s why I bought the computer!

    • Yes, this website is a great resource with very valuable insight.

      Thanks for the replies. As a reader, the article was a little unclear with it’s intent. I think Adam Jackson’s comment perfectly explains my expectation of the article. I don’t know the numbers/stats, but I notice a few hours difference when incorporate tip #1 into my computing. I can assume that “fabulous amount of power” can translate into hours saved.

      I think a great spin-off is an unscientific analysis of how much time is added to battery life when each step is incorporated by doing intermidate computing.

      You’ll have to set a benchmark and then define intemidate computing, but I think most users will get the point.

      Just some suggestions…

  11. Someone

    So basically, you are saying don’t use your computer as it would drain your battery. Most of the stuff (I said most) is what you would expect in normal usage of any computer