14 Ways to Be Kind to Your Battery


A little over ten days ago Apple 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.


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