5 Ways to Stretch Laptop Battery Runtime

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.

Related research on GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

Better Battery Life Motivates Mobile Chipmakers


Comments have been disabled for this post