Everyone who has ever used a laptop knows that sinking feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when your laptop battery is about to die. Battery life is still one of the single most important issues that people consider when purchasing a new notebook. And why not? Battery life is the key factor to the mobility of a laptop computer. Sure, we all like thin and light PCs but even the thinnest, lightest laptop is nothing but a paperweight when the battery dies.
In some cases you might be able to turn to an extended battery for your laptop, but as manufacturers race to make thinner and lighter laptops, many of these "ultrabooks" have integrated batteries that cannot be removed or replaced without completely disassembling the laptop. So what can you do to squeeze out a few extra minutes (or even a few extra hours) of battery life? With a few minutes worth of simple changes, you can easily get your work done without constantly looking for the nearest power outlet.
Most of this guide will focus on modern notebooks running Windows 7, but much of the advice below holds true even if you're running Windows XP or planning to move to Windows 8.
In the simplest terms, anything your laptop does requires power. Therefore, your laptop is wasting power every time it does something that you don't "need" it to do. One simple solution is to close applications you aren't using rather than leaving programs running in the background or minimized in the Windows taskbar. However, you can go one step further.
Every laptop running a modern version of Windows has the ability change power profiles using the Windows Power Management. Click on that battery icon on the bottom of your screen, and make sure your notebook is set to "Balanced" or "Power Saver" if you want a quick and simple way to limit unnecessary power consumption.
The "High Performance" setting is great if you are encoding video or playing games but it makes your processor and hard drive(s) work harder than they have to, using more power and throwing out more heat. Most notebooks also include power regulation software from the laptop manufacturer (HP Power Advisor, Toshiba Power Saver, etc.) which can be used to help reduce overall power consumption.
Being Wireless Will Eventually Leave You Powerless
We usually need our laptops to be connected to a wireless network of some kind; Wi-Fi, 3G broadband, your 4G USB modem, or even your Bluetooth external keyboard and mouse at the office. The problem is that constantly sending and receiving wireless signals drains a significant portion of your notebook's battery. The solution is simple: If you're not actively using a wireless connection then make sure you turn it off. You can disable Wi-Fi or Bluetooth on your laptop either by clicking on the wireless network icon on the bottom right corner of your Windows desktop or by pressing the Wireless on/off switch on laptops that have such switches.
Another Bright Idea: Turn Down The Display
The single component that consumes the most amount of power on your notebook is the screen backlight. This is particularly true for "desktop replacement" notebooks with large screens (15-inch and 17-inch laptops). Yes, displays usually look better when the backlight is nice and bright but when you're away from a power outlet you need to balance your desire for a vivid screen with your desire to keep your laptop running. Start by lowering the screen brightness to the lowest setting and increase it slowly until you reach the dimmest setting you find bearable. Of course, this will vary depending on the room you are in ... you'll have to increase the screen brightness if you're working outdoors under direct sunlight but you might be able to use the absolute lowest brightness setting when you're working on a plane with the cabin lights off.
Sooner or later most people find themselves stuck on a flight or in a car without Wi-Fi and nothing better to do but watch a movie to pass the time. Pulling out that DVD or Blu-ray collection sounds like fun but it's one of the fastest ways to drain your laptop's battery. The motor that spins the optical drive and the laser used to read the discs create a huge power draw while the disc is spinning. In addition to the drive, your laptop's processor (and the GPU) has to work hard to decode the audio and video. This usually translates into more than a 30% increase in power consumption compared to when your notebook is basically just sitting idle while you type a document in Microsoft Word. If you must watch movies, try to stick with digital content that you previously downloaded such as iTunes or Amazon Instant Video that has been saved to your computer. You can also stream online from Netflix.com or Hulu.com but, as previously mentioned, Wi-Fi power consumption is something to keep in mind.
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