Notebook computers come preconfigured with power plans from the factory; some manufacturers use the ones built into Window while others like Lenovo send their notebooks with their own power plans. Either way, these power plans try to give your laptop a balance of good performance and good battery life based on essentially guesses as to how most people use their laptops.
But what happens if you’re not like “most people” and you need your notebook to deliver better performance or more battery life? Throughout this article we’ll operate under the assumption that you know your needs better than the computer maker; if we’re right then the odds are your computer will be more usable than it was before by the time we’re finished.
Analyze Your Needs
The majority of folks (including the author of this article) can achieve all the usability they need via a single power plan; this plan will cover both plugged and unplugged scenarios.
Think carefully as we go through each setting of a power plan; certain aspects of how you use a computer (such as the length of time you leave it powered on) may be obvious but others (such as how long you want the notebook’s screen to stay illuminated before shutting off due to inactivity) may require some thought. Let’s get started.
Power plans in Windows are controlled from the Power Options screen; access this by one of these methods:
- On the far side of your Windows taskbar, click the plug/battery icon, then More power options
- OR – open the Windows run menu (Windows Key + [R]), type powercfg.cpl then click OK
The Power Options screen will then open; the already configured power plans display in the center of the screen.
Create Your Own Power Plan
On the left side of the Power Options screen, click Create a power plan. Give it a name.
Take Windows’ advice and select an existing plan to serve as a starting point; here I’m selecting the ‘Balanced’ plan which is included with Windows; ultimately it matters little whichever plan you choose as we’ll be changing most of the settings anyway. Click Next when ready.
Right now we have access to the basic settings; we’ll change advanced settings in the next section. Notice however we have two separate sets of options: one for On battery and one for Plugged in.
I personally set these as follows:
|On battery||Plugged in|
|Turn off the display||5 minutes||10 minutes|
|Put the computer to sleep||20 minutes||Never|
|Adjust plan brightness||20%||100%|
These settings explained:
- Turn off the display: Ask yourself, “How long does it take you to read an entire page worth of text on your computer screen?” Triple that number; I rounded off mine to five minutes. I set it at double that when plugged in because power is a non-issue.
- Put the computer to sleep: The ‘sleep’ mode for computers is conceptually similar to sleep as we experience; it’s a low-power state that preserves everything in memory. It’s better the computer go to sleep than sit and idle using considerably more power. I left this at ‘never’ when plugged in; on battery however is different; my 20 minute setting comes from knowing I leave my computer sitting unattended for up to 15 minutes or so in meetings; I’d prefer it stay on than me constantly have to wake it up. I suggest 15-20 minutes here if you aren’t sure; you can always change it later.
- Adjust plan brightness: This will vary depending on the notebook computer; consider the display is the number one consumer of power in nearly all notebooks. I’m frugal and keep this at a level where I can just barely make out what’s on the screen; I consider brightness sufficient if I can read text. I suggest being as conservative as possible here. Note again you can always change this.
Click Create when done.
We can tweak the plan we created a bit further. Click Change Plan Settings next to your newly-created power plan, then Changed advanced power settings in the next screen.
Here are some of the more beneficial settings to change; expand each of the settings below by clicking the ‘+’ icon next to it.
Hard disk > Turn off hard disk after: the computer can put its storage device to sleep if it’s not being used. I leave this at Never for both on battery and plugged in; this can be quite annoying especially if you have a traditional hard drive because it can take up to a second for the storage drive to become ready again if it goes to sleep. Realistically there’s little to be gained here battery life-wise as constantly starting up the storage device can use more power than it just staying on the whole time.
Wireless Adapter Settings > Power Saving Mode: leave this at ‘Maximum Performance’ when plugged in; for battery usage I tend to favor Medium or Low because I almost always have good signal strength (3+ bars) and rarely download or use a lot of bandwidth while unplugged (no video streaming). If you notice connectivity problems while unplugged, bump this setting up to the next level from wherever it’s set (e.g. Low > Medium).
Sleep > Allow hybrid sleep: disable this; long story short, hybrid sleep is mainly useful for desktops (and even then it’s questionable).
Power buttons and lid > Lid close action, Power button action, Sleep button action: these are excellent settings to customize. Think about how you use your notebook computer; what do you want it to do when you close the lid? I left all of these at ‘Sleep’. I used to have the power button set to shut down my computer as it saved me a second or two but ultimately changed my mind after accidentally hitting the button a few too many times.
Processor power management > System cooling policy: this should always be ‘Active’ for plugged in; for battery, try passive but your system might run cooler with active. Essentially passive mode will keep the notebook’s cooling fan off as long as possible but your computer can run warmer as a result. Note the fan will still come on if set to passive if temperatures rise too much.
Battery (entire section): these are self-explanatory; one I like in particular however is ‘Low battery level’. If you have an older battery like I do, it doesn’t hold the charge as it did when new so 10% is not enough warning; I have it set to 25% which translates to about ½ hour before empty in my scenario.
We used this article, fifteen minutes of time and a little thought to tweak the power-related behavior of a notebook to better conform to our usages. The power plans your notebook computer came with were preconfigured at the factory based largely upon guesswork; we went through this article operating under the assumption you know your habits better than the computer maker. This article covered the basics of creating power plans for both plugged in and on battery scenarios including how long to wait before the computer sleeps, screen brightness and when the display shuts off. We also explored more advanced settings including how the wireless adapter behaves, changing what the closing the lid does, how the computer cools itself and altering the percentages of when Windows thinks it has a ‘low’ battery level – especially useful if your battery doesn’t hold the charge it once did. Overall the theory you know your habits better than the factory power plans were correct if you tweaked even one setting.