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May 3, 2012

How To Maximize Your Windows Laptop’s Battery Life

Someday, all our laptops will be efficient enough to last a full 24 hours on a single charge. Since that day isn’t likely to come for a long while, you’ll still need to do what you can to optimize that battery life, especially when working on the road.

Bad Battery

If your laptop has an old battery that drains out in minutes, it’s hopeless. At best, you’ll probably draw a few extra minutes from it — nothing more. Give up the old battery and get a fresh one. There’s just no way working on the road will go smoothly if your battery is on its dying legs.

What Drains Your Battery?

Before you can optimize battery performance, you’ll need to know the primary culprits for draining it. The LCD is always the biggest power puzzler, eating up close to half of your laptop’s charge. This is followed, in order, by the chipset, the CPU, the GPU, the hard drive, and various accessories (e.g. all those USB gadgets plugged in).

Optimizing Battery Life

Fortunately, there are many things you can do to extend a single full charge. Here are the most useful among them:

  1. Dim the screen. Lower the brightness of your LCD up to the point where you can still work comfortably. Experiment with multiple settings in brightness and contrast until you find one that’s serviceable enough for your needs. This will vary depending on where you’re working and the ambient light available in the environment, but it shouldn’t take you more than 5 to 10 minutes of trying things out.
  2. Turn off the display when not in use. Remove the screensaver and just set the screen to blank out after being idle a few minutes. If you’re like me, this probably happens frequently (especially while you’re thinking) and it could lead to saving a few extra minute of power.
  3. Use Windows’ power management options. Choose the setting that provides “maximum battery life.” The actual label will vary depending on the version of Windows you’re using. This should start you off on an optimized version of the OS, which you can further tweak manually part by part. Other things you can do include choosing low-power mode (for your wireless chip, processor, graphics card), settings the hard disk to turn off quickly, and choose to slow the processor down instead of activating the fans when temperature gets too high.
  4. Skip scheduled tasks. A lot of people, for instance, have antivirus checks run on their PCs automatically during regular intervals. Make sure to turn these scheduled runs off when you’re trying to save battery life, as they can eat up a lot of power, taxing both your processor and hard drives with heavy work loads.
  5. Defrag regularly. Performing a regular defrag will keep your data arranged in an efficient manner, so your hard drive does less work every time you read and write data on it. The effect is minimal, but it adds up, especially if you use programs that perform plenty of data access.
  6. Kill unnecessary background processes. Doing this won’t just maximize battery life, it can improve system performance, too. You can do this manually using the Windows Task Manager. If you’re not exactly sure which processes to kill, though, getting a utility that simplifies the system should help. Plenty of them are available, either as part of a suite (e.g. PC Tools) or as standalone downloads. Even better, you can prevent these processes and services from launching during startup either through Msconfig or another utility.
  7. Don’t use USB gadgets if you can avoid them. Use the trackpad, instead of a separate mouse. Store directly to the built-in hard disk instead of plugging a USB drive. Basically, unplug all external devices to minimize the accessory drains.
  8. Turn off unused wireless signals. Chances are, you’ll need to have WiFi turned on. If you don’t, shut it off. Same with Bluetooth, IR and, if your laptop has one, GPS. These eat up serious power even when unused.
  9. Remove any optical media. Even if you’re not using them, they spin on occasion and they can sponge off serious power. Avoid using DVDs and CDs as much as possible.
  10. Mute sounds. Those beeps and sound effects may not eat up that much juice, but each one of those tiny sips add up. Avoid listening to music in the background (or use your phone for that) to stave off the extra drain it puts on the battery.
  11. Use “Classic” appearance. Both Windows 7 and Vista come with features that are soft on the eyes, but tough on the battery. Opt for a simpler appearance by turning off animations or simply go for the Windows Classic theme.
  12. Close unused Windows. We’re used to keeping applications open even while we don’t need them until after an hour later. Open programs eat resources even in the background, so close them. Shut down Photoshop after editing an image and typing in Word and vice versa. Similarly, close browser tabs that you’ve finished using — all of those open websites, especially ones running Flash and Javascript on the client-side, can do some serious battery drain.
  13. Work in a cool place. If you have a choice, do your work in a cool area. If you’re in a coffee shop, that usually means staying indoors if the sun’s out and sitting away from the Windows. If you can sit right by where the airconditioning is spewing off, all the better. Temperature is a serious battery killer — the colder the work area, the less this becomes an issue.
  14. Use Hibernate instead of Sleep. Hibernate mode uses zero power, while Sleep mode depends on the battery to keep the memory running. The former will lead to more power savings if you need to pause work for an extended period.
  15. Use simple programs. Avoid using all-in-one programs that hog resources when you’re trying to optimize battery life. For instance, you can use Notepad to type out a report instead of Word (unless you need the formatting). Doing so allows you to minimize the load on processor, memory and chipsets, leading to huge power savings over many hours of working.

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