Extend Your Laptop Battery Life : FPA Technology Services, Inc.
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Top Tips to Extend Your Laptop Battery Life


Top Tips to Extend Your Laptop Battery Life

by Erik Rhey, PC Magazine

You seasoned techies are no doubt thinking, "Another article on how to get more life from your laptop battery. Big deal. I already know how to do that." Well, Mr. or Ms. Techie, I scoff at your hubris. There's still plenty to learn when it comes to getting more juice from a charge and extending your battery's overall life.

So, yes, there are tips that most of us know:

  1. Dim your screen.
  2. Minimize background processes.
  3. Don't use the CD/DVD drive.
  4. Disable your wireless antenna when not in use.

But there's still a lot you may not know about battery technology and the things that both help and hinder your laptop's juicebox.

Getting More Minutes per Charge

You can fiddle with background processes and other software settings all you want, but your hardware is the biggest factor in battery life, according to PC Mag's lead analyst for laptops, Cisco Cheng. In fact, software such as power-management utilities can help minimize the impact internal components have on battery longevity. Knowing this can affect your buying decision if you're looking for a new laptop (see the "Picking a Laptop for Maximum Battery Life" section below) or help you get the most out of the trusty laptop you've got. Here are a few ways to optimize hardware for maximum battery output.

  1. Turn off ports. Disabling unused ports and components, such as VGA, Ethernet, PCMCIA, USB, and yes, your wireless, too. You can do this through the Device Manager or by configuring a separate hardware profile (see next step).
  2. Create Power-Saving Hardware Profiles. Configure your laptop for the various scenarios in which you use it (on a plane, at the coffee shop, at the office, and so on). You can do this through the Hardware Profiles menu by right-clicking on My Computer and selecting Preferences or by using a freeware utility such as SparkleXP (for Windows XP users).
  3. Configure your display to turn off when not in use. This is different from just using a screensaver, because in many cases a screensaver still requires the display's backlight to be on. You can set the interval to turn the display off in Windows' Power Options—found in the Control Panel.

Extending the Overall Life

The easiest way to give your battery an early death is to damage it. And the two most common causes of damage are from overheating and overloading. Here's how you prevent overheating:

  1. Use a cooling pad when using a notebook computer on your lap.
  2. Avoid propping your laptop on a pillow, blanket, or other soft surface that can heat up.
  3. Clean your desk. It sounds strange, but if you have a dusty, dirty desk, that dust will get into the vents and clog the cooling fan. Once the dust is inside your laptop, it is much harder to remove. You can try blasting it out with canned air, but you run the risk of damaging internal components. You can also remove the vent and clean out the grit, but remember that taking apart your laptop can void the warranty. So clean your desk at least once a week, if not daily.
  4. Never store your laptop in a place where the air temperature exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit, such as a hot car or an outdoor patio.
  5. Consider taking your battery out when using your laptop plugged into AC power. Just make sure to keep the contacts clean. If you need to clean them, use rubbing alcohol.
  6. For lithium ion batteries, you do not need to discharge them fully and recharge constantly. Since they don't have the same "memory" as older nickel-metal hydride batteries, it is actually better to discharge a lithium ion only partially before recharging. You need to do a full discharge only about every 30 charges.

Overloading a battery occurs when you use an AC adapter that has a higher wattage than that specified on the laptop (and battery), or if the circuitry of the laptop consistently overcharges the battery. If you're using a replacement or spare adapter, make sure the wattage matches your laptop's within the specified voltage range. In the worst-case scenario, overloading can also damage your motherboard.

Picking a Laptop for Maximum Battery Life

If you're in the market for a new laptop, there are features and components you should consider to get the most mileage from the system's battery.

  1. An ultra-low-voltage processor, such as the Intel Penryn or one from VIA's line of ULV processors.
  2. A solid-state storage drive, which requires less power and, since there are no spinning parts, will suffer less wear and tear than a traditional hard drive.
  3. An LED display. Although pricey, LEDs use much less power than LCD.
  4. A smaller screen. A smaller screen means a smaller backlight, which will also save on battery drain.

According to Andrew Bradner, product line manager for APC, all lithium ion batteries are not created equal. The proof is in the pudding, or in this case the chemistry. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to discern if the battery you're buying was manufactured in a top-notch facility using high-quality materials. And making that call is not as easy as assuming your laptop manufacturer's battery will be of better quality than a battery from a third-party vendor. But you can stick to a couple of key guidelines.

  1. Don't skimp on your battery. If you choose the lowest-cost battery you'll probably get a battery that degrades quickly, and you'll end up buying a replacement too soon anyway. So spend the money now to save expense and frustration down the road.
  2. Don't buy an expired battery. A good indicator of a battery's performance is how far into its product life it is, whether it's used or new. If possible, look at the bottom of the battery and find the manufacture date.

Check out the Expert Help section to learn more about extending your battery's life.