Strategies for conserving laptop battery power
Have you ever run out of battery power on your mobile PC during a meeting or a class? Have you worried about running out of power while waiting to meet with a client? Have you asked yourself how much longer your battery will last? Sufficient battery life is a persistent challenge for mobile PC users. But Windows offers several ways to help maximize the battery life of your laptop.
In this article, I’ll discuss how to take advantage of Windows settings to manage power more efficiently. I’ll also introduce some non-software related tips that you can use to extend battery life.
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Optimize your power settings
The display and hard disk on your mobile PC are the two biggest consumers of battery power. By choosing a power plan (called a power scheme in Windows XP) you can extend your battery life. A power plan is a collection of hardware and system settings that control how your mobile PC manages power.
Windows 7 has two default power plans:
- Balanced: Automatically balances performance with energy consumption on capable hardware.
- Power saver: Saves energy by reducing your computer’s performance where possible.
Change your power plan
- Click the battery meter icon, located in the notification area on the Windows taskbar.
- Select either the Balanced or Power saver power plan.
Windows XP users
Windows XP includes two power schemes that were created specifically for mobile PCs.
- The Portable/Laptop power scheme minimizes the use of power to conserve your battery, but adjusts to your processing needs so that the system speed is not sacrificed.
- The Max Battery power scheme minimizes power use but does not adjust as your processing demands change. You should use Max Battery only in situations that require minimal processing, such as reading documents and taking notes in a meeting.
Use a power scheme designed to maximize battery life:
- Click Start, and then click Control Panel.
- In Control Panel, verify that you’re in Category view, and then click Performance and Maintenance.
- In the Performance and Maintenance window, click Power Options.
- On the Power Schemes tab of the Power Options Properties dialog box, click the arrow under Power schemes, and then click Max Battery.
- Click OK.
You can also create a custom power scheme to suit your specific needs. You can create as many custom power schemes as you want.
Take advantage of low-power states
The different versions of Windows provide the following battery-saving states:
- Windows 7: sleep and hibernation (which is like deep sleep)
- Windows Vista sleep and hybrid sleep (which is a combination of sleep and hibernation)
- Windows XP standby (which is like snoozing) and hibernation (which is like deep sleep)
In a sleep state (standby), your display and hard disk turn off, and all open programs and files are saved in random access memory (RAM)—your computer’s temporary memory—rather than to the hard disk. Information stored in RAM is cleared when the computer turns off, so it’s a good idea to save your work before placing your system in standby mode. Otherwise, you may lose data if you lose power, you swap batteries, or your system crashes.
Sleep (standby) is particularly useful when you’re using your mobile PC intermittently during the day. For example, when driving between clients’ offices during the day, put your computer to sleep or on standby to maximize the life of your battery and maintain quick access to open programs, files, and documents. When you want to use your computer again, it wakes up quickly, and your desktop is restored exactly as you left it.
In hibernation, your computer saves everything to your hard disk and then shuts down. When you restart the computer, your desktop is restored exactly as you left it. Hibernation uses less power than the sleep state (standby), but it takes a bit longer to resume.
Hybrid sleep is a power-saving feature designed primarily for desktop computers. Hybrid sleep saves any open documents and programs to memory and to your hard disk drive, and then puts your computer into a low-power state.
Adjust screen brightness
You can also conserve battery by reducing the screen brightness. To adjust your screen brightness, refer to the instructions from your mobile PC manufacturer. Every computer is slightly different, but you can usually use a combination of keys, a function key, or a software tool to dim the screen.
Even better than dimming the screen is blanking it completely when you’re not using your computer. You can further minimize power consumption by reducing the amount of time the computer is idle before the screen goes blank.
Turn off wireless
Another significant drain on your battery power is your wireless card. You should turn off your wireless device when you’re using your mobile PC but are not connected to a wireless network. You can either remove your Wi-Fi card or press the manual hardware button on your computer if you’re using a Centrino-based mobile PC. Refer to the instructions from your mobile PC manufacturer to learn where the manual hardware button is.
Additional power saving tips
In addition to adjusting power settings to maximize battery life, consider the following tips to minimize power consumption when you’re away from electrical outlets.
- Turn off scheduled tasks. If you use scheduled tasks to run programs or scripts, or if you schedule other tasks to occur automatically at a preset time, specify that these tasks won’t be performed when the computer is running on battery power.
- Keep the use of tools in the notification bar to a minimum. Try to minimize your CPU’s usage. Look at the notification area of the taskbar and close any tools (or utilities) that are not necessary. Often, these tools are installed on the computer when you first receive it. Windows 7 users can also click the up arrow at the end of the notification area to see tools and utilities that are hidden but available. The notification bar, shown below, is on the bottom right of your computer desktop.
- Limit power-intensive activities. Avoid watching a DVD or playing online games on your mobile PC when you need to conserve battery power.
- Add memory. You can minimize the reliance of Windows on virtual memory and reduce power consumption by adding memory (RAM) to your mobile PC.
- Carry at least one spare battery. Buying an extra battery is a good investment for your peace of mind. Battery prices vary widely. You can significantly increase the power available to you if you’re willing to splurge a little. Contact the manufacturer of your mobile PC to find a replacement battery.
- Charge your battery often. When you’re on the road, be sure to carry a power cord and plug your computer in whenever you have the chance.
- Completely drain nickel-based batteries. If you’re using an older laptop (at least 3 years old) with a nickel hydride battery, be sure to completely drain it and recharge it monthly to ensure that it will hold its charge. Most newer mobile PCs use lithium ion batteries, which don’t need to be drained to maximize their capacity.
By adjusting your laptop settings to conserve battery power and by implementing these tips, you can relieve the stress and inconvenience of running out of battery power.
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