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Conserving Laptop Battery Life – A Guide to Laptop Batteries

If you use laptops and do not always stay around power outlets, you likely want to increase the battery life of your system. Laptops can last from under an hour to many hours when they have full batteries and they are still in great condition. Even so, what many people do not realize is that a lot of the battery life will depend on how you have the laptop set up. We pretty much all know about the power settings, but actually using those for some good can be tough. Through this article we are going to look at some tricks to increasing the life of your battery, both reducing wear and tear and increasing the amount of time you can go without an outlet!

Disclaimer: I will in no way promise any results from these tricks. While they are generally seen as helpful, there are other things that can contribute to poor battery life as well. As such, I will be sharing my knowledge but make no guarantees.

Airplane Mode

Most laptops come with a button on them for what is called “airplane mode.” If you have used an iPhone or an iPod, you are likely already aware of this. If not, what this does is turn off the networking on the system. It can also turn off bluetooth and other wireless signals.

Arguably, this is one of the bigger battery killers you might not be aware of. We use all of our wireless devices all the time and really do not stop to think about the draw that is causing. Even if you are not connected to any networks or other devices, having the option enabled keeps drawing power. You can actually see this if you are looking at the network list on any device when you are not connected, as it will keep updating to show all of the networks within range, their signals, etc. So if you really want to conserve some battery here, you need to cut it off altogether. If you want, this can also be done manually, although using the airplane mode key will do it all automatically and it makes it a lot easier.

With Toshiba laptops (at least the ones I have) this key is above the F12 key. It looks like a wireless tower. Upon pressing it, it says that airplane mode is on and all wireless signals turn off. After pressing it again, everything turns back on again. Generally, what I will do is just hit airplane mode when I am doing something that does not require the Internet, and I will revert back as soon as I need on again. Even if you have it on for a few minutes per hour, that is saving a lot of battery power.

Screen Brightness

If you are looking through power settings, you will find the option to change the screen brightness. This is a bit tougher than the airplane mode, as this affects how the screen looks and can have a huge impact on your ability to use the laptop (especially if it is for extended periods of time). What you want to do here is choose a balance between what is still comfortable to you and what is darkest. You want to increase the brightness just to the point where you are comfortable. Every tick towards the darker setting will increase your battery life considerably!

It is also worth noting that the lighting condition you are subject to will also have an impact on the screen brightness settings you are able to use. As you move to darker rooms, darker lighting will work better. In lighter rooms, you usually need more lighted screens. Really this all deals with personal preference though, and what is great for you might not be for someone else.

CPU Speed

Most laptops have the option to throttle the CPU. More or less, the more CPU power you use, the faster the computer will go and the more power will be drained. On some tasks this is not an issue. On others, like gaming, it can be pretty detrimental. How you use your laptop will determine whether or not you want to enable the CPU throttling. Sometimes you may see that it is throttled when doing things like watching Netflix or YouTube videos (as it will create a sort of lag in the video that can be pretty annoying).

The CPU speed can be limited within the advanced power settings. In most cases, the default setting here is to not limit it at all (it will be set for maximum performance). You can even go as far as setting the maximum % of CPU speed you want to be usable (to, for example, allow the CPU to rev only up to half of what it is capable of). This will slow down the processes that are going on in the laptop, but at the same time it will conserve a lot of battery power in the process. And in the case of the more basic processes, you do not need that much power anyways; you should be more than fine with it lowered.

GPU Settings

Much like the CPU, you can also limit the GPU. This is one of the biggest battery hogs in a computer, with only the monitor (possibly) being higher. Past that, the GPU is where the bulk of your power leakage is going to be happening at. And if you are not using intense projects, there is really no reason for it. On some laptops, there will be a button or a switch (if there is a real video card, also known as a dedicated video card, in the system, there will almost always be an actual switch) that allows you to change these settings. For the real video cards, you can swap it off and boot up the laptop and it will load the on board video instead of booting up and using the card. Then if you want to game or something, you can shut down the laptop, flip the switch again, and boot it back up in to the real card.

If you do not have a laptop with a dedicated video card, this may not be an option; you will have to consult your owner's manual or the guide for that system for more information.

Keep the Battery in Good Condition

Generally speaking, the batteries that we use today do not have the “memory” we used to experience many years ago. As such, there is no real requirement to completely drain the battery prior to charging it up each time. You will, however, want to condition the battery. To do this (which you will want to do once a month or so) you will want to run the battery down completely, followed by completely charging it up again. You can do this while using the system normally if you wish.

This is an important thing to do because it will determine how long your battery will last. There are some manufacturer changes that can affect it as well (lowering the length of time the battery will last due to adjustments in power leakage and other things), but you should always work on making things more efficient when it comes to things you personally have control over.

Close Programs You Are Not Using

When you run a program on your computer, you will often open up some extra processes. Even if you do not, you will want to close them out when you are finished. What this does is decrease the CPU and GPU usage (as well as the RAM storage) of the laptop, which in effect lowers the system's power draw. Even though it may be a slight decrease in some cases, anything is better than nothing and will still help contribute to a longer battery life.

Most programs that you use will be easily visible; they will be on your desktop. Some programs you may not notice, though, are within the bottom right “task” area of the screen. Here you will find different icons that represent running programs. If you see things in this area that you are unsure about or know that you are not using any more, ensure that you right click on them and close them out. While they are not right out in the open on the screen, they may still be taxing the system.

A more in depth way to handle this (which will also yield much better results) is to check out the process manager. This will cover the programs you can see on the desktop, those that are down in the task manager, and also anything that is running and is hidden. Some of these will be programs and some of them will be processes. Each thing here, much like the programs you can see running, will contribute to a faster dying battery and should be dealt with if they are not in use. The reason why this is considered as a more in depth way to handle everything is that you have access to more information. At the same time, you also need to know a bit more about what processes are needed on your computer and which are not if you want to avoid closing anything you might need. Sadly, this part goes out of the scope of this article as each computer is different and the programs you need to leave running will differ as a result.

Run Files and Movies From the Hard Drive

This may sound a little awkward, being that we are used to taking CD's, DVD's and flash drives to our computers for viewing files and watching movie clips. When you think about it, though, it does make sense. Using any of these drives will draw power from the laptop's battery. For example, the disc you put in the DVD burner has to spin around and be read by a laser. This adds some additional overhead to the system that otherwise would not be present. At the same time, we usually view USB drives as being low power devices. This is true, although it has its flaw: any power draw is more than no power draw.

The reason why the hard drive is not such a big deal is because if the computer is running, the hard drive is already being powered anyways. On top of this, the laptop should already have the hard drive indexed for faster searching, whereas the other devices will have to be indexed upon being added. This increases the read time, increases the amount of work the laptop has to do and decreases the battery power as a result. So the short form? Try to avoid running files from anywhere other than the hard drive.

So what happens if you have a USB drive or disc that you need to read files from? Copy them to the laptop's drive prior to messing with them (I will usually just create a temporary file on the desktop to store these files in so that I can remove them when I am finished dealing with them). This is especially important if you are planning to be doing some editing of files and saving new ones. You will want to keep the updated file on your laptop until you are finished with the editing, and at that point move them back over to the other form of media again.

Conclusion

We all love our wireless devices. We use cell phones, laptops and tablets (among many other items) on a regular basis. For them to be viable for our usage in day to day processes, though, it is important to learn how to control how much power they are outputting and better control their condition to ensure that they are working to the best of their ability. There are some things you can not control as the device user, but there are also many things that you can. Ensuring that you are doing what you can to preserve battery life is important when it comes to making things more efficient. Just make sure you stay up on top of it and you should be good to go!

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