Improve your laptop's battery life

Every laptop owner wants to maximize the time between battery recharges

Longer battery life: Every laptop user wants it, but few know how to get it without buying a new machine. Though laptop manufacturers have made great strides over the past few years in increasing the efficiency (and thus the battery life) of their products, even the most efficient modern machines don't last long enough for many users. What you may not realize, however, is that your system is probably loaded with integrated peripherals and bloatware that you'll never use but that consume resources and reduce battery life.

In this guide, we'll look at ways to reclaim those resources and maximize your laptop's battery life. Some of the steps may require venturing into the BIOS or UEFI of your notebook, while others are simpler software tweaks.

Know What Kills Your Battery

Before diving in, review why notebook batteries die in the first place. From the CPU to the trackpad, every component in a laptop consumes power. The amount consumed varies from component to component and also fluctuates in response to environmental conditions such as temperature and system workload. The greater the number of components or peripherals attached to your laptop and the more work you do with it, the quicker the battery will drain. Every program, driver, or service that loads, every background task that runs, and every electronic circuit that fires up saps a tiny bit of battery life. Consequently, reducing the number of attached or active peripherals and minimizing the load placed on the notebook will prolong battery life.

Unfortunately, some of the burdens that the manufacturer or vendor places by default on your laptop's battery may not be easy to track down and eliminate. As a result, you have to make an effort to minimize resource consumption and maximize battery life.

Try These Quick Fixes

Keeping your laptop cool, dimming its display, and enabling system hibernation are all good ways to prolong battery life; but in this guide we'll be focusing on hard numbers that illustrate the potential benefits of certain modifications.

Tweak Your Hardware and Software

You can make a number of hardware and software changes to prolong your laptop's battery life. However, some of these tricks might cause your laptop to function poorly or even to cease functioning entirely, so please be careful. Though we tested all of these tweaks on our own laptop, we can't guarantee that they'll work with your unique hardware; recognizing this, PCWorld cannot be held liable for any deleterious changes that might occur as a result of following this guide. When in doubt, make a backup.

On the hardware side, disabling or disconnecting unused components and peripherals will go a long way toward improving battery life. On the software side, disabling or uninstalling unnecessary (but resource-hungry) services and applications will help minimize power consumption. In addition, updating drivers--video drivers in particular--sometimes helps by enabling the system to optimize or offload certain processes, such as video encoding/decoding, from the CPU to relatively power-efficient dedicated hardware in the graphics processor.

Since every program or service that loads in Windows consumes system resources, you should disable the ones you don't need or want. Start by launching the Windows System Configuration utility MSCONFIG: Click the Start button, type MSCONFIG in the Search field, and press Enter. In the resulting window, click the Startup tab to see all of the programs that start with Windows. You'll probably see a number of programs that you won't mind disabling. Our project notebook (an Acer Aspire) listed eight items as automatically starting with Windows: antivirus software, Steam, QuickTime, three Adobe Acrobat-related items, Skype, and Trillian.

Having your most frequently used applications start with Windows can be handy; but if they're not vital, it's best to disable automatic startup and just start them manually when you need them. On our project system, we disabled everything but the AV software. To disable items in MSCONFIG, simply untick the box next to each program, apply the changes, and restart the system.

You probably also have a handful of Windows Services that you can disable to conserve system resources. To see which services are launching automatically on your laptop, click the Start button, type SERVICES.MSC in the Search field, and press Enter. The services management utility will open and you'll see a huge list of services installed on the system.

The vast majority of services listed in the management utility are vital to the operation of your OS, and you shouldn't touch them. But if you scrutinize the list carefully, you'll undoubtedly find a few services that you can safely disable. We recommend going through the list one by one, reading the descriptions (performing Internet searches for research if necessary) and disabling only the services you're absolutely sure you don't need. On our project notebook, we found a handful of services that we could safely disable, including the tablet PC input service, remote desktop-related services, the BitLocker drive encryption service, and a Qualcomm Gobi Download Service associated with an integrated 3G modem that we had never used. Bear in mind that our specific decisions may not apply to your situation; if you use BitLocker or if your laptop is convertible into a tablet, you'll want to keep the related services enabled.

To disable a service in the manage utility, double-click it in the list and in the subsequent window that opens, and then change the startup type to Manual in the associated drop-down menu.

Disabling unused hardware or integrated peripherals is another great way to conserve resources and maximize battery life. If your notebook comes with integrated Bluetooth or a cellular modem, for example, or even a wired ethernet port that you never use, disabling the hardware will reduce power consumption and prevent their drivers from loading every time Windows starts.

You may be able to disable integrated peripherals in your laptop through the system BIOS or UEFI, or through Device Manager. The preferred method is to use the system BIOS, but many laptops don't provide the necessary options to take this route. To see whether your laptop does, power it off, turn it back on, and during the POST sequence (before Windows begins to load) press the necessary key to enter the BIOS or UEFI (it's usually DEL or F2). Once you're in the system BIOS, navigate to the Integrated Peripherals menu (if it's available) and see whether the piece of hardware you'd like to disable is listed there. If it is, select the item and disable it.

If your system BIOS doesn't provide the mechanisms necessary to disable unused hardware, you can disable them instead through the Windows Device manager. Note, however, that disabling hardware in Device Manager doesn't power it down; instead, the operation prevents the hardware's driver from loading with the OS. Though not an ideal method, preventing the driver from loading does saves memory, as well as preventing the hardware from initializing.

To disable a piece of hardware in Device Manger, click the Start button, type Device Manager in the Search field, and press Enter. In the resulting Device Manager window, expand the tree to find the appropriate piece of hardware, right-click it, and choose Disable from the menu.

Another quick and easy hardware tweak that can save significant energy is lowering your notebook's screen brightness. We'd suggest reducing the brightness to the lowest level that is still easy to read and comfortable for your eyes.

Putting the Tweaks to the Test

To gauge the improvement in battery life that our test laptop achieved as a result of the software and hardware-related modifications described in this article, we ran Futuremark's PowerMark utility on our Core i3-powered Acer Aspire test laptop before and after making the tweaks. We tested the laptop in three different configurations: unmodified, with maximum screen brightness and all hardware and software enabled; modified with software tweaks to disable unnecessary startup items and services, but with no hardware tweaks; and modified with both software tweaks and with unneeded hardware disabled and screen brightness lowered to 75 percent.

In its unmodified state, the laptop delivered a respectable 3 hours, 16 minutes of battery life, according to PowerMark. After we performed a few simple software tweaks, the tested battery life rose to 3 hours, 28 minutes. But the biggest gains came after we fully tweaked the notebook and disabled unneeded hardware. With both the software and hardware-related alterations in place, the laptop's battery life improved by more than an hour, to 4 hours, 16 minutes; that's a battery-life increase of better than 32 percent.

In addition to maximizing battery life, correctly performing these system tweaks may increase your laptop's performance. Disabling unnecessary hardware and software also reduces boot times and frees up CPU resources and memory, all of which should increase overall system performance and enhance your computing experience. May your laptop live long and prosper!

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Marco Chiappetta

PC World (US online)
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