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Make your laptop run for longer! Battery tips for notebook users

So you’ve bought your new laptop and the manufacturer tells you that you’ll be able to get an impressive eight hours with the battery. This is almost always exaggerated, and achieving this kind of life, though possible, is rather unrealistic. There are, however, a number of things you should do to squeeze as much of life from your battery as possible.

Breaking in a new battery

The first time you connect your new battery pack to your laptop and try switching it on, it most probably won’t. This is because laptop batteries come completely drained. Don’t, however, plug in the charger and start using your laptop right away.

Charge the battery for at least 8 hours before starting to use the laptop. Failing to do so could cause your battery to run at less than it’s capacity – and this is sometimes permanent.

The “memory effect”

Nickel-Cadmium (Ni-Cd) batteries (not the Li-ion ones) are susceptible to something called the “memory effect”, wherein partially discaharged batteries, when charged without fully draining, “remember” only the partial charge, leading to underuse of the battery’s active material.

The best way out of this is to regularly discharge your laptop completely before recharging. If you can work that into your schedule, it helps. For example, you could use the laptop all day, drain the battery, and charge it overnight

Do not overcharge

Overcharging is when you leave the charger connected to the battery even after it is fully charged. When overcharged for a couple of hours, nothing bad happens, but if you continuously overcharge for more than 20 hours, your battery could suffer permanent damage.

Avoid deep discharging

Deep discharge is almost the opposite of overcharging.  When a cell of the battery gets completely discharged, the other cells force current through it, therby reverse-charging it. This is harmful to your battery, so shut down your laptop when on critically low battery.

Power saving tips

  • Turn off your WiFi and Bluetooth if you’re not using it. It sounds trivial, but it can save a LOT of power
  • Set the screen to turn off automatically after a few minutes. Most laptops have a function key to turn off the screen manually, so if you’re leaving the laptop on, switch off the screen before you leave it and go.
  • Navigate to your operating system’s power settings – there’s usually a “Laptop” profile or option that you can check for automatic power management.
  • Check the option (if any) for automatic switching off of hard discs.
  • If you’re going to use your laptop to listen to music, wear headphones! They require less power than laptop speakers (and they sound much better).
  • Close unnecessary programs – there’s absolutely no need to have ten applications running in your system tray if you’re not using any of them. These eat into CPU cycles, slow down your system and take their toll on battery life.

Hardware that consumes most power

  • Processor
    If your laptop came with a preinstalled CPU scaling program, use it! This reduces the processor’s frequency when not in use, saving a lot of power. On Ubuntu (and many other Linux distributions) you can add the “CPU frequency scaling applet” to your panel and use it.
  • Hard disc
    On Linux, disable swap – this will keep the hard disc spinning.
    Similarly, on Windows, disable the paging file.
    You could consider replacing you hard drive with an SSD. These consume a lot less power than regular hard drives.
  • Wireless card and bluetooth radio
    Always remember to switch these off when you’re not using them – they’re some of the biggest power drains!
  • Optical drives
    When you’re reading or burning discs, these take up a lot of power. You might want to use USB flash drives instead – they consume a LOT less power.
  • Screen
    Always keep the screen brightness at a minimum. You don’t need the screen to be very bright at all unless you’re out in the sun.

Why should I bother doing all this?

Even if you’ve got your laptop charger handy and are not worried about the battery dying on you, you should still try and conserve power.

This is because each battery has a limited life, measured in charge cycles. Each battery will last only for a particular number of charge cycles. (One charge cycle is one full cycle of completely charging and discharging the battery.)

So by unnecessarily  charging and discharging the battery, you’re only reducing it’s lifetime.

Safety tip:

Oh, and remember to always switch off the charger when you’re not using it! It could easily overheat and die!

And never leave either your charging laptop or your charger on anything like a sofa or a bed where  there is no airflow. Chargers have even been reported to overheat and cause a fire!

If you know of other nice ways to keep your battery life high, please let us know in the comments!