Q. How do I make my notebook battery last longer?

First of all, how old is your battery?  Batteries last from one to three years on average, and it would be expected that the capacity is down by 40 – 50% after three years.  So if you have an old battery, you may simply need to replace it.

To make the battery life longer,

  • go into Control Panel  and turn on the Power Options for Power Saver mode, which will reduce the speed of the machine when you are not using it heavily, and make other power saving adjustments.
    For Windows 7 http://windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows7/products/features/power-management
    For Macintoshes, use the Energy Saver preference pane http://support.apple.com/kb/HT2412.
  • Set the screen sleep and hard drive sleep times to the shortest that you can live with.
  • Don’t run the DVD drive continuously. If you are watching a movie on the road, rip it to a hard drive or USB drive ahead of time (when you are plugged in) and run it off the hard drive or a mountable disk image on the hard drive, rather than the DVD optical drive.
  • Turn down the screen brightness. The LCD illumination is one of the largest power draws in a notebook.
  • Don’t play 3-D games on battery – programs that make intense use of graphics use a lot of power and generate more heat. Choose simpler games when you want to stretch battery life. Or, at least reduce the resolution and dial down the quality settings, so the GPU doesn’t have to work as hard.
  • Keep the machine cool so the fans don’t have to run as often. Use the machine on a hard surface rather than on an upholstered surface or a lap.
  • Don’t multitask – Quit from programs when you aren’t using them instead. When you have multiple programs and you exceed the amount of RAM the machine has, it is forced to read and write Swap files on the hard drive. The more you spin the hard drive the shorter your battery will last.
  • Turn off helper applications, background tasks and widgets if you don’t need them (check out Microsoft’s Autoruns utility http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/bb963902)
  • Plug into Ethernet instead of using WiFi, if you have the choice.
  • Turn off WiFi and Bluetooth if you are not using them. Keeping the radio transmitters running uses battery power.

Condition your battery and calibrate it to the machine’s power management utility (following your manufacturers suggestions) on a periodic basis.
For Apple machines, here are the calibration instructions http://support.apple.com/kb/HT1490
Calibration for some Dell machines http://support.dell.com/support/topics/global.aspx/support/kcs/document?c=us&cs=19&docid=129435&doclang=en&l=en&s=dhs

Don’t use your machine on AC adapter all the time, at least once per month, run it from battery until it gets down to the warning message, so the chemistry of the battery gets ‘exercised’. http://www.apple.com/batteries/

Contrary to popular belief, modern Nickel Metal Hydride (NiMH) and Lithium Ion batteries do not need to be discharged all the way before being recharged. That was true of older Nickel Cadmium (NiCad) batteries which could have a “memory” effect.  Discharging a modern notebook battery all the way to 0% may damage the battery or may make the notebook un-bootable, so notebooks are programed to shut down when the battery gets to 20% charge left.

However, the battery may have to be calibrated so the machine can accurately calculate capacity and charge remaining. The general practice is to charge the battery up fully on AC power, and then use the machine until it reaches the software shutdown warning, then charge it all the way up again.

When storing a Lithium Ion battery or leaving a machine unused for an extended time, leave the battery charged between 50% and 75%.

Use a third party battery monitor to keep tabs on the battery. For Macintosh machines, Coconut Battery is a good option http://www.coconut-flavour.com/
Here is a list of choices for Windows at http://download.cnet.com

Lastly, batteries have a finite lifespan of between 1.5 and 3 years depending on use. The standard for warranty purposes is that the battery should hold 80% of its new capacity after either 1 year or 300 recharge cycles, whichever comes first.  So plan on a new battery every couple of years.   CanadaRAM.com has batteries for almost all computers, phones and cameras/camcorders. Each model of device has specific batteries, contact CanadaRAM for a recommendation.

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