PC Magazine
Published in

PC Magazine

9 Ways to Help Your Laptop Battery Last Longer

Follow our steps to squeeze the most juice out of your laptop’s battery.

By Matthew Murray, Brian Westover

Short-Term Battery-Stretching Strategies

If you’re in a tough spot right now, you can extend battery life immediately. None of these actions will actually increase the amount of power left in the battery but instead will reduce the amount of power the laptop is using, letting you squeeze in a few more precious minutes before the battery goes kaput. The name of the game in these instances is power consumption, and you need to reduce yours to as little as possible.

1. Activate your laptop’s Battery Saver Mode or Eco Mode
Most Battery-Saver or Eco modes will engage a number of automatic changes to lengthen usable battery life — many of the same changes we’ll be making here. This saved profile will adjust your laptop’s settings and shift components into low-power states to help you ration your remaining juice a bit longer.

Once you’ve turned on the battery-saver tool, you can still take plenty of steps to eke out even better efficiency. Try turning off unnecessary devices, adjusting settings to reduce power consumption, shutting down unwanted apps and processes, and adjusting your activities to use less power.

2. Disable Unused Devices and Ports
The easiest way to reduce power consumption is to simply turn stuff off. Every component in your laptop needs power to function, but that doesn’t mean you need to power all of those components all the time. Start by disconnecting any unneeded peripherals (say, a USB mouse or external drive) and turning off the biggest power hogs, such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios, graphics processors, and unused optical drives.

WARNING: Before disabling any component or device, stop and make sure that the device is not in use and that it is not essential to continuing operation of the laptop. For example, you do not want to disable the hard drive that houses the operating system or the processor the runs the entire laptop. Only disable those devices you are comfortable turning off.

To disable unused devices on a Windows system, open up your system’s Control Panel and find the Device Manager. In the Device Manager, individual components are grouped by category. For example, Network Adapters will often include both the LAN adapter, which provides Ethernet connectivity, and Wi-Fi, for wireless networking.

The four standard candidates for saving power are the graphics card (found under Display Adapters), the optical drive (found under DVD/CD-ROM Drives), and the Ethernet and Wi-Fi adapters (under Network Adapters). Find the device you want to shut down within the relevant category. Right click on the device name, and select “Disable” from the drop down menu.

While you’re in the Device Manager, you can also turn off any unused ports. Just like an extension cord left plugged into an outlet, these unused plugs still have power going through them and are losing some in the process. The actual impact on battery life will be minimal, but if you need to eke out another minute or two of life, this will help. Take a quick glance at your ports, and turn off anything that’s not being used, such as USB ports with nothing connected to them.

While you can disable USB ports on a Mac using the terminal program, it’s something that IT administrators would use to lock down Macs for security purposes. We don’t recommend doing it as an end user because it may make your system act up. You can, however, disable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi from the Menu bar at the top of the screen.

3. Adjust Your Settings
Although you’ll still have to use the display and the keyboard, you can adjust the settings for each to reduce power consumption. One often-overlooked power drain is keyboard backlighting. Unless you’re in the dark and need the backlight to see your keys, turn it off entirely. You can typically assign a hotkey for this function.

The next power drain is your screen. You need to keep it up and running to use the laptop, but you don’t necessarily need it running at 100 percent brightness or full resolution. Many laptops have hotkeys for increasing and decreasing the screen brightness, but yours doesn’t, it can be adjusted in the control panel. Reducing the display to 50 percent when you’re running on battery power can add a significant amount of time.

If you’re simply typing up a document, you don’t need all the detail offered by a 1080p or higher display. Dialing down the screen resolution to a basic 1,366-by-768 resolution or lower reduces the amount of power used in graphics processing without negatively impacting your ability to work.

Finally, turn off or turn down the sound. If you need to hear, drop the sound down as low as you can and consider switching from the laptop’s larger speakers to a set of tiny earbuds to get the audio piped right to your ears. Whenever possible, mute the laptop altogether. That way, the speakers won’t be getting any power, and you’ll buy yourself some more precious time.

4. Turn Off Apps and Processes
It’s not just the hardware that’s stealing your battery juice. Multiple apps and processes running on your system will also chew through battery life more quickly. As with the hardware, start by turning off anything that isn’t being used.

In Windows, start by taking a look in your System Tray, the collection of icons in the lower right corner of the desktop, next to the clock. On the left end of the System Tray, select the icon to display hidden icons. Take note of which apps are running in the background.

Open up the Task Manager by pressing Ctrl+Shift+Esc, or use Ctrl+Alt+Del and select Task Manager from the menu. Once in the Task Manager, look at the open apps — you may find that programs have been left running simply because you forgot to close windows instead of minimizing them.

Next, go to the Processes tab. This shows you which processes are currently running on your machine. Some of these are needed, but some, like those associated with music and video players or cloud storage services (Dropbox or Google Drive, for example) can be disabled without causing any problems.

For MacBooks, the process is a little different. Take a look at System Preferences > Users&Groups for a menu called Login Items. Delete any power-hungry programs that you don’t need anymore and disable activities such as a browser’s automatic launch at startup. You can also see programs that are using a lot of power at any given moment by holding down the Option key and then clicking on the battery indicator in the Menu bar.

Open the Activity Monitor utility to see a list of all the programs and processes currently open and which of these are using the most power. Stop these processes by selecting the program and then clicking the Stop icon. Power Nap is an Apple OS X feature that checks your email and Twitter feeds for activity while the system is asleep. When you are trying to maximize battery life, it would be wise to turn that feature off.

5. Simplify
Stretch your battery life by simplifying your own activities. Multitasking is nice when you have full power, but running several programs at once puts a greater load on the processor and draws more power. Adjust your computer use by sticking to one application at a time and avoiding resource-intensive programs.

Start by single-tasking — when you need to type up a document, close any additional programs. You’ll get longer battery life by not running Spotify in the background. When you need to keep some tunes going, switch from streaming media to locally stored songs — you’ll still be using some extra power to play them, but streaming media over Wi-Fi also uses the laptop’s wireless radio.

You might also benefit from switching to simpler tools for the same tasks, like opting for a simple text file instead of a Word document. With fewer features and none of Word’s automatic actions (like Spell Check and Autosave), you can do all the writing you need without using quite so much power. Some activities you’ll want to avoid entirely, like photo and video editing tools, which place a significant load on the processor and graphics card, and are real power hogs.

By eliminating unnecessary power uses, you should be able to extend the life of your battery in those moments that you find yourself high and dry.

Long-Term Strategies

These tweaks will help turn your system into a lean, mean energy-efficient machine, adding to the useful time you get out of a single charge and extending the lifespan of the battery.

6. Care and Feeding of Batteries
Start with taking care of the battery. If your system has a removable battery, take care not to damage the battery contacts — they connect the laptop to the battery, and when the contacts get dirty or damaged, that can reduce and disrupt the flow of power. Clean the contacts with a cotton swab and rubbing alcohol, but bear in mind that damaged contacts might need to be professionally repaired. This doesn’t apply to laptops that seal the battery into the chassis.

You may have heard old tips about charging your battery to only 80 percent, and not leaving it on the charger all the time. But most of that advice is outdated and applies to older nickel metal hydride batteries but not the lithium-ion and lithium-polymer batteries used today. Though modern laptop batteries don’t require you to be as conscientious about how and when you charge your battery, you should occasionally take the opportunity to let the battery drain completely through normal use.

Finally, keep things cool. Heat will shorten the long-term life of the battery, so take steps to provide optimal airflow and cooling. The biggest problems come from physical obstruction of the ventilation ports. Dust buildup is one problem, which you can take care of by cleaning the laptop’s vents and fan. A can of compressed air can be used to blow out some of the dust. And if you use the laptop on a pillow or blanket, that can both obstruct the ventilation fan and retain the heat coming off of the system. Use your laptop only on surfaces such as a table or desk. And a lapdesk will make a big difference when you use a laptop in bed.

7. Tune-Up
The next step is keep your laptop tuned up for more efficient use of power. A few simple maintenance tasks and upgrades will not only help your battery last longer but will also result in a faster system.

For starters, regularly defragment your hard drive to make data retrieval more efficient. (Note: Do not try to defrag a solid-state drive, as it will reduce the usable life of the drive.) An active drive uses more energy that an idle one, and defragging your hard drive reduces the amount of active drive time needed to access data. Over time, as you add and remove files from your system, data is haphazardly recorded to the hard drive, scattered in different portions of the drive. Accessing this disorderly (or fragmented) data requires additional time and energy in the course of regular use. Newer versions of Windows have automatic tools that defragment your drive regularly, but you should at least check to be sure that this is enabled and running properly.

Decluttering your drive will also make it more efficient. Practice good computer hygiene and regularly remove unwanted programs, clean out cobwebbed files, and ditch any bloatware that came with your system. Clean out the cache on your Web browser and delete old files from your downloads folder.

8. Upgrade Components
Another option is to ditch the hard drive entirely and upgrade to a solid-state drive (SSD). Solid-state drives use flash memory instead of a spinning disk, so they have no moving parts, which creates more energy efficiency. It also removes the problems associated with fragmentation, which is a larger problem with hard drives. Upgrading to an SSD will both improve your battery life and put some pep in your system, as SSDs offer faster performance and boot times than their traditional counterparts.

Finally, add more RAM to your system. RAM stores data for short-term use in flash modules, much like an SSD. The more data that can be put into RAM, the less reliant the system will be on pulling that data afresh from the hard drive. So adding RAM also has performance benefits you’ll notice immediately.

9. Battery Backup
Finally, the easiest way to ensure that you always have enough battery power is to bring along either a spare battery or an external battery pack. For laptops with a removable battery, the simplest option is a second battery. These can either be ordered directly from the manufacturer or purchased from a third-party company, usually for less than $100. Simply swap the old battery for the new once in a while when charging, and bring along the charged-up spare whenever you expect to be away from a power outlet.

A similar option is an external power pack. These are technically batteries, but they plug into your laptop just like your charger does. They come with adapters for use with many different laptop models and can be reused on more than one system and even for other devices, such as your phone and tablet.

Read more: what to do when your Windows laptop or MacBook is plugged in but not charging.

Originally published at www.pcmag.com.

--

--

PC Magazine: redefining technology news and reviews since 1982.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store