Boost Your Laptop’s Battery Life

9/25/2013 11:13:54 AM

Adjust your screen, keep everything cool, turn off battery-sapping features and use an extra power pack

Running out of battery power can be a regular annoyance, particularly for users of older laptops. Many of today’s portable computers have improved power management options as well as longer-lasting battery packs, but you don’t have to upgrade to an expensive new PC to extend your battery life. Instead, follow our guide and we’ll show you how to boost your laptop’s battery and keep it running longer – in most cases for free.

Adjust your screen settings

Aside from playing complex games and watching lots of videos, powering your PC’s screen is probably what drains your battery the most. The brighter you set it, the faster power will drain.

Power Options

Power Options

To change the brightness and set how long the screen stays on when it’s not being used, go to Control Panel, Hardware and Sound and click ‘Power options’ then ‘Choose when to turn off the display’. Use the dropdown menu options to specify how quickly the display should dim or turn off.

Set your laptop to power-saving mode

Windows laptops have three power consumption settings: Performance, Battery Saving and Balanced. Usually, your laptop will be set up to use Balanced mode. To switch to battery-saving mode, go to Control Panel, System and Security and choose Power Options, then if necessary click the down arrow next to ‘Show additional options’ and tick the ‘Power saver’ option that appears.

Edit Plan Settings

Edit Plan Settings

Turn off keyboard backlights

Backlit laptop keyboards look pretty, but will add to the battery drain. If your keyboard backlight comes on automatically in the dark, then switch the room light on so the ambient light sensor doesn’t trigger. On some models, the backlight can be turned off via one of the function (F) keys. If you don’t have an such an option, you can right-click the battery icon, click Windows Mobility Center and switch off the backlight or use the dropdown menu to set how long the backlight stays on for when the key board is not being used, or switch the backlight off.

Switch off Wi-Fi when you’re not using it

Two technologies in particular drain battery power: Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. These constantly look for other devices to connect to, presenting a potential security risk (by broadcasting their presence to other networks) and using up energy unnecessarily.

Turn on or off Wi-Fi Windows 8

Turn on or off Wi-Fi Windows 8

Most laptops have a hardware switch to toggle Wi-Fi on and off. Look for a radio mast icon on your laptop keyboard, or a switch labeled “Wi-Fi” to disable Wi-Fi when you don’t need to get online or when you’re connected via Ethernet instead. If you can’t see a physical switch to turn on your Wi-Fi connection, go to Control Panel, click Network and Internet, Network and Sharing Center and select ‘Change adapter settings’.

Prevent Bluetooth running by default

Bluetooth is useful for connecting wirelessly to phones and other devices in your proximity, but it eats up battery power. To disable Bluetooth when you’re not using it, click its icon in the taskbar at the bottom of your laptop screen (use the up arrow to show hidden items if the Bluetooth icon isn’t visible by default), then choose Open Settings. Clear the ‘Allow Bluetooth devices to find this computer’ option.

To stop Bluetooth options loading by default in Windows 7, go to Start, Control Panel and type Device Manager into the search box and click the Device Manager link. The Bluetooth radio adapter should appear in the component list. Right-click it and select Disable to prevent it launching whenever you switch on your laptop.

Use Airplane mode in Windows 8

To switch off Bluetooth in Windows 8, go to Settings, click ‘Change PC settings’ at the bottom of the screen, then click Wireless. Either turn on ‘Airplane mode’ (which disables email and web access as well as wireless connections) or click the toggles next to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on the same screen to tum them off.

PC settings Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Windows 8

PC settings Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Windows 8

Use 3G web access rather than tethering

Bluetooth can be used to ‘tether’ a smartphone and laptop, providing web access from the phone to the laptop. The connection provided this way is slow and noticeably drains the battery. It’s much more efficient and usually faster – to use a 3G mobile broadband dongle instead. A 1GB per month 3G laptop dongle costs from $10.5 per month, while 3G tethering via your phone may incur a $7.5 per month top-up fee even if used just once.

Limit background programs

Having lots of programs running in the background puts a strain on the processor, using up battery power. To limit the number of programs that run automatically when you start your PC, click Start. then type run into the Search box and press Enter. In the box that appears, type msconfig and press Enter, then click the Startup tab. Check the list for anything unnecessary (QuickTime is always a good candidate) and untick the box next to them before clicking OK. Be careful not to disable anything important, such as your anti-virus software. Windows 8 users can use Ctrl + Alt + Delete to manage startup programs in Task Manager.

Task Manager Windows 8

Task Manager Windows 8

Don’t let other devices use your laptop

USB speakers and webcams that are attached to your laptop draw on its power - and contribute to its battery depletion. Avoid plugging in your phone to charge from your laptop’s USB port except when the laptop is plugged in the mains.

Keep your laptop cool

Heat is the enemy of computer components. The small space available within a laptop chassis means there’s little room for a fan. The small fan that can be fitted has to work very hard to keep the processor cool. The fan and processor both use a lot of energy. Ensure the fan’s vents are free from obstruction, the room well ventilated and the temperature low. This will maximize your laptop’s efficiency and mean the fan doesn’t have to work so hard at cooling the processor.

Limit volume to preserve battery life

The louder you play music and DVDs through the speakers, the more battery you use up. By plugging in the headphones you can lower the volume (your laptop should do this automatically to prevent hearing damage) and prolong the battery.

Windows Mobility Center

Windows Mobility Center

Pack an extra power pack

Newer laptops often have batteries that can last a full day (as long as they aren’t playing videos all day). Older laptops running Windows XP and Vista will last perhaps five hours. Consider investing in a secondary battery if your laptop is heavily used and can be recharged only infrequently. You’ll need to get exactly the right type of battery for your model, so refer to your manufacturer for more information first. Make sure you charge up the second battery in advance. Over time, batteries lose power, so check ahead of a trip somewhere that both the main and backup battery are fully charged. It can be a safer bet to buy a power ‘brick’, such as the Energizer 18000 that you charge up in advance and that then transfer power to the laptop to replenish its battery. It’s not as efficient as unclipping one laptop battery and latching on an identical one, but compatibility won’t be an issue and you’ll also be able to charge your digital camera and phone from the same power brick.

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