Maximize your Laptop Battery Performance and Life – Acer, Apple, Compaq, Dell, HP, IBM, Lenovo
It is a very common query as to how the notebook batteries be handled to maximize their performance in terms of backup time as well as battery life. I recently researched for best battery usage habits. A few smart tricks and you can extract maximum out of your battery!
hmmm…….Laptop battery? Laptop batteries have chemicals that react to produce electricity. These chemical reactions are reversible (a given number of charge-discharge cycles). A new battery is gauged by its rated capacity, expressed in Ampere-hour (Ah). A higher Ah battery will hold more charge than a lower Ah for comparable size. The size is measured as number of cells. The standard are 6 cell, 9 cell and 12 cell. For a given Ah, more the number of cells, more is the backup time.
Almost all the laptops these days have Lithium-ion batteries. They have replaced Nickel based batteries, because a Lithium based battery is lighter, can hold more charge and need less frequent conditioning (discussed below).
What drains the battery most? Put in simple terms, processes on your notebook that have higher CPU loads, drain your battery faster. Higher the CPU load, higher is the current drawn by it, increasing battery consumption as well as heating the CPU. This triggers higher fan activity further drawing energy from the battery. The other major consumer of battery charge is notebook display/screen. Brighter the screen, higher is the energy drawn. Hard drives, CD/DVD drive and built-in speakers also consume a lot of energy. Thus, playing games, audio-video from dvd/cd or otherwise, CAD softwares, computational softwares, moving large files across folders etc will drain your battery much faster than word processing or internet surfing.
What should I do to maximize battery backup time? Few simple steps and you can judiciously use your battery backup.
1. Power Saver Preferences: Every modern laptop comes with power saver preferences. In windows/ linux/ mac, it can be accessed by right clicking the battery icon in the taskbar/ menubar. This is the easiest way to prioritize your energy use when running on battery power.
It takes care of automatically adjusting your display brightness (incase your notebook has ambient light sensor), putting computer to sleep incase of prolonged idle state, putting hard drives to sleep and so on. For most users, it is the screen brightness that consumes the maximum energy. Personally, I fell keeping the screen slightly dim, eases the pressure on eyes as well as reduces the battery consumption.
2. Optimize programs running in background: This is a common unnoticed culprit especially in a windows machine. Very often a program installs a background task that keeps on running even when the application is not running! You can see them in the task manager (windows), system monitor (linux) or activity monitor (mac). These run at the startup itself. These can be removed but knowledge is needed as to what can be removed and what not. This will be part of another article to follow soon.
3. Avoid using CD/DVD drives: Try and avoid playing audio-video from cd/dvd when on battery. If possible, copy the content to the drive and then play them. I guess, there is a tradeoff involved here. If you plan to use the media in cd/dvd for long time like watching a long video then it will serve you better to copy the content on drive.
4. Bluetooth, WiFi, USB, etc: Switch off the peripherals like bluetooth or wifi receiver if not in use. Often we don’t realize how much energy these consume! Also remove any usb/external device not in use. Also turning off keyboard backlighting also saves energy when on battery.
5. Keep the laptop in the optimal temperature zone: Batteries operate optimum in the temperature range of 50 to 95F (10 to 35C). Cold batteries don’t produce much power and hot batteries discharge quickly. The easiest solution is to use a laptop cooler. They are very effective in keeping the temperature in the optimum zone and are available for cheap..
It is a very small but wise investment to save your laptop battery for long as is discussed below.
What should I do to maximize battery life? Over time, like any other battery, Li-ion batteries lose their capacity to hold charge. This is often viewed in terms of Full Charge Capacity (FCC). FCC is expressed as a percentage of the initial rated capacity of the battery. Under normal discharge loads, Li-ion batteries have a life span of between 300 and 500 cycles. With moderate use, Li-Ion batteries are expected to deliver approximately 80% of their rated capacity after about one year of use. Following are the recommended practices for prolonging the age of the battery:
- Get into the habit of recharging the battery when it reaches 10-20%. Never discharge your battery to 0% as this can render your battery useless.
- Store Li-Ion batteries between 20°C and 25°C (68°F and 77°F) with 30% to 50% charge. DONOT freeze the batteries.
- Do not leave batteries exposed to high temperatures for extended periods. Prolonged exposure to heat (for example, inside a hot car) will accelerate the deterioration of Li-Ion cells.
- Remove the battery if the notebook will be stored (turned off and not plugged into AC power) for more than 2 weeks.
- Remove the battery from the notebook if the notebook will be plugged into AC power continuously (via a wall adapter or docking station) for more than 2 weeks.
- Use the type of battery with the highest capacity (Ah) rating if the notebook will run high-end applications on battery power.
- Calibrate the battery based on the usage model. Under normal usage, batteries should be calibrated (conditioning) a minimum of once every 3 months; however, a battery that is rarely discharged fully should be calibrated about once a month.
Can I monitor my battery health? It is highly recommended to monitor your battery. Various manufactures provide softwares to monitor battery usage, charge cycles and health/life. They also monitor the various sensor temperatures as well.
In case they don’t monitor the various sensor temperatures, you can install the applications mentioned in this article. It includes programs/applications for windows (xp, vista, 7), linux (ubuntu 9.10, 9.04; fedora 11, 12) and mac (Snow Leopard, Leopard, tiger).
Is it time to change my battery? Usually a new battery should last for around 2 years when its charge capacity remains only 80% of what it was when the battery was new. However, it is highly subjective to usage history, style and conditioning. You might consider replacing the battery if:
1. The old battery backup time is considerably reduced. Like with my old HP laptop, my backup time was reduced to 1/2 hr!
2. Your backup requirements have increased due to greater work load.
3. If you have a battery health monitoring software installed, it will usually indicate the time when you need to get a new battery.
Purchasing a new battery can be costly and so a judicious choice of the battery capacity be made, keeping in mind the usage history and intended use. Once the battery is bought, you will be pretty much struck with it for a year or more at least. Also, buy a new battery only when you are sure to replace the old one. DONOT buy and store battery as this will reduce the battery life without being put to any use at all.
Are third party batteries good alternatives? The original batteries can be pricy and so people get attracted towards third party manufactured batteries. For some products third party products are very good alternatives but not for batteries. I personally advise people to NEVER buy third party batteries or chargers. Low-cost batteries are not made with the high safety standards of official batteries. These can sometimes destroy the whole laptop as well! A possibility of power surge from the battery ruining the whole machine should be scary enough for all to stay away from them.
How do I dispose my used battery? Lithium Ion batteries should never be sent to a land fill. All manufactures have safe disposal programs for used batteries and are generally free of cost.
I hope these tips help you get most out of the laptop battery at least until the wireless laptop charging becomes a viable alternative
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