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Can Chrome 23 really improve laptop battery life by 25 percent?

Chrome battery savings update battery life performanceGoogle announced about a week ago that its new version of Chrome turns on GPU accelerated video decoding in the browser. What does that mean exactly? Besides potentially improving performance on older systems with a reasonable GPU but slow processor, this change could also enhance battery life. In fact, Google’s official blog states that battery life could improve by up to 25 percent.

This left us wondering – could a PC Web browser really have an impact on battery life? We’ve noticed improvements with mobile browsers in the past, but a PC is an entirely different beast with both a much larger battery and much higher power consumption.

It’s time to enter the test chamber.

Our testing was performed on the Acer Aspire M3, little-known forefather of the Acer Aspire M5 we reviewed in July of this year. This Ultrabook packs a Core i5-2467M low-voltage processor and Nvidia GT 640M discrete graphics.

We grabbed a benchmark result by running a YouTube video loop using Chrome 22 (we’d not yet received the automatic update). The video ran in its normal window size at 720p resolution and Battery Eater was used in idle mode to measure run time. After three runs the Aspire M3 reached an average life of four hours and four minutes.

We then upgraded to Chrome 23 and performed the same test three more times. After our last run, the laptop reached an average life of four hours and twenty-four minutes. That’s almost 9 percent better than what the laptop could achieve while running the previous version of Chrome.

An improvement of 9 percent is much smaller than 25 percent, but it’s not insignificant. Twenty additional minutes of runtime could matter to a user traveling without frequent access to power sockets. We also tested under conditions we think are representative of typical use (reasonable display brightness, no background software terminated, 720p resolution), rather than those likely to produce an exaggerated result. A different scenario might result in even better endurance.

We were a bit surprised to see even a 9 percent improvement. It certainly goes to show that there’s more to battery life than the hardware. The update was pushed out automatically, so any Chrome user reading this article is already benefiting from it.