It’s happened to many a traveler: You’re onboard a flight from, say, New York to Los Angeles, with plans to finish a stack of work along the way. After all, an airplane is often a great place to be productive, thanks to the absence of nagging colleagues, email and ringing phones. Except you’re barely over Minnesota and your computer warns you it’s about to “hibernate” as your battery power is hovering somewhere around just five percent. Now how exactly do you plan to finish that sales report before you land?
Sadly, as far as we’ve come in terms of cramming better microprocessors, sharper graphics and beefier storage into laptops(including both Macs and PCs), energy management has plagued portable computing since its inception. On the bright side though, thanks to more powerful batteries, processors with clever energy management and smarter software, the situation is getting better all the time. You can help, too. Aside from lugging a spare battery, which isn’t a bad idea, the following are a few tips for squeezing more juice out of your laptop.
1. Turn down the brightness of your monitor a great deal as it will help preserve battery life. This can usually be found on your laptop’s secondary keyboard commands (such as blue icons that look like little suns). Slider bars and other easily-understood controls should then give you the option to reduce brightness. On a related note, if you’re shopping for a new laptop, keep in mind that the bigger the laptop screen, the faster the battery drain will be in most cases.
2. Eject any discs you aren’t currently using: Your battery will drain faster if there’s a spinning disc in your optical drive such as a game/music CD or DVD movie. In addition, some PC games offer you the choice to install the entire program to the hard drive, so choose this option whenever possible, as you’ll get more life out of your laptop. Ditto for music and movies. Needless to say, your laptop battery will last much longer when using programs that require less physical hardware response and therefore put a smaller drain on system resources, such as word processors and web browsers.
3. Make sure you have no devices plugged into the laptop that can be draining its power, such as a webcam, USB thumbstick or a wireless PC card. Connected peripherals can be a factor in eating away at any system’s battery life, so get used to employing your notebook’s touchpad instead of using an external mouse on the plane. Wireless connectivity options such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi can also quickly drain your supply, so be sure these radios and hands-free earpieces are turned off.
4. Windows users can also click on Power Options in the Control Panel to manually reduce the power consumption of your laptop. Some may turn off your monitor when not in use for, say, 3 minutes, but it will turn on instantly again when a key is touched. You can also set alarms when the battery is about to die (say, at 5 percent) so you can safely save your information before powering down.
5. While not cheap, you might want to consider a better battery than the one that shipped with your PC. For example, some laptops typically ship with a regular 6-cell battery that can deliver up to four hours of battery life, depending on the application. But you can optionally choose to buy an 8- or 12-cell battery that can last up to four times as long.
6. Calibrate your battery every 1-3 months. If your battery isn’t holding a charge for as long as it once did, regular recalibration can help regain some of that lost capacity. To recalibrate your battery, follow these steps:
a.) Charge your battery to 100 percent. Once it reaches a full charge, leave it plugged in for another hour or two.
b.) Disconnect from the power source, and keep your machine running until it gives you a battery level warning and begs you to be plugged back in. Ignore this warning, and let it die completely. Make sure you’ve saved anything important before this happens.
c.) After your computer has died, let it stay dead for another 1-2 hours for good measure.
d.) Once it’s sufficiently dead, plug it back in and let it reach a full charge before using it again. When it reaches 100 percent, your battery has been properly calibrated.
7.) Install battery management software. There are a number of good applications – both free and paid – that can help you keep track of your battery’s health. Some of them, like coconutBattery and Battery Health (Mac) will simply give you helpful stats, whereas other software like Watts can actually remind you when to calibrate. For Windows, we suggest BatteryCare or BatteryMon.
8.) If you don’t mind doing a bit of tinkering, swapping your disk drive for a solid state drive (SSD) can cut your laptop’s power consumption considerably. Because SSD’s don’t use spinning disks to store and retrieve information, they don’t require nearly as much power.
9. If installing an SSD sounds a bit too daunting for you, you can help decrease your hard disk’s power consumption by regularly defragging it. Fragmented files mean your computer has to work harder to retrieve information, so regular defragging ensures that the stuff on your hard drive is stored as efficiently as possible and requires the least amount of energy to be retrieved.
10. Update all your drivers and software. Generally, newer drivers and software are designed to be more efficient, and are likely to be less resource hungry.
11.) Beat the heat. Exposure to high temperatures will reduce your battery’s lifespan slowly but surely. Make sure you keep your computer’s vents clear of gunk and dust buildup. Blocked vents will cause your machine to generate more heat and will also make the fan work harder to keep your machine cool. Additionally, try to avoid leaving your laptop in hot cars or in direct sunlight for extended periods of time.
Multiple members of the Digital Trends’ staff contributed to this article.