How to care for your laptop’s battery and extend its life

Is there anything more important than battery life? Okay, maybe oxygen and some other things. But when you’re always working on the go or have one of those days where you’re in a hurry and forget your charger, your laptop’s battery life is life. 

Even the most efficient laptop is going to run out of juice at some point. Before you panic, take a moment and learn how to properly care for your laptop’s battery and extend its life. This is more important now than ever since a growing number of laptop batteries are now glued and sealed inside their cases and cannot be replaced if they start dying.

Save cycles, save your battery

All laptop batteries are built to handle a certain number of charge cycles, usually somewhere around 500 full cycles — and sometimes even more. Essentially, a charge cycle equals one full discharge down to zero percent and then a recharge back up to 100 percent. A discharge down to 50 percent and then back to 100 percent would equal half a cycle. Over time, each charge cycle decreases a battery’s capacity from its design specifications, meaning that the fewer times you drain it, the longer the battery lasts — all other things being equal.

And so, where do you start? You can begin by visiting the power settings corner of your laptop and learning how your battery works, and what battery settings to enable. Also, pay attention to hibernation modes. Ideally, you want your laptop to enter into hibernation before the battery is totally drained — as well as during downtime when you won’t be using the laptop for a while.

To save even more power, take a tour of your apps and quit any that are running in the background and steadily eating into your battery life. On Windows 10, for example, we suggest you search for and enable the Battery Saver. This mode will automatically turn on when your laptop reaches around 20% battery life (more down below on why this is particularly important). This will automatically block background apps, keep your features like Calendar from syncing or pushing notifications, lower screen brightness, and other various changes that will conserve your battery so you can get to an outlet ASAP.

For MacBooks, look into enabling Power Nap so you can put your Mac to sleep without worrying about it skipping important tasks, allowing you to save more battery life. Enabling automatic graphics switching can also help Macs save energy by switching to a lower graphics mode when engaged in simple tasks (like text-based work where graphics aren’t as important).

There are plenty of manual changes you can make here, too. Cloud storage services or video players that you aren’t using can be safely shut down, too. You can also manually reduce the amount of power you’re using by shutting off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth when you’re not using them, turning off optional features such as keyboard backlighting, and generally reducing the number of components burning power. Both Microsoft and Apple have guides explaining the process further.

Keeping your battery in zone

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In ancient, less enlightened times, there was a problem called “battery memory” that caused nickel-metal hydride (NiMH) batteries to “forget” their full charge capacity and start charging at lower and lower levels. This problem doesn’t exist any longer thanks to modern lithium-ion batteries, but it has led to a lot of poor advice and arguments about battery care based on outdated information. It’s time to clear the air.

Contrary to some recommendations, you don’t need to routinely completely discharge a lithium-ion battery and then recharge it to somehow reboot or calibrate it – this is a destructive practice that’s very hard on your battery. Whether or not it’s a smart idea to perform a complete discharge a couple of times a year remains an unanswered question. Generally, the consensus seems to be that letting your battery discharge (without bottoming it out — aim for around 20 percent) and then charge it when possible is the best practice.

Next, there was a time when users were advised to refrain from keeping their devices plugged in, based on the idea that letting a battery charge to 100 percent could wear the battery out more quickly. Today, however, modern devices are designed to stop charging at 100 percent and thus keeping them plugged in doesn’t impact the battery’s lifespan, according to Battery University.

As with many battery-related questions, the issue of keeping your laptop plugged in when it’s reached full capacity is hotly debated, so there’s nothing wrong with turning your machine off and unplugging it if you feel more comfortable doing that. But generally speaking, the best thing you can do for your lithium-ion battery is to avoid letting it discharge below 20 percent. Plug it in and charge it when you can, and then rinse and repeat. The good news is that with modern batteries and systems there’s really not much else you need to do — except perhaps reasonably expect that your battery will eventually start losing its overall capacity.

Finally, if you’re going to store your laptop for an extended time without using it, then discharge or charge it to 50 percent before putting it away.

It’s getting hot in here, so hide your batteries

When a laptop battery gets too hot, the electrochemical reactions inside speed up — but that doesn’t mean that the battery grows more efficient. Instead, the battery is now producing lots of energy that it cannot use, and cannot safely route to any hardware. This creates even more heat, compounding the problem. Not only can this eventually damage the inside of the battery permanently, but it also wears the battery out with a bunch of chemical reactions that aren’t necessary, but burn through a battery’s lifespan anyway.

Today’s lithium-ion batteries are durable, but they can only take so much heat. For example, if you are charging your battery and it starts to get overly warm, perhaps because the CPU or graphics processor is working hard or the environment is overly hot, then shut the device down and pop the battery out if possible. Give it a break so that it can cool down or you can move to someplace with a lower temperature. Many modern laptops have sealed batteries, in which case shutting the machine down and letting it cool is highly recommended if maximizing the battery’s lifespan is your concern.

Likewise, keep the laptop off of your lap. If testicular damage and discomfort weren’t good enough reasons, then with many machines you’re also making the problem worse by blocking vents. You’ll want to make sure that both vents that pull in cool air and those that expel hot air are able to do their jobs.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you should avoid placing your laptop anywhere it might become hot. That includes your car on a hot summer day, beneath a window that gets direct sunlight, or near a space heater. Unusual conditions such as these can do a lot of damage to a battery in a short period of time, though you may not realize it immediately.

Cold temperatures usually aren’t a problem down to a certain point, and storing a battery in a cool place is recommended, but don’t leave your laptop in freezing temperatures. Too much cold can also kill the battery permanently or reduce its lifespan.

If you want to watch temperature even more closely (say, you live in a particularly hot climate), then there are a number of apps you can run that will monitor laptop heat. This includes CoreTemp and Real Temp for Windows, which you can download for free.

Download software to get battery health reports

It can be tough to know at a glance just how your battery is doing. Devices like iPhones come with native Battery maintenance settings and alerts that provide at least some information, but these diagnostics are harder to find on laptops unless you install them yourself. Here are a couple battery monitoring app options for you to consider.

BatteryCare: This extra-lightweight app — designed for Windows computers — provides notifications, CPU/storage temperature readings, discharge cycle monitoring, and lots of handy information all in one place.

Battery Monitor: Made for MacOS, this app shows battery charge in a friendly interface with info on battery health and cycles, alerts, battery temperature readings, and current total capacity.

If you don’t want to download any dedicated apps, you still have options available. For example, you can open up PowerShell on your Windows computer and run the command “powercfg /batteryreport” which will provide you a file path to this somewhat secret report: Copy or drag it to a browser window, and you’ll get a page with full information on your battery, including recent usage, cycle counts, usage history, and more. It doesn’t have the smooth interface of a monitoring app, but you don’t have to download anything extra to get it.

Enable battery-conscious modes on your computer

If you look at Windows 10 power settings, you will see one of the modes is a Battery saver mode that will help your battery last longer when it’s low on power. As we mentioned, having a battery constantly bottom out to 0% levels can be unhealthy for it, so enabling the battery saver mode can help prevent this. MacOS has similar capabilities.

Adaptive brightness modes are also a good idea to enable! These adjust the brightness of your screen according to ambient light to help save on battery life when you are in a well-lit spot. Those energy savings will add up over time and lead to a longer battery life. While you’re at it, think about enabling your laptop’s dark mode as well.

Update your operating system

Finally, a note about your software — keep it updated! Companies work hard to improve the way that programs use power via software updates. The same operating system on a later patch could use significantly less battery power, giving your battery a longer lifespan without changing anything else. And so, review your OS and keep your machine — and its battery — on a healthy diet of updates.

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