Laptops For Dummies, 6th Edition
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Without a battery, your laptop would be merely a tiny, overpriced PC. You need the battery to give the laptop its power of portability. There also comes a battery of battery issues, most of which involve squeezing the largest amount of life out of a limited supply of battery juice.

laptop battery warning © DenPhotos / Shutterstock.com

Don't drop the battery, get it wet, short it, play keep-away with it, open it, burn it, or throw it away

Enough said.

Reduce the screen’s brightness

To save a bit on battery life on the road, lower the brightness level on your laptop’s screen just a hair — or perhaps as low as you can stand. This reduction definitely saves the juice.

The quick way to set screen brightness is to summon the Action Center: Press Win+A to summon the Action Center. Use the Brightness slider to adjust screen brightness. This control might also be available on the laptop’s keyboard.

  • Notebook laptops may sport brightness-setting buttons near the screen. Use these buttons to control the brightness.
  • Sometimes, the brightness is controlled by using special Fn-key combinations.
  • Your laptop's power manager might automatically dim the screen when the laptop is on battery power.

Power down the hard drive

The motors in your laptop consume the most power. That’s bad news. The good news is that many newer laptops have no motors. The only motor left is the hard drive, and this hardware is being replaced quickly by the solid-state drive (SSD).

If your laptop does have a hard drive, know that disk intensive programs will keep the device active and that such activity helps drain the battery faster. Such intensive programs include databases or any program that frequently accesses storage. Larger programs also impinge upon the hard drive’s motors; see the next section.

For laptops that sport optical drives — yikes! Those things draw a lot of power. I didn’t use the optical drive while my laptop ran on battery power.

Add RAM to prevent virtual memory disk swapping

One way that the laptop’s mass storage conspires with the operating system to drain the battery quickly is when the virtual memory manager pulls a disk swap. The way to prevent it is to add memory (RAM) to your laptop.

Virtual memory has nothing to do with virtue. Instead, it's a chunk of storage space that Windows uses to help supplement real memory, or RAM. Mass chunks of information are swapped between RAM and your laptop's storage, which is why you never see any Out of Memory errors in Windows. But all that memory swapping drains the battery.

Windows does a great job of managing virtual memory. Though you can fine-tune the virtual memory manager, I don't recommend it. Instead, if your laptop features a hard drive lamp, you can use it to test the virtual memory manager this way:

  1. Run three or four of your most-often-used programs or apps. Start up each program and get its window up and ready on the screen, just as though you’re about to work on something. In fact, you can even load a document or whatever, to ensure that the program is occupied.
  2. Wait. Wait until for hard drive access to stop and the computer is waiting. About five seconds should be long enough.
  3. Press Alt+Esc. The Alt+Esc key combination switches from one program (or window) to another.
  4. Observe any delays as you switch between programs. The delays may indicate that information is being swapped between hard drive storage and memory.
  5. Repeat Steps 3 and 4 until you cycle through all programs and windows at least once. What you're looking for is hard drive access. If you detect a noticeable pause or (if one is available) the hard drive light blinks as you switch between programs, it can be a sign that virtual memory is being used, by swapping from RAM to disk. Yes, your system is working harder than it should, and it affects battery life.
The solution to virtual memory disk swapping isn't to adjust virtual memory as much as it is to add RAM to your laptop and prevent virtual memory from ever taking over in the first place.

If your laptop lacks a hard drive access light, pay attention to how Windows behaves. Do you see a pause as you switch programs? Is the keyboard acting sluggish? If so, you’re witnessing memory being written to and read from the laptop’s storage. That action drains the battery.

Though not every laptop is capable of a RAM expansion, if yours is, consider adding more memory as a worthy undertaking.

Keep memory empty

Even when you cannot add more memory to your laptop, battery life can be extended by economically using the memory you have.

To optimize performance, I recommend running only a few programs at a time on your laptop when you're using the battery. For example, you might be reading email in your email program, browsing the web, editing a document in your word processor, and keeping a game of Spider Solitaire going in another window. All this activity is unnecessary, and shutting down the programs you're not using helps save battery life — not a lot, but some.

It may seem trivial, but when you don’t set a background image or wallpaper, and especially avoid the slide show wallpaper, Windows spends less time updating the screen. And, time is battery life! Consider setting a solid-color background image on your laptop.

Guard the battery's terminals

Like a big-city airport or Frankenstein's neck, your laptop's battery has terminals. People don’t traverse a battery's terminals; but, like Frankenstein's neck, electricity does. The terminals are usually flat pieces of metal, either out in the open or recessed into a slot.

If your laptop lacks a removable battery, you have nothing to worry about. If the battery can pop out, treat it with gentle, loving care.

  • Keep the battery in the laptop.
  • Outside the laptop, keep the battery away from metal.
  • Keep the terminals clean; use a Q-Tip and some rubbing alcohol. Do this whenever you succumb to the temptation to touch the terminals, even though you shouldn't be doing that.
  • Do not attach anything to the battery.

Do not attempt to short the battery or try to rapidly drain it.

Avoid extreme temperatures

Batteries enjoy the same type of temperatures you do. They don’t like to be very cold, and they don’t like hot temperatures, either. Like Goldilocks, the battery enjoys temperatures that are just right.

Store the battery if you don't plan to use it

Don’t let a battery sit. If you keep the laptop deskbound (and nothing could be sadder), occasionally unplug the thing and let the battery cycle, just to keep it healthy. That's the best thing to do.

When you would rather run your laptop without the battery inside, or when preparing a spare battery for storage, run down the battery's charge to about 40 percent or so and then put the battery in a nonmetallic container. Stick the container in a nice, cool, clean, dry place.

  • Like people, batteries need exercise! Try to use your laptop battery every two months or so whether you're using the laptop remotely or not.
  • The recommended storage temperature for lithium-ion batteries is 59 degrees Fahrenheit or 15 degrees Celsius.

A lithium-ion battery has an expiration date! After several years, the battery dies. This is true whether you use the battery or store it.

Understand that batteries drain over time!

No battery keeps its charge forever. Eventually, the battery's charge fades. For some reason, this surprises people. “That battery was fully charged when I put it into storage six years ago!” Batteries drain over time.

Yet, just because a battery has drained doesn't mean that it's useless. If you stored the battery properly, all it needs is a full charge to get it back up and running again. So, if you store a battery (see the previous section), anticipate that you'll need to recharge it when you want to use it again. This process works just like getting the battery on the first day you set up your laptop; follow those same instructions for getting the stored battery up and running again.

Deal with the low-battery warning

Thanks to smart-battery technology, your laptop can be programmed to tell you when the juice is about to go dry. In fact, you can set up two warnings on most laptops. The idea is to act fast on those warnings when they appear — and to take them seriously! Linger at your own risk. It's your data that you could lose!

The real trick, of course, is to ration the battery power you have. Here’s a summary of tips, some of which are found elsewhere in this book:

  • Be mindful of power-saving time-outs. Setting a 15-minute Stand By time-out may work well in the office, but on the road you may want to adjust those times downward.
  • Mute the speakers! This strategy not only saves a modicum of power but also prevents the ears of those next to you from hearing the silly noises your laptop makes.
  • Save some stuff to do when you get back home or reconnect to a power source. Face it: Some things can wait. If that 2GB project file upload isn't needed immediately, save it for when you're connected to the fast Internet line back at your home or office.

Hibernate! When time is short and your laptop has the Hibernation smarts, just hibernate.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Dan Gookin has been an author, editor, ghostwriter, and a public official. He's written more than a dozen Dummies books on technology, with a special focus on PCs, the Android operating system, and Microsoft products. And in 1991, he was the author of the very first Dummies book, DOS For Dummies, which started the whole enterprise.

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