Laptop Battery: The “Dos and Dont`s”


By Toneo Rutsito
IN my previous instalment I wrote about hardware tips that we can all use to make sure that our laptop batteries last much longer to take us through our day’s work. In this instalment I wish to explore some software tweaks that one can also apply to maximise on battery power.
Most new computers use lithium ion (Li-Ion) batteries because it is cost effective, lighter, and have the greatest longevity, unlike the NiMH batteries.
Li-Ion can be charged before it is fully discharged because they are not vulnerable to the memory effect issues.
Turning off power-draining facilities should be your first stop if you are not going to be using them. These include devices we might not be currently using.
These should be either disabled or removed including your wireless adapter especially your Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, external optical drive, hard drive, USB devices and a printer that is not in use
In all operating systems you can make use of the power options to create some power saving schemes so that your computer automatically saves power when it’s on battery and switches back when its on main power by simply changing power settings to power saver.
Laptops LCDs consume a lot of power especially when they go on for a long time, you can increase the battery duration while manually reducing brightness of the screen by dimming the screen by holding down the “Fn” +F7 key.
To also maximise on battery life, turn the volume level down, or mute it, if you do not plan to use it the higher the volume the more power it uses.
Make sure that when your laptop is idle it goes into sleep mode in the shortest possible time.
This is especially useful in instances where you leave it running while rushing somewhere hoping to make it back earlier.
With the correct settings you can even find it not just sleeping but hibernating.
In your laptop system’s built-in power management control panel, you can select the option to reduce the amount of time your inactive laptop stays on before powering itself down and going to sleep.
It is better to shut down or hibernate the laptop rather than using standby if you plan on not using it for a while.
Standby state continues to drain energy to keep your laptop ready to go when you open the cover.
With standby your monitor and hard disk turns off all applications and open files are stored in RAM.
When you want to use the computer again, it comes out of standby quickly, and your desktop is restored exactly as you left it.
When hibernating your computer shuts down to save power but first saves everything from memory to your hard disk. When you restart the computer, your desktop is restored exactly as you left it.
Check to see if your laptop has the optimum amount of Memory (RAM). You can do this by right clicking on My Computer then check the properties.
The amount of RAM you have will appear under your System Information. RAM enables your system to run program instructions using the computer’s memory instead of its hard disk drive, where it actually stores the data.
Refreshing the RAM requires less power than spinning the entire hard drive, so having the correct amount of RAM means less drain on your laptop battery from spinning the entire hard drive continuously.
A minimum of 2GB of RAM works well for best performance, but if you are running much heavier programmes more memory would be recommended.
Defragmenting the hard drive decreases the time your system must spend searching for files by rearranging the file fragments.
It packs them closer together on the hard drive. Although your computer might be appearing fast, defragmentation makes file processing much faster.
Less time searching means less spinning for the hard drive hence it uses less battery power.
If you are a serious computer user or add and remove files quiet often then you should at least defragment your hard drive on a monthly basis. You can set this to happen automatically.
The battery cycle is the amount of discharging and charging cycles on a battery till it no longer holds anymore charge. The life cycle depends on how we use proper precautions in taking care of the battery.
Temperature is the main cause of battery lifespan loss. Keep in mind those higher temperatures and higher energy discharge depends on the heat generated by the laptop itself, including but not limited to the environment’s temperature, and additional input devices such as docking station.
Running high-end applications uses more power and drains the battery fast that can also lead to the battery life cycle decreasing.
Nowadays most computer games make use of good and high quality graphics. These include games from Electronics Arts (EA).
Popular games like Need for Speed, FIFA and Hitman that have become addictive are known to be the main cause of battery failure.
High quality graphics games use so much battery power than any other programme, What’s worse they also generate heat which directly destroys the chemical components in battery.
Batteries rely on basic chemistry and will die faster at extreme temperatures, hot batteries discharge very quickly, and cold ones can not create as much power.
Because temperature effects are not only limited to battery issues but even the overall laptop performance you should use a cooling pad when using a notebook computer on your lap.
Avoid propping your laptop on a pillow, blanket, or other soft surface that can heat up, these usually close up the air circulation vents then overheating your laptop.
It would be wiser to first remove the battery then run your most wanted game on direct power.
This has also an edge of improving speed since battery powered programmes do not run at an optimum performance speed and this saves your battery’s lifespan.
Doing just one thing at a time reduces memory overload and increases battery lifespan.
Memory that is in use takes more power to hold data. Also, using more memory might mean using more swap or virtual memory space on your laptop’s hard drive.
If your laptop has plenty of memory, then keep multiple applications open to avoid loading repeatedly from the hard drive, since running programmes off memory is faster and less power demanding
Do not keep several programs open at once – it eats up processing power, works the memory, and contributes to the steady churning of the hard disk as Windows copies data to and from the virtual memory. Use one program then exit before switching to the next.
If you want to do basic typing for hours, you would rather use light programmes like Notepad or my all time favorite Open Office.
Microsoft Word is quiet popular but unlike these free programmes is very heavy on the memory and with its constant automatic saves it will keep your computer hard drive running.
Contrary to the power element I would prefer auto save to gaining power, at least my documents would continue being saved.
If you are sure your battery capacity has diminished, there are a few things you can do about it.
First, you have to correctly gauge how much capacity has been lost. There are free downloads for this job, like Battery Bar (for Windows PCs) or Coconut Battery (for Macintoshes).
These will compare your battery’s current maximum capacity to the one that is there when it is new.
Have you ever experienced a situation where one-minute you laptop reports it’s fully charged then suddenly its running on very critical low battery.
Recalibrating is one good process of giving back life to this kind of aging battery.
You should first, fully charge your battery for at least 2hours, then set your laptop on power saving mode so that it slowly drains out the battery till it totally discharges.
After this, leave it overnight then fully recharge and you should be able to have your battery working well and lasting longer. Calibrate the battery at least once every two months.
Our laptops have always helped us to complete our tasks on the go, let us do the best to make sure that our batteries last as long as they should, before we start blaming the manufactures for our own ignorance.

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