Netbook computers have taken the world by storm, but not all netbooks are equal. While the overwhelming majority of models seem to use the 1.6GHz Intel Atom N270 processor, there are different storage configurations, screen sizes and, most importantly, battery capacities that mean getting a decent runtime while you’re on the go is not a given. However, there are a number of ways to improve battery life.
Your netbook’s battery has a certain capacity measured in milliamp hours (mAh). That means it can deliver a certain amount of currentAdd nenetbook, battery, life, better, increase, extend, how to, diy, brightness, ma, milliamp, usage, time, short, longer, cuts Add nenetbook, battery, life, better, increase, extend, how to, diy, brightness, ma, milliamp, usage, time, short, longer, cuts (measured in milliamps, or mA) for a certain amount of time. The more current you use, the faster you drain the battery and the less time it can deliver the current.
Putting it really simply, think of your netbook’s battery as though it were a full bucket of water. You can allow the water to trickle out over a long time or you can up-end the bucket and get a big flow for a very short time. The bucket has a fixed capacity – how we use it determines how long that capacity lasts. What we wasn’t to do is get the flow of current from the battery down to a tiny trickle. So I’ve come up with 10 ways you can ensure your netbook (or any notebook for that matter) runs for as long as possible on whatever battery size you’ve got.
1. Drop the screen brightness.
If you’re running any full version Linux operating system, you can actually see just how much power your netbook is using.
Open up Terminal (think Window’s Command Prompt) and type: cat/proc/acpi/battery/BAT1/state. The current drain will be shown alongside the ‘Present rate’ indicator. That number tells you the total current being drawn from the battery.
If you vary the screen brightness and do a ‘before’ and ‘after’ test with that cat command above, you’ll see that the power consumption on the MSI Wind U100 netbook varies by as much as 25%. The Wind U100’s battery current drain dropped from 1,181mA to just 944mA going from full brightness to the minimum brightness level, which is still easily bright enough to see.
In my testing, the LCD backlight is the single most power-hungry feature on a netbook that you have direct control over. Therefore the basic rule here is to drop the brightness and you could get ad much as and extra hour’s battery life.
2. Turn off Wi-Fi
If you’re not connected to a Wi-Fi network, there’s not much point in having your Wi-Fi connection switched on. Turning off the 802.11n Wi-Fi option inside the Wind U100 dropped the current from around 950mA to approximately 870mA, or roughly 8-9%. That’s not as dramatic an improvement as dropping the screen brightness, but it’s significant nonetheless and it all adds up.
As with all of these power-saving options, the actual power saved will vary between different netbook models, but I guarantee that switching off the wireless networking will gain you at least some extra battery life.
3. Turn off Bluetooth
Bluetooth is another power drain on your netbook, although it’s not as big a drain on the battery as Wi-Fi. The power saving here amounts to around 20-30mA of current saved – not huge, but that’s still about 2-3% and every little bit helps. Bluetooth is normally used for low-powered peripheral devices and some telephony work, but like Wi-Fi, if you’re not using it there’s no real reason to have it powered up.
4. Use aggressive power management
Setting the operating system’s power management aggressively – that means setting it to maximum battery life – will also ensure you get better battery life because it will use the netbook’s power management features to reduce consumption. Basically, if it’s not being used it’ll be shut down. Even if it’s only shut down momentarily, it’s all power saved and any power saved will result in longer battery life.
5. Disconnect any USB flash drives
USB flash drives are known for their ability to store data without the need for power, but if you’ve got one plugged into a USB port on your netbook it will be drawing some power. On my calculations, it’s typically only small – a 4GB Corsair Voyager adds around 10-20mA at idle, but it can be as high as 150mA when it’s transferring data or being accessed. That’s a huge amount, so do as little data transfer as you can while on battery power, and preferably don’t use and USB flash drives at all.
6. Switch off any compositing effects
If you’re running a full Linux OS with the compositing feature switched on, switch it off to get better battery life. Fancy 3D effects on the desktop look great, but they require extra processing horsepower to create and that loads down the battery. The same thing goes for Vista – if you’re running Windows Vista and you have Aero switched on, turning it off will give your battery a tiny nit of extra breathing space because the integrated graphics chip won’t have to work so hard.
7. Set the hard drive and screen power-down times low
You don’t want to be turning off your netbook every 2 minutes because you have to leave it momentarily, but there’s no point burning up battery power if it’s not doing anything. Set the screen and hard drive power-down times relatively low to ensure that if you do need to leave you netbook running, they’re not wasting power keeping things lit up or spinning for no reason. The only caveat here is that regularly spinning up and down the hard drive motor isn’t a great thing to do in the long term, as it places extra wear on the motor itself. But in short bursts, it shouldn’t do too much harm.
8. Turn off any background applets
Background applications are great for adding little bits of extra usefulness, but they’re a luxury you can’t really afford if you want the maximum battery life you can get. Things like antivirus programs, system monitors and other bits and pieces all require CPU time and the more the processor is loaded up, the more power it consumes.
Switching off your antivirus normally isn’t a great thing to do, but if you’re not connected to the internet, you’re not accessing files from external sources and the antivirus has already done a sweep of your netbook’s hard drive and found nothing untoward, switching it off for a small period while you’re working on battery power shouldn’t do your netbook any harm. Of course, as soon as you hit the internet or get back to AC mains power, switch it back on again.
9. Disable the audio and flash card reader
This sounds like we’re getting a bit desperate for things to turn off, but in the end, it’s pretty simple – anything that consumes power is going to reduce your netbook’s battery life, so if you can turn it off, the battery will last longer. By disabling the audio, you should be able to reduce the power consumption because the device won’t be used. The same thing goes for the flash card reader.
10. Turn off the webcam
I have to admit that if I were designing a netbook, I probably wouldn’t include a webcam. One thing the webcam will do is drain the battery like no-one’s business. The MSI Wind U100 pulls as much as 150mA of current, which is a hefty load, especially if your netbook happens to only have a small three-cell battery. Turning this off as well will help the battery to no end.
So there are my 10 tips. The two most effective are making sure the webcam is off and that the screen brightness is at its lowest level. That’s how I use my netbook and it’s still easily visible in normal room lighting. These tips will definitely make a difference to overall battery life, regardless of whether you’ve got a three, six or even a big nine-cell battery inside.
Just remember the golden rules when it comes to battery life: the less you use, the longer it will last.