Anyone with a notebook knows that at the end of the day, battery life is still the key mobility factor when using a notebook on the road. Some users might turn to extended batteries, while others already have one and are looking to squeeze out handful of minutes before they run out of juice somewhere. An area that many notebook users overlook is the software that is running in the background on many notebooks that acts as a leech, sucking away at your power and making your notebook work harder than it should. With a few minutes worth of simple changes, you can easily crank out some more time from your notebook following our guide.
Most of this guide will target notebook running Windows Vista, but many of the same tweaks hold true for Windows XP.
Keep your processor working at a walking pace
Most notebooks offer power regulation software, and almost all have the ability to change profiles using the Vista power manager. Click on that battery icon on the bottom of your screen, and make sure your notebook is set to Balanced or Power Saver. High Performance is great if you are encoding video or playing games, but it makes your processor work harder than it has to, using more power and throwing out more heat.
Tune your radio dial
Keep an eye on your wireless devices, and disable them if they are not in use. If you have your Bluetooth or WiFi device running at all times, you are using chopping off useful battery life that could have been used doing something else.
Change your viewing habits
The biggest power draw on your notebook, especially if it is a large one, is the screen backlight. While it may look big, beautiful, and shiny, you are really hurting your battery performance with the backlight at a high level. Start by putting the backlight to the lowest setting, and increase it slowly until you find the lowest setting your find bearable. Remember that this will vary depending on the room you are in, meaning you might have it set brighter in an office setting, but much lower at home at night.
Don't be tempted by movies
If at all possible, stay away from using DVD's or CD's in your laptop while using battery power. The drive creates a huge power draw on the system while running. On top of the drive, your processor is also working hard to decode the audio and video, sometimes knocking off close to 30% of your overall battery life. If you must watch movies, try to stick with digital content that you download or stream online. iTunes and Hulu.com are excellent alternatives to the evil discs.
Kill unwanted background activities
Right out of the box, almost all notebooks have the following processes running in the background, which eat up precious CPU cycles and trash your hard drive.
Automatic Updates: While keeping your system up to date is a good thing, this should be optional to have done at your own leisure. I prefer to update my system when I don't care about battery life, or have my system connected to AC power. To disable this activity, go into your control panel and click on ‘Windows Update". In the next window click on "change settings" on the left side, and make your way to the next screen. Now change your selection to "Never check for updates", and click OK. Please note that this may make your system vulnerable if you don't manually check for updates on a regular basis.
Windows Indexing: Windows disk indexing helps to reduce search times when trying to find a particular file on your hard drive, but will wreak havoc on your battery life in the process. To disable indexing, open "My Computer" and right click on your hard drive. On the first screen that shows up, uncheck "Index this drive for faster searching". You will need to proceed through a few prompts, as well as clicking "ignore all" if prompted. This may take quite a bit of time depending on how full your drive is.
Anti-Virus Software: AV software is a huge performance hog, but also a life saver depending on what type of sites your visit or what sorts of files you encounter. I am relatively savvy enough to steer clear of harmful items in my daily activities, and have yet to need any AV software for years. Not only can they be a huge resource hog and bog your machine down, they sap away a lot of battery life if they start scanning in the background. Be warned that removing AV software from your system can be risky, and should be done at your own discretion. If need more than one hand to count the number of virus problems you have had in the past, don't follow this suggestion.
The next step of this guide requires you to use the Task Scheduler, and disable a few services that your computer queues up at various times while you are using your computer. This can be accessed by going into your program list, then Accessories, then System Tools, finally clicking Task Scheduler.
In the list of Active Tasks, the following items cause the most unwanted activity in the background. To disable any of these items, double click the selection which will take you to another screen listing more details on that activity. Now all you need to do is right click the item, and click disable to stop it from bothering you in the future.
Consolidator: Runs in the background for the Customer Improvement Program.
Scheduled Defrag: Defragments your hard drive, and will bog down your system in the process. I handle this at my own leisure instead of letting the system schedule it weekly.
Clean up after yourself
Having additional programs working in the background when no longer in use can reduce system performance and decrease battery life. If you are done using a certain application, exit out of it properly instead of just minimizing it to the background. Also note that some programs drop down into your taskbar when you click the X at the top right of the screen. These can usually be killed by right clicking them in the taskbar, and clicking exit.
By following this guide and being mindful of the software you are using on your laptop, you can extend your battery life so you have that extra time when you really need it. Even when not increasing battery life, many of these tweaks help improve system performance, and many times make a speed demon out of a computer previously thought to be a slow relic. Think of yourself as the computer, and understand if you are working harder, you are expending more energy in the process. If you slow down and work at an easier pace, you will probably have more energy left when all is said and done.