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Boost that battery: Tips and tricks for laptops

Brian Nadel | June 6, 2014
No matter how good your laptop's battery is, it's still easy to run out of power by day's end. Here are some ways to keep your system running.

Whether it happens with that key memo left unfinished, the last scene of a movie unwatched or an epic gaming battle interrupted, it's likely that, at one time or another, you've been left with a dead notebook battery at the worst possible moment. What can you do about it?

"Notebooks are not as efficient as they could be," says Robert Meyers, data center product manager for the Energy Star Program at the Environmental Protection Agency, "and they waste a lot of energy."

The payoff for being aware of how much power your system uses and how to control it can be huge -- because every watt saved can run the notebook that much longer. "The natural incentive is that greater efficiency translates directly into longer battery life," Meyer says.

In this article, I'll go through 11 ways you can cut down on your laptop's power usage. Some may be appropriate for your style of work and/or play, some not; but even if you follow one or two, it could give you those crucial extra operating minutes.

But first, it might be useful to look at which components are the most power thirsty in your device -- and how they are being improved.

What uses battery power?

While there's a lot of variation between an 11-in. Chromebook with an Intel Celeron processor and a 17-in. gaming laptop with an Intel Core i7 Extreme chip, each has a similar array of components that turn electricity into an interactive computing experience.

There are six components that are the major power users in a computing device. They are listed here roughly in order of power use, although that can vary based on the notebook itself. They have each been redesigned over the past decade for greater efficiency, but there's still work to be done.

1. Processor

The processor is a power hog, often using as much as half of the total power in a system. Smaller is better; as the size of the microscopic wires and electronic architecture within the chip shrinks with each generation, its power use declines.

A decade ago, the best Intel processors used the company's 90-nanometer (nm) production process, codenamed Dothan. Today, the company's Haswell chips have 22nm architecture -- less than one-quarter the size and roughly 100,000 times smaller than the width of a pencil point. Chips made with 14nm microarchitecture, a.k.a Broadwell, have been promised for later this year or in early 2015.

Meanwhile, current AMD processors are made using a 28nm process, including the new Karavi laptop CPUs, but the company's Project SkyBridge promises a series of new chips for mobile devices using a 20nm manufacturing process.


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