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Tips on extending your laptop battery life

You seasoned techies are no doubt thinking: "Another article on how to get more life from your laptop battery. Big deal. I already know how to do that." Well, Mr or Ms Techie, I scoff at your hubris. There's still plenty to learn when it comes to getting more juice from a charge and extending your battery's overall life.

But, yes, there are basic tips that most of us are already aware of:

  • Dim your screen.
  • Minimise background processes.
  • Don't use the DVD/Blu-ray drive.
  • Disable your wireless antenna when not in use.
  • Use Windows power saving options.

But there's still a lot you may not know about battery technology and the things that both help and hinder your laptop's juicebox.

Extending the overall battery life

The easiest way to give your battery an early death is to damage it. And the two most common causes of damage are from overheating and using an AC adapter with the wrong voltage. With that in mind, make sure you check the voltage of your adapter, especially if using a replacement adapter.

As for avoiding overheating, bear these tips in mind:

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 or block cooling fans.

Clean your desk. It sounds strange, but if you have a dusty, dirty desk, that dust will get into the vents and clog the cooling fan. Once the dust is inside your laptop, it is much harder to remove. You can try blasting it out with canned air, but you run the risk of damaging internal components. You can also remove the vent and clean out the grit, but remember that taking apart your laptop can void the warranty. So clean your desk at least once a week, if not daily, if you use your laptop on the surface.

Try not to store your laptop in a place where the air temperature exceeds 26 degrees Celsius, such as a hot car or an outdoor patio. And if your laptop heats up or is cold, let it return to room temperature before starting it up.

Also, consider taking your battery out when using your laptop plugged into AC power. Just make sure to keep the contacts clean. If you need to clean them, use rubbing alcohol.

For lithium-ion batteries, you do not need to discharge them fully and recharge constantly. I fact, it is actually better to discharge a lithium-ion only partially before recharging. You need to do a full discharge only about every 30 charges.

Pick the right laptop

If you're in the market for a new laptop, there are features and components you should consider to get the most mileage from the system's battery.

If you can, go for an Ultrabook with an ultra-low-voltage (ULV) processor that ekes out a lot of battery life. Check out our laptop reviews to see which models last the longest (we test the battery life as a matter of course). For recommendations on Ultrabooks, check out: 6 of the best Ultrabooks.

Go for a laptop with a solid-state storage drive (SSD), which requires less power and, since there are no spinning parts, will suffer less wear and tear than a traditional hard drive.

Get a model with a smaller screen. A smaller screen means a smaller backlight, which will also save on battery drain. Smaller laptops are also more portable, too.

According to Andrew Bradner, product line manager for APC, all lithium-ion batteries are not created equal. The proof is in the pudding, or in this case the chemistry. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to discern if the battery you're buying was manufactured in a top-notch facility using high quality materials. And making that call is not as easy as assuming your laptop manufacturer's battery will be of better quality than a battery from a third-party vendor. But you can bear a couple of key guidelines in mind.

Don't skimp on your battery. If you choose the lowest-cost battery you'll probably get a battery that degrades quickly, and you'll end up buying a replacement too soon anyway. So spend the money now to save expense and frustration down the road.

Don't buy an expired battery. A good indicator of a battery's performance is how far into its product life it is, whether it's used or new. If possible, look at the bottom of the battery and find the date of manufacture.