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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.

Among other things, Auto Shutdown Manager shows which components shut down when.

You can put any MacBook instantly to sleep by opening the Apple Menu in the upper left corner of the screen and clicking on Sleep. Or you can just close the laptop's lid.

If you want to adjust when your system goes to sleep automatically, go back to the Energy Saver/Battery page and use the Computer sleep: slider control; you can have it sleep anywhere between 1 min. and Never.

Adjusting when the system goes to sleep automatically is a little trickier if you have a MacBook Pro that was built before late 2008/mid 2009. Go to the Terminal program and type sudo pmset sleep X, where X is the number of minutes to wait before putting the computer to sleep.

6. Tweak your graphics

Some Windows notebooks, like Toshiba's Tecra W50, have both integrated and discrete (usually high-end) graphics technology. The higher-end graphics technology on a mobile workstation or gamer's system can itself consume upwards of 60 watts of power.

If that's your setup, go conservative and use the lower-power integrated graphics whenever the workload doesn't demand all-out video power, such as for Web browsing or writing emails. If you've got discrete graphics from Nvidia or AMD, you should also have a utility that lets you manually or automatically make the change based on load.

I'd also suggest that, when you're using the integrated graphics, use the most aggressive power management settings you're comfortable with. You can usually make power adjustments using either Intel's HD Graphics Control Panel or AMD's Start Now Technology screen, depending on which processor your computer is using.

This goes for Macs as well: A 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display can be ordered with Nvidia's GeForce GT 750M graphics accelerator with 2GB of video RAM. The system automatically switches between integrated and discrete graphics when you've checked the box in the upper left corner of its Energy Saver window.

If you want to manually go between graphics adapters on a MacBook Pro, you can install the free app gfxCardStatus, which tells you which of your applications are more power-hungry and lets you manually toggle between integrated and discrete graphics.

7. The 7% solution

Nearly every Windows-based notebook comes from the factory set to shut itself down when 7% of battery power remains. This buffer is meant to be an extra safety margin to provide enough power to shut the system down and not lose key data or documents. But in actual fact, it wastes 10 or 15 minutes of precious battery life.

Several years ago, I started setting my notebooks to leave a 1% or 2% power reserve instead -- as a result, I added more time to work, and I've never had a problem.


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