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Microsoft disputes tests that suggest Windows 8.1 has a battery life problem

Mark Hachman | Oct. 31, 2013
MacBooks continue to outlast PC laptops. But why?

When Mac fanboys tussle with Windows aficionados, the fur can fly. And at some point, someone will probably bring up the old battery life chestnut: Windows laptops simply run out of juice when you need them most, while Macs just keep on chugging away.

It's a serious problem, as every road warrior fears running out of power right when it's needed the most. Preventing this scenario from happening has quietly emerged as the most significant design trend in mobile computing over the past few years. Smartphones like the Galaxy Note 3, LG G2, and Moto X have prioritized battery life, while power-sipping chips like Intel's Haswell and "Bay Trail" Atom chips now power PCs that offer all-day computing—especially when paired with keyboards or covers with batteries installed inside. And whether to choose Apple or a Windows PC is a perennial debate.

But what we haven't been able to do is to isolate the operating systems themselves, to determine whether the Mac, or Windows, is the most efficient. Part of the problem are the machines themselves. Apple's MacBook Air is a stripped-down, optimized machine that lacks a touchscreen, designed by a company that manufactures the operating system, apps, and a few fixed hardware configurations. Microsoft has to account for all of the variations within the Windows world.

What's going on here?
The genesis of this story was a story by Jeff Atwood, who runs the Coding Horror blog. In it, he examined data supplied by Anand Lal Shimpi of Anandtech, whose results had turned up an odd anomaly back in 2008: using the 15-inch MacBook Pro, he had discovered that the battery life varied dramatically when running three different operating systems on top of the same hardware: OSX 10.5.7, Windows Vista X64 SP1, and the release candidate of Windows 7—in fact, it lasted almost two hours longer under OS X.

Atwood, who owned a Surface Pro and had ordered a Surface Pro 2, was dismayed to find that the expected battery life of the new Surface Pro 2 was just a third better than the previous generation, or about 6.6 hours. (PCWorld is finalizing our own battery-life tests.) Meanwhile, Anandtech's battery life tests indicated that the 11-inch MacBook Air lasted over 11 hours on its Wi-Fi Web surfing tests.

That roused Atwood's ire. "The Surface Pro 2 has a 42 Wh battery, which puts it closer to the 11 inch Air in capacity," he wrote. "Still, over 11 hours of battery life browsing the web on WiFi? That means the Air is somehow producing nearly two times the battery efficiency of the best hardware and software combination Microsoft can muster, for what I consider to be the most common usage pattern on a computer today. That's shocking. Scandalous, even."


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