We’ve all been there. You’re in a meeting, or on the road, or in a classroom, and you find, to your horror, that your laptop is nearly dead. Maybe you forgot your power adapter, maybe there isn’t an available outlet. For whatever reason, your battery power is dwindling, and you still have stuff to get done. Hope is not lost, however. There are some things you can do to buy more time on that almost-dead battery so you can meet a deadline or respond to an important email before it’s too late.
Some of these techniques are for when you need to stretch your battery at that very moment, while others are preventative measures, best implemented before your battery life comes up short. There is some of overlap between the short- and long-term strategies we’ll outline below, but even when the actions are the same, the reasons behind them may be different.
Short-Term Battery-Stretching Strategies
If you’re in a tough spot right now, there are things you can do to extend the battery life immediately. None of these actions will actually increase the amount of power left in the battery, but instead will reduce the amount of power the laptop is using, letting you squeeze in a few more precious minutes before the battery goes kaput. The name of the game in these instances is power consumption, and you need to reduce yours to as little as possible.
- Activate Your Laptop’s Battery Saver or Eco Mode
Designed with these sorts of circumstances in mind, most Battery Saver or Eco modes will engage a number of automatic changes to lengthen usable battery life—many of the same changes we’ll be making here. This saved profile will adjust your laptop’s settings and shift components into low-power states to help you ration your remaining juice a bit longer.
- Disable Unused Devices and Ports
The easiest way to reduce power consumption is to simply turn stuff off. Every component in your laptop needs power to function, but that doesn’t mean you need to power all of those components all of the time. Start by disconnecting any unneeded peripherals (like aUSB mouseor external drive) and turning off the biggest power hogs, like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth radios, graphics processors, and unused optical drives.
- Adjust Your Settings
While you’ll still have to use the display and the keyboard, you can adjust the settings for each to reduce power consumption. One often overlooked power drain is keyboard backlighting. Unless you’re in the dark and need the backlight just to make out each key, turn off the backlight entirely. You can typically assign a hotkey for this function.
- Turn Off Apps and Processes
It’s not just the hardware that’s stealing your battery juice. Multiple apps and processes running on your system will also chew through battery life more quickly. As with the hardware, start by turning off anything that isn’t being used.
You can also stretch your battery life by simplifying your own activities. Multitasking is nice when you have full power, but running several programs at once puts a greater load on the processor and draws more power. Adjust your computer use by sticking to one application at a time and avoiding resource-intensive programs.
- Care and Feeding of Batteries
It starts with taking care of the battery itself. If your system has a removable battery, take care not to damage the battery contacts. They connect the laptop to the battery, and if the contacts get dirty or damaged, it can reduce and disrupt the flow of power. You can clean the contacts with a cotton swab and rubbing alcohol, but damaged contacts might need to be professionally repaired. This doesn’t apply to laptops that seal the battery into the chassis.
- Upgrade Components
Another option is to ditch the hard drive entirely, and upgrade to an SSD. These use flash memory to store data instead of a spinning disk, so there are no moving parts; this automatically makes them more energy efficient. In addition to improving your laptop’s battery life, SSDs also deliver faster performance and boot times than their traditional counterparts, and remove the problems associated with fragmentation.
- Battery Backup
Finally, the easiest way to ensure that you always have enough battery power is to bring along an extra; either a spare battery or an external battery pack. For laptops with a removable battery, the simplest option is a second battery. These can either be ordered directly from the manufacturer, or purchased from a third-party company, usually for less than $100. Simply swap the old battery for the new once in a while when charging, and bring along the charged-up spare whenever you expect to be away from a power outlet.