Who doesn’t have a love/hate relationship with their laptop battery? It lets us be mobile, but it also chains us to that little battery life gauge and the dreaded decay of performance as time goes on. But with the right practices, you can move the relationship more firmly toward the “love” side: Here’s how.
Save cycles, save your battery
All laptop batteries are built to handle a certain number of usage cycles, usually somewhere around 500, and often more. Each cycle of use decreases the battery’s capacity, so the less you drain it, the longer it’ll last — all other things being equal.
So where do you start? Begin by visiting the Power Settings corner of your laptop. Many computers offer the ability to switch to an “eco mode” that automatically adjust the way power is used (such as dimming your screen brightness) to conserve battery energy.
Also pay attention to hibernation modes. Ideally, you want your laptop to enter into hibernation before the battery is totally drained – as well as during downtime when you won’t be use the laptop for a while.
To save even more power, take a tour of your apps and quit any background apps that are steadily eating into your battery energy. In Windows computers you can look at your System Tray, your Task Manager, and your Processes tab to see which of those little icons really isn’t necessary. In OS X you can see what’s running both in the taskbar to the upper right and the pop-up menu – cloud storage services or video players that you aren’t using can be safely shut down. Both Microsoft and Apple have guides explaining the process further.
Keeping your battery in zone
In ancient, less enlightened times, there was a problem called “battery memory” which caused batteries to “forget” their full charge capacity and start charging at lower and lower levels. This problem doesn’t exist anymore thanks to modern lithium-ion batteries, but it has led to a lot of poor advice and arguments about battery care based in information many years outdated. It’s time to clear the air.
You don’t need to totally discharge a battery and let it die to somehow reboot it – this is a dangerous practice that’s very hard on your battery. It is a smart idea, however, to do a healthier battery discharge a couple times a year. Let your battery energy grow low (without bottoming it — aim for around 5 percent) and then fully recharge it, all in one go. This maintenance helps calibrate the battery gauge.
While you can leave your battery plugged in for as long as you want (heating issues aside), there is a sweet spot for battery life that you can use to get the most cycles. You see, letting a battery charge to 100 percent all the time does tend to wear the battery out more quickly, while letting it fall too lower in the other direction too often can also be bad news – sort of like forcing yourself to run until your knees hurt. The happy middle ground is, according to Battery University funder and Cadex Electronics CEO Isidor Buchmann, is somewhere between 40 percent and 80 percent battery life.
So the best thing you can do for your battery is charge when it reaches 40 percent, and unplug it when it goes past 80 percent. Obviously this means applying a little OCD to when you plug and unplug your charger, but your battery will thank you in the long term by lasting longer.
Environmental concerns: all about temperature
Today’s lithium-ion batteries are durable little guys, but they can only take so much heat. Anything above 95 degrees Fahrenheit can damage your laptop battery permanently.
This leads to some common sense suggestions. For example, if you are charging up your battery and it starts to get seriously hot, pop the battery out and give it a break so it can cool down or you can move to someplace with a lower temperature. Likewise, keep the laptop off your actual lap. If testicular damage and discomfort weren’t good enough reasons, you’re also making the problem worse and often block vents.
Cold temperatures usually aren’t a problem, and storing a battery in a cool place is recommended, but don’t leave your laptop in freezing temperatures, ever. Too much cold can kill the battery permanently.
If you want to watch temperature even more closely (say, you live in a particularly hot climate), there are a number of apps you can run that will monitor laptop heat. This includes CoreTemp and Real Temp, which you can download for free.
Giving your laptop some TLC
Most people just let their laptop battery sit, snug inside the laptop, doing its job. But it’s a good idea to take your battery out from time to time and show it a little love. Every few months, detach your battery and give it a careful wipe with a soft cloth – get rid of any dust, and make sure the contact points are especially clean.
Note that this only replies to models with removable batteries. The newer MacBooks in particular have infamously trapped batteries. But if your battery can’t be easily removed, you don’t need to worry about it getting dirty.
Things to avoid
Want the best battery? Here’s a quick list of bad practices.
- Full discharges: As mentioned, when a laptop battery discharges fully – forcing a shutdown – the battery struggles to return to its full charge. If it happens frequently, the battered battery will eventually give up the ghost. Even when running a discharge cycle, don’t let the battery drop to zero percent. Instead, use hibernation modes that trigger around five percent battery life.
- Reliance on hibernation modes: This is a similar point to the first. If you are constantly forcing your laptop to hibernate in order to save the battery, you aren’t keeping your battery at the ideal percentages. Rethink your laptop habits.
- Long periods of inactivity: If you have to leave your battery unused for long periods of time, then make sure it has around a half charge. A depleted battery can die forever if not recharged soon enough. But generally, batteries need a fitness regimen to stay in peak condition. If possible, keep using and properly charging your battery as long as you have it.
- Hot summer days: Obviously you can’t always avoid hot summers, but you know what this means: Keep your laptop cool. Store it indoors, avoid direct sunlight, and keep it out of hot cars during warm days.
Software and your battery
Finally, a note about your software: Update it. Companies, notably Apple, work on improving the way that programs use power via software patches. The same operating system on a later patch could well use less battery energy, giving you more battery life without changing anything. So review your OS and keep your battery on a healthy diet of updates.