Class Action Suit Seeks Truth about Laptop Battery Life

Does laptop battery life (or the lack thereof) tick you off? You're hardly alone. Last month a Silicon Valley law firm filed a class-action suit against Intel, claiming that the tests it uses to support claims of battery life have almost no connection to how people actually use their computers.

But I have a personal beef with this one. So (because this is my blog and I can) I'll talk about my own experiences first, and then get into more about the suit.

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A couple of years ago I got a Gateway laptop with, yes, Vista installed (because you can't do a decent job complaining about something unless you experience the suffering firsthand). It came with a "4-hour" battery that never lasted more than 2 hours and is now down to about 55 minutes on a good day with a tail wind. And yes, I have fully drained it several times -- it made no difference. Battery technology sucks.

I dropped $130 more on a spare "6-hour" battery, so I could work all the way from New York to Los Angeles, minus meals. I get about 2.5 hours out of that one. Have I mentioned that battery technology sucks?

Of course, this being Vista, I have options -- three of them, to be exact. To get a little more juice out of my battery, I can choose "Power saving" mode, where the screen goes so dim I feel like I've got cataracts and the processor churns so slowly that by the time the little hourglass/cursor stops spinning I've forgotten what it is I wanted to do in the first place. Then there's the damn-the-batteries-full-speed-ahead "High performance" mode, which with Vista means something comparable to the Windows 98 machine I owned a decade ago. And then there's "Balanced," which offers the worst of both worlds.

So the next time you're in an airport bar and you see some rumpled guy in a fedora scouring the baseboards looking for an AC outlet, that will probably be me. Buy me a beer and I might let you share my extension cord.

Because, as I think I may have already said, battery technology sucks, PC makers have been looking for other ways to squeeze out a smidge more life, largely by reducing CPU power consumption.

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