Extend Laptop Battery Life With Hassle-Free PC

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Three Quick Ways to Improve Laptop Battery Life

Like chocolate and episodes of Mad Men, there's no such thing as too much battery life. Alas, it's the rare notebook battery that'll give you more than a few hours--unless you know some tricks for squeezing extra juice. (And by the way, if you like these tips, be sure to check out "Tips for Laptop Users.")

Remember these three tips the next time you travel:

  1. Disable Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Few airplanes offer Wi-Fi (yet), so turn off your notebook's power-sucking Wi-Fi radio. Same goes for Bluetooth.
  2. Drop the screen brightness. You can afford to keep screen brightness cranked up when your notebook is plugged into an outlet, but not when you're flying coach. Drop the brightness setting a few notches, then get back to work. Chances are you'll hardly notice the difference. Then drop it a few more notches. The lower, the better.
  3. Watch downloads, not DVDs. Notebooks are great for watching movies, but DVD drives consume a considerable amount of power. Leave the DVDs behind and choose digital downloads instead. Stock your hard drive with movies from Amazon or iTunes and you'll be able to watch longer. Don't want to pay for movies you already own? Use a tool like Handbrake to rip your DVDs, creating MPEG-4 files you can store on your hard drive (or put on your iPod).

Give Your Laptop Battery a Longer Lease on Life

Does your laptop spend more time on your desk than your lap? If so, you're probably causing your battery to wear out much sooner than it needs to.

See, it's a sad (and expensive) fact of life: You're lucky to get 18-24 months from a battery before it loses a good chunk of its charge capacity (meaning it no longer powers your laptop for as long as it used to).

And you're accelerating this unfortunate timeframe if you leave your laptop plugged in 24/7, which is common for most folks who work at a desk. Because the battery rarely (if ever) gets a chance to discharge, it loses its capacity to hold a charge.

The simple solution: Pull the battery out of the laptop and leave it out when you're deskbound. Most laptops can run on straight AC power, so there's no need for the battery. And it's easy enough to pop back in when you hit the road (though obviously you'll want to make sure it's charged, so plan ahead a bit).

It's a hassle, sure, but consider the price of a replacement battery: usually $100 or more. What's more, old, discarded batteries wreak havoc on landfills. Sooner or later, they'll leak acid into the ground. So it's in your best interests to keep your battery as long as possible, and to keep it from dying a premature death.

Turn Vista's Sleep Button Into a Power Button

As a recent Windows Vista convert (I just couldn't cling to XP any longer--a subject for another day), I'm mostly liking the OS. But I do have one small grievance: When I click the Start button and then click what looks like a power button, my system doesn't actually shut down. Instead, it goes to sleep.

Hey, Microsoft: I don't want it to go to sleep. I want it to shut down! But that requires an annoying extra step: I have to mouse over to another menu and choose Shut Down from a list of half a dozen options. If I'm in a hurry, it's way too easy to inadvertently click the wrong wrong.

Fortunately, there's a way to reprogram that "sleep" button to become an actual power button. Here's the process in a nutshell:

  1. Open the Control Panel and go to Power Options.
  2. Click Change plan settings for your selected power plan.
  3. Click Change advanced power settings.
  4. Expand Power buttons and lid.
  5. Expand Start menu power button.
  6. Change the setting from Sleep to Shut down.
  7. Click OK.

Wow, could Microsoft have buried that setting any deeper? Thankfully, Windows 7 makes it much easier to reprogram this button's function. Now if we could just get an honest-to-goodness Shut Down button that doesn't require a visit to the Start menu, we'd really be making progress.

Rick Broida writes PC World's Hassle-Free PC blog Sign up to have Rick's newsletter e-mailed to you each week.

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