Extending macbook battery life

I’ve been traveling today to and from London. This should be a four hour journey (two hours each way), but in Virgin Trains’ usual style, the journey back will take at least an extra half hour.

I’ve been using my laptop pretty well constantly during the journey, writing up dissertation marks, doing module reports, and (when there wasn’t enough elbow room to type) watching an episode of Dr Who.
The battery life on a macbook is impressive – and I thought it would be useful to share my findings. Many of these will apply to other laptops, I know that I used to get good battery life out of my iBook until the end of its life, when it was unpredictable to say the least.

The single largest energy drain on a laptop is the screen. In a train carriage with tinted windows, I can run my macbook with the brightness down to the minimum minus just a couple of bars. This is fine for this sort of typing, but clearly watching video would be a non-starter, and would require a brighter screen. And of course, if you’re just using the laptop to listen to music you could turn the screen off altogether.
Thinking audio, don’t underestimate the power drain of music applications such as iTunes. For maximum conservation, put up with the strange looks of your fellow passengers, and use your iPod whilst using your mac.

Turning things off is an obvious, but frequently overlooked feature. In particular, wi-fi seems to use more power when it’s searching for a network than when comfortably connected to one. Bluetooth too is a luxury you can ill afford if hoping to get over five hours batter life from a charge. This includes pen drives and other accessories, copying the files onto your hard disc, ejecting the pen drive and then reconnecting it to transfer data back will use less juice.

Try and avoid the temptation to save files every five minutes. Unless you’re using a disk-intensive application, it’s likely that the hard disc can spin down for substantial lengths of time when in normal use. Of course, some applications (such as Word, NeoOffice and Scrivener) save your work automatically as you go – but turning this functionality off may be a little bit of overkill!

My final piece of advice relates to something which I’m still learning, – that of look before you sit! On many long-distance trains in the UK there are plug in sockets for phones or laptop chargers. Unfortunately for both legs of my journey today I’ve not been so lucky, and also forgot to charge my laptop during my meeting in London.

Still, I’ve got just over an hour left of the journey, and if I drain my battery at the current level I’ve got one hour seventeen minutes of charge left – should be enough as long as I don’t do anything too processor intense!

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