Many modern laptops have enough battery power to last all day, but if you're reading this, clearly your laptop doesn't last long enough for you. And plenty of laptops don’t even have removable batteries, so swapping the empty one out for a fully charged spare isn’t an option. Here are our top tips on how to improve laptop battery life
A lot of the tips are similar to those for improving smartphone battery life, so you can use the same techniques.
How to improve laptop battery life
1. Dim the screen
By far the biggest power drain on most laptops is the screen. Or, to be more specific, the screen’s backlight. This is what enables you to see the colours on an LCD screen, and some older laptops have power-sapping fluorescent backlights. Modern laptops have LED backlights, but even these use a fair amount of juice.
Dimming the screen brightness can add 30 minutes or more to your battery life. Virtually all laptops have keyboard shortcuts to adjust the brightness. Typically, you’ll hold the Fn key and press one of the function keys in the top row, or one of the cursor keys labelled with a sun symbol.
If not, hold the Windows key and press X. This will open up the Mobility Center where you can change the brightness, and this works in all versions of Windows.
2. Change the power settings
By default, your laptop might be set to Windows’ ‘Balanced’ setting rather than Power Saver. In the Control Panel search for Power Options and check which Power Plan is selected. Don't forget that Windows uses different power and performance settings depending on whether it is running on mains or battery power.
You should find a battery saver option, and it's simply a case of selecting it and closing the window. If not, click on 'Show additional plans'. If there's still nothing, you can customise a power plan by clicking Change plan settings next to a profile.
You should set the screen to turn off after a couple of minutes, and set the laptop to sleep if nothing appears to be happening after five or 10 minutes.
If you delve into the advanced power settings, you can tweak things to your liking, setting when the system hibernates and which components should use their maximum power saving profiles (including, on some laptops, the graphics card and Wi-Fi adapter).
In Windows 10, there's a new toggle button to enable battery saver mode. This works like a phone's and limits background activity such as push email.
Either click the battery icon to find it, or click the icon in the bottom right corner of the screen to bring up Action Centre: you'll see the Battery Saver tile near the bottom. It will be greyed out if your laptop charger is connected. To find out which apps are draining the most power, click the battery icon near the clock, then click Power & sleep settings. From the left-hand pane click Battery and then on the Battery usage by app link. You can also make this mode turn on automatically by ticking the box and adjusting the slider.
3. Disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
If you’re not using them, disable Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Both radios can use a fair amount of power, so it makes sense to turn them off when you’re on battery power. Most laptops have a switch or key combination to disable Wi-Fi, but Bluetooth can be trickier.
Some manufacturers provide a utility (often obvious in the Start menu) for enabling or disabling Bluetooth, but if in doubt, you can head to the Device Manager in the Control Panel, scroll through the list of hardware until you find the Bluetooth adaptor, right-click on it and choose Disable. (Double-clicking on it when disabled should enable it again.)
4. Don’t leave your laptop on permanent charge
Lithium-ion batteries are relatively clever in that they can’t be overcharged, but it’s not good for the long-term health of your battery to leave your laptop always plugged in to the mains. Some manufacturers (including Sony and Lenovo) provide a utility which limits the battery from fully charging.
This helps to prevent battery degradation and means you can leave the laptop always connected to the mains. When you want to use your laptop on battery power and get maximum battery life, disable the limiter and allow the laptop to charge to 100 percent.
5. Disconnect remove unnecessary peripherals
Leaving a disc in your DVD drive is a sure way to reduce battery life, as it might spin up whenever you launch a Windows Explorer window or access the Save option in an application.
Any USB accessories you leave connected, such as portable hard disks or USB web cams will also draw power, so disconnect them if they’re not needed.
6. Get a second battery
We mentioned this at the start, but why not invest in a spare battery? They’re available for many laptops, and you might even find that your laptop can accept a higher-capacity than was supplied originally.
Other laptops allow you to remove the CD or DVD drive and install a second battery in its place.
If your laptop doesn't have a removable battery then consider buying a universal laptop battery that comes with a variety of ‘tips’ to suit just about any laptop. You simply charge it up, choose the appropriate tip and connect it to your laptop’s power socket when the internal battery runs low. The external battery charges the internal battery or, if you remove the internal battery, powers the laptop directly.
7. Buy a new battery
Contrary to popular belief, laptop batteries are consumables – like printer ink. Batteries aren’t designed to last the lifetime of the laptop, and that’s why – if you check the small print on the warranty statement – you’ll probably find that the battery isn’t covered, or is guaranteed for a shorter period than the laptop.
Over time, batteries degrade and after several years of hard use, you’ll probably find the battery only has 50 percent of its original capacity and lasts only half the time.
While some laptops don’t have user-replaceable batteries, most do and you can buy third-party replacements for considerably less than the cost of the equivalent from your laptop manufacturer.
8. Upgrade to an SSD
Mechanical hard disks, which are still common in laptops, require a fair few watts to spin their platters. A solid-state drive, on the other hand, uses less power as it has no moving parts.
Although you won’t see a huge improvement in battery life from this upgrade, it will have the extra benefit of making your laptop an awful lot quicker.
See our guide: How to install an SSD in your laptop
9. Switch to internal graphics
If your laptop has an AMD or Nvidia graphics chip, there’s a good chance it will also have integrated graphics (usually Intel). In theory, it should be set up so the powerful graphics chip is only used when playing games or running demanding applications, but you should check whether this is the case.
As with Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, manufacturers sometimes offer a utility to manually switch between graphics chips. You may have to reboot, but most modern designs allow you to switch on the fly.
We’ve seen such laptops last twice as long on battery power when the integrated graphics chips is used instead of the Nvidia or AMD chip.
10. Manage your memory
If you’re the sort who has 10 or even 20 tabs open in your web browser, you’ll benefit from longer battery life by culling those tabs. The same goes for running lots of applications at the same time.
When you run lots of programs, or have lots of photos open in an editor, you’ll use up all the free system memory. Anything extra has to be ‘paged’ to the hard disk, which as we’ve said, is a mechanical device in many laptops.
This not only slows your computer down but also increases battery life. One quick fix is to install more memory in your laptop, but keeping the bare minimum of programs and tabs open is another way.
Did you know: you can run a battery test and get a detailed report like the one below? The tool is built into Windows 8 and 10 and here's how to use it.