Laptops: Performance or battery life?

Laptops: Performance or battery life?

Summary: Many have switched from desktops to laptops, resulting in lots of models for buyers to choose from. All things considered, the decision often comes down to laptop performance or long battery life.

TOPICS: Laptops, Mobility
Image credit: James Kendrick/ ZDNet

It's a good time to be a mobile enthusiast, with lots of laptops of all different sizes to get buyers to open their wallets. There are laptops of all kinds, from thin Ultrabooks to large desktop replacement models to fit most anyone's needs. All features and options aside, often the choice of laptop comes down to either high performance or long battery life.

Popular laptops almost all have Intel inside, from the battery-friendly Atom and Celeron processors to the high performance Core i7. Power-stingy processors run a long time away from the power outlet but the speedy Core processors typically only last a few hours. Price and other features aside, laptop shoppers have to decide if good battery life is important or if good performance is a bigger requirement.

Intel's new Haswell family of processors is a good attempt at straddling the battery/performance fence, as I found in the new MacBook Air. The Air provides good performance for over 9 hours, but Apple backed the Haswell up with fast memory and very speedy flash memory which rounds out the package. Haswell processors alone may not yield the fast performance that some buyers may want.

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ZDNet readers by and large know a lot about the hardware used in today's laptops. That makes it very apropos to quiz this audience about the performance/battery question. 

So what is important to you, battery life or fast performance? How long should a good laptop run away from an outlet to meet your needs? Or, are you one who rarely unplugs your laptop during the day? Speak up in the TalkBack and let us know which attribute will get your money. Also share why your choice is important so a fruitful discussion will result. Your reasons for long battery life or performance may help those on the fence.

Since the hardware inside laptops is pretty much the same no matter what OS it runs, let's keep the platform choice from dominating the discussion. Keep on focus about the hardware choice which affects the run time and performance and everyone will get the most out of it.

Topics: Laptops, Mobility

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  • I have both

    At work, performance is what matters and I spend the day at my desk by a power outlet, so I have a huge 17" Core i7 dual HDD laptop that barely makes two hours on battery but is top performance.

    On the other hand, I've got a small 11" laptop with an AMD E450 APU for long battery life, about 8 hours. I also have a Vivotab RT for the last two months that gives me around 16 hours if battery when used with its keyboard dock.

    So I've got both performance and battery life covered with my devices.
    • Best of both worlds

      I have only one laptop.
      I7 and all that.
      I use it mostly docked, set on max performance.
      And I set up a fairly conservative "battery" profile; my mobile use is seldom longer than 2 hours, so it works out for me.
  • Depends on the device purpose

    I need both too. Have a 15" Samsung (something or another) for the home office, nearly always plugged in and provides good performance. Also gives 7 hours battery on general use, but still quite bulky and was not bought for everyday portability.

    Then have tablets, chromebook and smartphone for portability and good battery, with the acceptance that the performance will drop as a result.

    I do think we are very close though to being able to get both options in 1 device, and with the new forms being available, could be moving to device consolidation, rather than the current trend of device proliferation.
  • I3

    ... make the power saving options more obvious to the user... most laptops come shipped with a default power profile that won't be able to maximize power usage... i'm driving 5h+ of browsing and downloading on an i3 3110m 8gb ram hd500gb and a nvidia 620+optimus...(ok.. 5h+ under linux. it's about 4h30m on w8.1)
  • Battery Life

    It's battery life all the way for me. I've got a Surface RT and love the all-day battery life of the Tegra 3 processor. For me this would be the perfect computing platform if Microsoft would just open up the desktop to developers. Based on the work that's already been done porting open source apps to the jailbroken RT environment, I'll bet you'd see a flood of open source projects come to RT if Microsoft just went all the way and allowed for the installation of unsigned apps (even if just as an option you had to check, in much the same way you must check the "install from other sources" box in Android).

    Part of the reason for this is that most of the "real work" I do on my Surface RT involves connecting to my workstation at work, so at that point it doesn't really matter how much processing power my device has internally.

    Sadly, I've heard no hints that Microsoft intends to set RT free, and consumer uptake has been pretty poor. There's a good chance that my next hybrid will be a Haswell powered Surface Pro (whenever those come out). At least that way I'll be able to install all the desktop apps I might want.
  • Performance for serious work

    Its Performance for me for any serious work. Battery life would be good if the task is just light work. But for me, the decision is easy, performance comes first.
    • Out of interest

      What is real work to you?

      You mention it a lot, but never elaborate as to what that is.

      We all just assumed that power was not a requirement for mindlessly posting on cNet about how good MS is.
  • What would be really cool

    is if Intel would come out with a processor that can, if not do both at the same time, allow the user to choose a power profile that either gives i7 performance at one extreme or Atom battery life at the other. It seems that a lot of people need both, myself included. I have an Atom based Windows 8 tablet that I use on the go and I have a 17" i7 based laptop with Linux Mint KDE at home which never leaves the house (and for that matter rarely leaves my bedroom now that I have the tablet). Now if that tablet could perform like the i7 when docked, I would just get an HDMI monitor for my bedroom and use the tablet all the time.
    Michael Kelly
  • A person chooses the best product among the choices given

    For example, if the choice was between an Atom powered Windows 8 hybrid and a Intel Core i5 or i7 powered Win 8 hybrid, than I would choose the performance of the core i5 or i7 machines over the long battery life of the atom powered machines.

    However, if two devices have comparable performance envelopes than I would choose the device with the greater battery life.

    For example, I would choose the new Haswell powered MBA (and run a virtual Win 8 environment inside that would have much better performance attributes than an atom powered machine running a native Win 8 install) over any other core i5 or i7 device currently available.
  • I have an HP i7 notebook...

    ...and with the optional large battery pack, I can get around ten hours of intermittent use from it.
  • Both

    Ideally it would be both, i.e. making a compromise for the best performance with the longest life. However there are usually other factors involved like the OS or other spec's/quality that factor in just as much.
    Serious work gets done on a PC with multiple displays.
  • both & sadly I have devices to cover the spectrum

    If I could carry just my 14" i5 based notebook, I would do so. At my desk, it functions much like a tower PC with dual external monitors and all the rest of the trappings, via CAT5, USB and eSATA. When it travels with me, I can use it for 3-4 hours on battery, which is okay for most airport layovers. I plug in whenever I can.

    For personal travel, I take the 11" netbook with its SSD. It is nearly instant on and good for checking email or other PDA type functions and web browsing. It can often get about 6 hours on a charge. If I could get the same performance from my 14" without paying more than what I paid for the notebook and netbook combined, nor weighing more than my current 14" - I'd go for it.
    Jim Johnson
  • Power user here.

    Power user here - including gamer. Honestly, I'm not on the go that much, and electrical outlets are easy to find, so I don't care much for battery life.
  • I landed in the middle with my current laptop...

    3Rd gen i5, dual core with hyperthreading. If I need to be on the run for a while i turn off the hyperthreading and enable CPU power saving mode in bios and I get ~6 hours. Enable hyperthreading and disable power savings and it hours to around 4, maybe a little less.

    My next laptop will almost definitely be more power-hungry, and I would like to get a net book style one for the trade off.
  • Battery life wins for me

    I use my laptop mostly as a ssh and rdp client, never running it at all in my office, so performance requirements are very low, and maximum battery life and good display quality are very important. Its due for replacement in December, and I'm seriously considering an android or windows 8x RT tablet/hybrid to replace it.
  • Had it five years ago

    HP dv4t running a T9900 and a 12-cell battery. Gave me a solid 5 hours of run time which was amazing considering the heat the thing was producing. It was the fastest C2D of it's time and nothing could touch it. It was also the only 14" notebook with dual hard drives.

    I guess the modern equivalent would be a 15.6" 4700QM with 1080P, RAID SSD and a 9-cell battery. Eurocom's X3 comes to mind.
  • Easy

  • Battery Life not that important; Neither is CPU performance

    I stopped buying desktops almost a decade ago. That said my laptops spend most of their time plugged in. My usage profile is kinda middle of the road so screamer performance (of the kind engineers, scientists, or gamers need) is not for me.

    I do occasionally take laptops off the tether, but not for more than an hour or two. My current favorite machine is the Surface Pro (I have two). I will almost certainly get a Haswell Surface Pro when they become available later this year.

    Two other machines currently catching my wandering eye: the Dell XPS 18 (18" tablet/AIO), and the Samsung Ativ Book 9 Plus. For the Dell I await the Haswell version; for the Samsung I await the price (:grin).

    So while raw CPU power is not important, eye-candy displays, and large fast SSD's are. If I do get the XPS 18 or the Book 9 Plus, they will both probably stayed plugged in most of the time.
  • Battery Life not that important

    I use laptop at home only, its a IBM Thinkpad. For the first 3yrs i got 2 hrs backup. After which the battery failed.

    Though Battery Failed, I get a backup upto 10min max @ 100% full. Enough to save my work, when the power goes off.

    The battery charges 100% only when it becomes empty completely.