Necessary battery life for laptops: 8 hours

Necessary battery life for laptops: 8 hours

Summary: Notebook computers have evolved from behemoths getting ridiculously short battery life to thin, light models that can go all day away from a power outlet. All day battery life should be the target for all laptops.

TOPICS: Mobility, Laptops
Laptop empty
(Image: James Kendrick/ZDNet)

Chances are you can remember laptops with giant power bricks that could only last a couple of hours unplugged. It's easy to forget that wasn't that long ago given today's skinny notebooks that can last hours on a charge. Even though things have vastly improved in regards to battery life, many OEMs are choosing to skimp in this area to keep costs down. Let's face it, a computer designed to run on batteries should be able to do so all day.

Mobile is currently the hottest gadget category, and that should include laptops. They are portable by design, and are often used away from a desktop and thus nowhere near a power outlet. Notebooks should be able to go all day on battery power, and that means at least 8 hours.

See related: Hands on with the ThinkPad X240: Two batteries are better than one

There are prospective buyers, both consumers and enterprises, who are comparing tablets with 10+ hours battery life with these notebooks that only get around five hours.

There are notebooks that can do that, but far too many cannot. Read a few reviews of name brand laptops and you'll often find the complaint that they only last four or five hours on a charge. That's too short for a brand new laptop, as after a year of typical use that battery life will get even shorter. This means these portable computers aren't very mobile by design, and that's usually to keep manufacturing costs down.

The laptop segment is being pushed hard by tablet sales, and this makes it even more important for notebook battery life to improve. There are prospective buyers, both consumers and enterprises, who are comparing tablets with 10+ hours battery life with these notebooks that only get around five hours. That doesn't compare favorably under any circumstances.

There's only one reason why laptops don't get better battery life, and that's the size of the battery used. Sure OEMs want to keep notebooks as small and light as possible, but doing so by cutting battery life short is not a good compromise. 

Not everyone needs to go 8 hours on a charge every day, but it makes sense to have that option if needed. To spend time frantically looking for a power outlet to keep from shutting down is silly in this day and age. The laptop should be able to handle an entire work day when pressed.

Some companies issue laptops to workers that never leave the office, and the argument can be made that these notebooks don't need good battery life. While technically true, if organizations discourage or prohibit workers from taking the system out of the office, they shouldn't be issuing laptops in the first place. Desktop systems are cheaper and can be upgraded to extend the working life, so those make more sense in that type of environment than laptops.

Consumers or enterprises that have mobile workers, especially those travelling on business, definitely need all day battery life. That means at least 8 hours in this writer's view, and not an hour less. Like it or not, laptop makers are going up against long-running tablets, and they'd better compare more favorably than they are now.

See related: 

Topics: Mobility, Laptops

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  • All day

    I agree with the all day battery life, however I don't think 8 hours is even close to all day. Many people who use mobile laptops for work occasionally have 12 hour workdays. Currently that means they need to carry the laptop and the charger all day.
  • Agreed

    I agree. The 7 1/2 hours that the Surface Pro 2 gets (according to reviews) is the one big knock against it. I'm still very tempted and may very well pick one up, but when the Dell Venue Pro 11 with keyboard dock gets 17 hours... well, that's a mighty tempting alternative.
    • 12 Hours

      I agree with the need for 12 hours. If your machine starts out with a capacity of 12 hours, hopefully in 2 years you will still have 10 hours capacity. And if you include lunch time in the work hour you will need a minimum of 9 hours, at least that's how it works for me.
    • Surface Pro 2

      My Surface Pro 2 never even gets 6 hours with normal workload, no special programs, power saver, and processor throttled to operate at 80% max.
  • I remember some years back

    "That means at least 4 hours, and not an hour less" in reference to portable computers (Laptops, netbooks, ect) and that seemed quite acceptable, a standard at which it was useful.

    Now it's up to 8 - what changed workload wise?
    • 2 hour vs 4 vs 8 vs 16

      2 hours allows to use the laptop on a train while commuting.
      4 hours allows short trips.
      8 hours is long enough for workdays although there have to be some hours where the laptop is off, and the laptop can't be used during commute.
      16 hours is charge overnight, use during the day.
      32 hours allows a sleepover without worrying about a charger.

      Once people are used to one level, they see how close the next level is and want it too.
      • Laptops should be designed for 95% of use cases

        The one you mention is probably not nearly as common. I suspect most people have a use case similar to mine:
        1. Check work email on phone in the morning
        2. Drive to work
        3. Put laptop in docking station
        4. Take laptop to conference room for 1-2 hour meeting
        5. Put laptop in docking station
        6. Drive home
        7. Continue working for maybe 1-2 additional hours
        8. Repeat

        1. Work from home all day, set laptop on desk and plug in to get best performance

        1. Travel to customer site, use phone or tablet in transit
        2. 1-2 hour meeting
        3. Go to hotel/workplace/home and plug in

        1. Travel to customer site, use phone or tablet in transit
        2. Day-long meeting/workshop/etc and plug in laptop
        3. Go to hotel/workplace/home and plug in

        I would like to hear a use case that REQUIRES 8-12 hours of battery life that would require laptop makers to undergo expensive and time-consuming redesigns of their products. Sure, Apple gets long batter life. Apple is a premium manufacturer.
        • Required?

          I wouldn't say my usage requires 8+ on battery life, but it is incredibly helpful and fits my workflow. I frequently work outside on my porch for many hours with a lunchtime recharge break, and even inside outlets aren't always in easy reach. I also live in a heavily forested rural area with frequent thunderstorms. Power loss is common with an average downtime of about six hours, but sometimes up to 24.

          So, no, it's not required, but when it comes to me spending a lot of money, I'm going to prefer a machine with substantial battery life.
          • in your case, cheaper yet

            is an UPS dedicated for the laptop.
            for $100-$200 you'll get extra 24 hour easily on top of what the device already has.
            LlNUX Geek
        • 8-hour battery life

          When I'm at a conference all day, I frequently don't have access to power--so I need all-day battery life to keep my laptop going. My users travel a great deal and they want all-day battery life so that they can work in the airport and on the plane, where power may or may not be easily available.

          But these reasons aside, if I were a laptop maker I'd be focusing on better battery life because I'd know that's what my competition was doing.
    • Another thing that has changed

      is the fact that batteries are not removable, at least not on the super thin machines. If you had a 4 hour battery that was removable, you could take two with you if you had to be on the road all day. You can't do that anymore now that batteries are being sealed in.
      Michael Kelly
      • Good point

        Had not considered that.
  • Price...

    for many, price is a bigger concern.
    New Haswell processors will help laptops get better battery life, but currently the costs are more prohibitive than MANY people want to pay (my target price is about $500 - $600 for a decent laptop). Going to be a while for prices of the next Gen. i5 Haswells to get in that range, so for now, I continue to use my older laptop and tablet to do what I need and just recharge as needed (not using it for Business so the 8 hour or longer time is not worth the extra cost ).
    • Cheap Battery life

      Bay Trail.
      • and low performance

        LlNUX Geek
    • $300 haswells

      There are Win 8 machines coming available in that price range, same i3's that you see in the new Chromebooks
  • When I bought an HP 4530s...

    ...I also bought the big 11-cell battery. It weighs more, but its bulge makes the unit easier to carry, and provides some useful tilt.

    I also get 8 to 10 hours out of it, if I close the lid to kill the backlight.

    Don't complain if your skinny machine won't run all day. The point at which a machine's energy use and a battery's ability to supply 10+ hours' worth, will need a few more years to reach for a lightweight computer.
  • What about laptops with solar cells

    Parallel to all processor advances, it's too costly develop a laptop with solar cells?
    • Solar cells are no magic bullet

      You need an intense light source to power it.. the average fluorescent light will not fit the bill unless you can reduce the power consumption to that of a pocket calculator
  • Minimum Specs

    I won't buy another laptop unless it has 1080 screen or better, a great keyboard, and a minimum of 10 hours of battery life.

    Note: I spend most of my time in Word and do some online browsing, and I don't mind cutting off the wifi when I know I'm going to be on battery for a long while. I optimize for battery and don't play games. So I do tend to get better battery than most users.