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Welcome to the latest installment of Ask ZDNet, where we answer the questions that make your IT guy reach for the Tums.
In the mailbag this week: A user wants to get through one workday without having to recharge their laptop battery.
How can I improve my Windows laptop's battery life?
I shopped for my new Windows laptop carefully and bought one that all the reviewers said should get 8 hours of battery life. I'm not getting anything close to that. Am I doing something wrong? I'd just like to get through one workday without having to recharge.
As you've discovered, there's really no industry standard to measure battery life. And even if there were, there's no guarantee that the standard measurement would produce a result close to what you see in your everyday work. CPU-intensive tasks like rendering video files or compiling large software projects will drain your battery much faster than basic browsing and simple document editing.
That's why, these days, many laptop manufacturers go out of their way to avoid citing battery life estimates. Instead, they stick with glittering generalities. When I checked HP's website, for example, I found one PC whose listing promised "Long-lasting battery life and HP Fast Charge technology [that] lets you work, watch, and stay connected all day."
That footnote was less than reassuring: "Battery life will vary depending on various factors including product model, configuration, loaded applications, features, use, wireless functionality, and power management settings."
For its line of Surface laptops and tablets, Microsoft publishes numbers based on "typical Surface device usage." That test consists of browsing eight websites along with a "productivity test" using (naturally) Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook.
And, of course, third-party reviewers typically have their own benchmarks, which can be as simple as playing a video on a loop until the battery dies, or as complex as running a scripted series of programs.
But what really matters is understanding how much actual battery life you're getting from each charge. Fortunately, your Windows PC includes a command-line tool that measures usage very accurately. You can use the Powercfg command to generate a battery report and then look at the numbers under the Battery Life Estimates section to get a very detailed picture of your real-world battery life. You'll find full instructions here: "Check the performance of your laptop battery." (Although these instructions are for Windows 10, the utility works the same in Windows 11.)
Next, figure out which programs are most responsible for using your battery. In Windows 10, those details are in Settings > System > Battery, under the Battery Usage Per App heading. In Windows 11, go to Settings > System > Power & Battery, then open the Battery Usage section.
Armed with that knowledge, the question becomes: How do you squeeze more battery life out of that Windows PC?
The simplest change you can make is to reduce your screen brightness when running on battery. The brighter the display, the faster your battery drains. You'll be surprised at the difference that small change can make.
Next, go to Settings > System > Power and Sleep (Windows 10) or Power and Battery (Windows 11) and set your display to turn off when it's not in use. Changing this setting from 5 minutes to 2 or 3 minutes can also make a noticeable difference.
If any of the battery-chomping apps you identified earlier are set to run automatically at start, disable those auto-start settings. You'll find those options in Task Manager, on the Startup tab.
For the most extreme power-saving options, turn on Battery Saver mode, which disables all sorts of background activity and can extend your work session by hours. To turn on Battery Saver in Windows 10, click the battery icon in the notification area and then click the Battery Saver option. In Windows 11, click the battery icon, then click the remaining battery indicator to open Power & Battery settings, and then click the Turn On Now button in the Battery Saver section.
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