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Thread: Laptop Tweaks

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Mar 2005
    Portland, OR

    Laptop Tweaks


    Laptops are very common now, as they're much more affordable than they have been in the past. Well equipped 'books from companies like Dell start in the $700 to $1000 range if you shop around and look for discounts. But no matter what you pay for a notebook, you'll likely have the same complaints as most other notebook owners. Your notebook drains its battery like you never thought possible and you can't figure out why it's so sluggish compared to a similarly-equipped PC. Don't worry, young grasshopper, there is hope yet. After following a few steps, your notebook will be faster, more useful, last longer, and do so much more than you imagined it could.

    Make That Battery Last Longer

    A laptop's internal battery has a huge list of tasks to handle. It's operating a full-on PC (albeit on a much smaller scale), including a high-resolution LCD screen. One battery manages to operate the system, hard drive(s), accessories, cooling, sound, screen and external devices for two or more hours.

    Technology is on our side, so why can't our batteries last at least have an extra 30 or so minutes? They can! We just need to tweak a few things...

    First, when using battery power, set the brightness as low as you can tolerate. You may need to adjust the screen's angle slightly for a clear picture. Most notebooks have either a brightness adjustment on the case itself or via a shortcut key on the keyboard (on my Inspiron 5100 it's "Fn" and the up arrow). Set the brightness higher when you're plugged in if your notebook doesn't set it higher automatically. Modern notebooks should automatically change to a different power profile when plugged in.

    Next, get used to using the touchpad or the other included pointing device. Don't rely on a mouse when you're using batteries unless you absolutely have to use one. An external mouse, especially an optical mouse, will use considerable extra power. On a related note, don't leave any devices plugged in that you do not require. For example, if you're not using a wireless network connection, don't leave your 802.11b PCMCIA card plugged in. Why waste the power if you don't need it? Now that the easy steps are out of the way, let's move on to something a little less obvious.

    Power Schemes and Other Helpful Programs

    With Windows XP, you can create multiple "Power schemes" (right click the battery icon in the system tray when unplugged) or edit current schemes in order to obtain the best battery life. The obvious benefit to this is that you can have a scheme for maximum battery life, one for watching DVDs unplugged, one for gaming, etc. My settings for "Max Battery" are: Turn off monitor after 1 minute, hard disks after 3 minutes, standby after 10 minutes, and hibernate after 20 minutes. These settings might sound excessive, but my notebook lasts about three and a half hours like this, where most reviews only saw around two and a half to three with the same unit.
    Note that on Standby, a notebook will use very little power and probably last several times longer than normal mode. Hibernate basically lasts forever though, as it will write a footprint of the current memory, programs, etc. to the hard drive then shut the notebook down entirely. This is ideal if you're not in a huge hurry and you're planning to go without using the notebook for 20+ minutes at a time.

    More Power Saving Techniques

    Most notebooks with mobile CPUs will include a program to adjust the clock speed of the CPU to save power while you're on the go. Take advantage of such utilities and be sure to drop the speed way down when you don't need it -- you don't need 2 GHz to play Spider Solitaire or write a Word Document. Notebooks that use desktop equivalent CPUs (such as the Pentium 4 CPUs found in the Dell Inspiron 5100) cannot scale the CPU speed but generally include a larger battery to compensate for this.

    You should avoid using intensive programs and devices when your notebook is unplugged, especially drives. Both hard disk and optical drives will cause your notebook to waste a ton of power. Don't burn CDs, watch DVDs, and run 3D games or other memory intensive applications unless you really require them or you have a place to plug-in. Along the same lines, it might be a good idea to disable any extra programs you don't need to free up memory, as this can reduce disk access.

    More Tweaks for Performance

    In relation to that last sentence regarding disabling programs not required, it is highly recommended that you remove extra OEM programs that might have been installed when the notebook was built. I know my Dell came loaded with junk that I had no use for - audio programs, help guides, AOL, and so on. It is usually fairly obvious which of these programs can be removed, and hence most can be removed from the "Add/Remove Programs" applet in the Control Panel.

    One major performance advantage often overlooked by notebook owners is that they generally run faster and cooler when plugged in. When a notebook is plugged in, it usually defaults to the maximum power profile which offers the highest brightness and CPU speed, among other perks. Whenever you're doing some serious work on your notebook, try to plug it in. Even if the battery is fully charged, most notebooks run faster like this.


    Like any other PC, notebooks will generally run most efficiently with the newest system software and drivers installed. Check Windows Update frequently (from Internet Explorer, click Tools at the top, then Windows Update). Also, install the latest video drivers from the video chip manufacturer's web site. To find out which video adapter your notebook uses, simply right click "My Computer" and choose Properties. Then check the Hardware tab, and click "Device Manager". The adapter name is listed under "Display adapters". Drivers play a major role in system stability and one should check for new versions (at least through Windows Update) bi-monthly or more frequently.

    Upgrading Memory

    Since notebooks are notorious for slow hard drives, system memory is that much more important. Upgrading the RAM on a notebook generally results in a major performance increase. More memory will help those horribly slow load times, keep programs smoother, and might even increase battery life, as the notebook will require less disk swapping.
    With Windows XP or even 2000, I recommend at least 256 MB on a notebook, but 384+ is suggested. The difference is more than noticeable, especially if you are used to a powerful PC at home. If you're stuck with 128 MB or less, memory should be the first step in tweaking your notebook.

    Cleaning Your Laptop

    A greasy LCD screen, touchpad, or notebook keyboard can be a nuisance. Grease on a screen can create smudges that make an otherwise sharp image quite blurry, while a gunked up touchpad can effect its performance. Buy an anti-static cleaner (such as "StatClean") so you can be sure not to damage any components during cleaning. While these steps are obvious to most users, I just want to be sure nobody's going to ruin a $1000+ notebook because they used Windex or something on the screen.

    LCD cleaning: Cleaning the screen involves the same process as any other LCD. I recommend leaving the notebook off while cleaning. I highly recommend picking up some "Notebook LCD Cleaner" cloths at your local office supply store. Office Depot charges about $5 for these, and they can actually be used for the keyboard and touchpad as well. These wipes are anti-static, and don't contain alcohol or ammonia.

    If you're on a budget, I use the anti-static cleaner with tissues (soft!) for the screen, but even a very soft cotton lint-free cloth will do fine. Don't use water, window cleaners (like Windex), or alcohol on an LCD. Never spray a cleaner directly on the screen: always spray it on the cloth lightly instead before application.

    Touchpad & Keyboard: Fortunately, the keyboard and touchpad are not as sensitive as the screen. First, I recommend using compressed air to blow out under the keyboard and around the touchpad. Once you've removed this excess dust and debris, use the same anti-static cleaner. Again, spray it on the cloth instead of the notebook itself and wipe the touchpad and keyboard gently until they are clean.

    Case: To clean the outer case, use the same method as cleaning the keyboard and touchpad. Do not use alcohol, Windex, 409, etc. These household cleaners are often abbrasive and can damage the notebook, especially if they seep into crevices or devices.

    Innards: To clean the inside of the case, including the speaker grilles and fan exhaust ports, you should also use compressed air. I recommend blowing out every open port and grille that you can find. Then finally wipe the outer part of the grilles off with the cleaner and towel.

    Burning Crotches and Why They're Bad

    Burning crotches aren't funny. Well, maybe on Looney Tunes, but not in real life. Nothing's worse than getting up after a long notebook session to find an extremely uncomfortable feeling on your lap and upper legs.

    So, what can you do? Well, ideally, we could just eliminate the heat. But most notebooks have a tendency to become a lot hotter while unplugged from their power source because they don't run the fans as often. And even if they are running the fans, the underside seems to be the hottest side. Great...

    There are a few options. The cheapest and easiest is what I usually pursue, and I'm sure everyone's thought of this before... cover yourself up! I usually put a small pillow or thick shirt, towel, or something between myself and the notebook. This prevents those surface burns you can get while wearing shorts and makes things a lot more comfortable. In a pinch I've even used a piece of cardboard (hey this worked pretty well, actually!).

    The other option is a bit more costly, and I have no idea of its effectiveness (though they would appear to work pretty well). A quick search on eBay finds many cooling pads available for notebooks. These are USB powered, and I don't know how bad they drain the batteries. They are somewhat slim, lightweight, and affordable ($10-$20). If anyone has any feedback on these devices, let us know. I would like to know how well they work before I recommend them. They are also available in stores like CompUSA and Office Depot, but they are a bit more expensive.
    Dell C610 PIII 1Ghz
    Docking station
    DLink Radio
    Codi DC/DC adaptor

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2008

    How to extend Laptop's Battery Life

    Most laptop batteries lasts nearly 2 hours when new, and this estimation keeps on failing as the time passes. The older your battery becomes, the shorter is its span.

    However, if you want to extend your battery life, so that it lasts for some longer time then fully discharge and recharge it several times in a row. That means whenever you have fully charged battery then use it completely and don't charge it until and unless it gets discharged completely. It may cause most of the users a little pain but I can assure you it works. Once it has been discharged, recharge it. Follow the same steps every time and you would be noticing that your laptop batteries lasts longer than before.

    Also you can buy a second battery to change or a large 3rd party laptop battery to massively increase your battery life.

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