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Practical Computer Advice
from Martin Kadansky
Volume 15 Issue 7
July 2021
Simple Ways to Improve the Battery Life of Your Computer and Mobile Devices
The problem
When your computer or mobile device is new, its battery usually works very well. After years of use (sometimes after only a few months), its performance will start to decline.
There are some simple things that you can do to help your battery last longer and avoid shortening its lifespan, but bear in mind that battery technology is actually quite complicated.
The symptoms of an aging battery
When running your Windows or Macintosh laptop or iPhone/iPad/Android on battery power, symptoms like these can indicate that your battery is starting to wear out:
  • You need to charge it more often because it doesn’t hold a charge for as long as it used to.
  • It takes much longer to charge than before.
  • The battery won’t charge at all.
  • You see messages telling you to service or replace the battery.
  • Your device is overheating or hot to the touch, especially around the battery compartment.
  • Your device suddenly shuts down with no warning.
  • The battery expands in size, creating a bulge in the underside of your laptop, or a swollen area behind the screen of your smartphone. In this case, contact the manufacturer or a repair technician immediately.
Battery basics
There are a number of things about batteries that no one may ever have told you, including:
  • Batteries are primarily chemical, not digital.
  • That mix of chemicals inside your battery naturally degrades over time.
  • How soon that happens depends on a number of things, some of which you can control.
  • The performance of an aging battery probably won’t be linear. Even though the current charge is displayed as a percentage and a simple time estimate (e.g., “100% / 3 hours”), when you unplug the power cable, an older battery’s charge is likely to fall off much faster than those numbers predict, e.g., it may drop to 20% in only 40 minutes.
For a laptop: Improving your battery’s lifespan
In my experience there are two types of laptop users:
If you unplug your laptop power cable and run on battery power pretty often (once a month or more), then you are already doing a very good job of “exercising” your battery.
However, if your habit is to keep your laptop power cable plugged in all the time, then you should make an effort at least once a month to unplug the power cable and let it run on battery power. When the charge gets down to 10-20%, plug it back in. Doing this one simple thing every month will probably extend the lifespan of your laptop battery significantly.
In other words, if you don’t exercise your battery, it will atrophy, i.e., you will shorten its life from lack of use.
For a laptop: Improving how long your battery’s charge lasts
When running your laptop on battery power, there are a number of things that you can do to decrease its power consumption and increase the time it will run on a given charge, including:
  • Turn down the screen brightness as appropriate.
  • Turn down the speaker volume.
  • Eject and unplug any unused external hard drives, flash drives, and camera cards.
  • Eject any unused CDs or DVDs.
  • Unplug any other unused peripherals, e.g., mouse, keyboard, printer, monitor, etc.
  • Turn off Bluetooth if you’re not using it.
  • Close or Quit any programs you’re not using.
  • Avoid playing video or audio content.
  • Close any websites you’re not using.
  • Avoid visiting complex websites like social media, news outlets, etc.
  • Try to avoid using (or storing) your device in extremely hot (or freezing) temperatures.
  • Update your operating system as appropriate, postpone major upgrades.
  • Turn off Wifi if you’re not using it.
When you later plug your laptop’s power cable back in, don’t forget to turn any appropriate items back on again, especially your Wifi.
For a mobile device: Improving your battery’s lifespan
This is a complicated and hotly-debated topic, including whether to fully charge your smartphone or tablet or not, what settings to adjust, and more. I can only suggest checking with the manufacturer and doing your own research based on your particular device and your needs.
For a mobile device: Improving how long your battery’s charge lasts
In addition to many of the items listed above under “For a laptop,” on a smartphone or tablet there are additional things that you can do to save energy when running on battery power, including:
  • Turn off Wifi if you’ll only be using cell data for the next few hours.
  • Turn off cell data if you’ll only be using Wifi.
  • Turn off unnecessary features and services as appropriate, including dynamic or video backgrounds.
These are just a few of the many things you can try. Doing this correctly is complicated, and depends on your particular device and your needs.
For a desktop computer
Desktop computers (including Apple iMacs) don’t have built-in system-level batteries, so most of these issues don’t apply, unless you’re using an (external) uninterruptible power supply (UPS).
However, they do have a small, coin-sized internal battery that (along with some circuitry) keeps track of the current date and time, plus a few other settings. It takes about 8-10 years for that battery to wear out, after which the computer’s date and time will be quite wrong, which can actually cause other problems, including issues with security certificates that can prevent you from signing into many websites.
How many years does a battery last?
I have seen batteries that have lasted anywhere from 2 to 9 years, but the most frequent lifespan I’ve observed has been 3 to 5 years.
By contrast, batteries are usually included in device warranties, which typically run 1 to 3 years.
Can laptop and mobile device batteries be replaced?
Replacing a laptop battery depends on the type of device and its age:
  • Windows laptops and older Macintosh laptops: Usually pretty straightforward
  • Mobile devices and newer Macintosh laptops: More complicated, I recommend talking to the manufacturer or an independent professional technician; for example, Apple has a battery replacement service
Where to go from here
Try these searches, replacing “XYZ” with more specific keywords for your device, e.g., Macintosh, iPhone, iPad, Android, Dell, Lenovo, etc.
How to contact me:
phone: (617) 484-6657

On a regular basis I write about real issues faced by typical computer users. To subscribe to this newsletter, please send an email to martin@kadansky.com and I'll add you to the list, or visit http://www.kadansky.com/newsletter

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I love helping people learn how to use their computers better! Like a "computer driving instructor," I work 1-on-1 with small business owners and individuals to help them find a more productive and successful relationship with their computers and other high-tech gadgets.

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