Introduction: Increase Battery Life for Electronics
With more and more of our everyday electronics becoming wireless, that means more and more of them rely on a battery for power. It's simply to plug a phone in, but sometimes you aren't able to for long periods of time and need to make sure it's usable when you need it. Here are some tips on how to get more run-time out of your battery powered electronics.
Step 1: Understand What Uses Power
As with any electronic device, the amount of power a battery powered device uses depends on what it's doing. A boom box doesn't last as long when you have the volume turned up, and a laptop drains more power when you're burning a DVD. There are many things that you can be aware of that tend to be big drains on battery life, I'll list them then explain how their drain can be reduced, the four biggest battery busters are:
- Volume Level
- Active Wireless Communication
- Spinning disc drives
Step 2: Volume Level
Turning up the volume on something means it has to work harder to get the sound level you want. Turning down your volume makes the device use less power in the amplifier. If you still need to hear something then opting with headphones can let you get by with less strain on the battery. Turning off the sound entirely can save you precious power on some devices. I remember turning off the sound on my old GameBoy to get extra play time when a weak set of batteries reared its head. This may not be as useful for devices that are already power hungry like laptops and portable dvd players, but for smaller devices it can be useful.
Step 3: Active Wireless Communication
Many of our most beloved battery powered devices have at least one kind of wireless communication, whether it's WiFi, Bluetooth, or a cellular radio. All of these tend to be a good sized drain on a battery. If you don't need it, turn off your laptop or phone's extra wireless functions. Many Bluetooth-enabled phones have an option to turn off the bluetooth radio, which saves power.
Something else to keep in mind is that with a cell phone, talk time is active, while standby is passive. This means when you're using the phone for a call your phone is actively sending out radio waves strong enough to be picked up by whichever station you're near, which can be a mile or more away. This requires much more power to do than for the phone to simply listen in on where the closest tower is. Keeping calls to a minimum can keep your battery from draining as quickly.
Step 4: Lighting
This is a big one. Lighting of many sorts can eat batteries in a way not suitable for prime-time TV. LCD back-lighting, camera flashes, even higher intensity LEDs can be a decent sized drain on a battery. Here are some things that can be useful in reducing this drain:
Keep your LCD's back-light set low if you can adjust it's brightness. Most LCD screens use cold cathode fluorescent lights, which can make a big light in a small package, but can also make a big dent in battery life. The good thing is that they're adjustable and use substantially less power when they're not run at their full capability. Anyone who's used a laptop on the go likely already knows this trick. Some LCD screens are starting to use LED back-lighting, which uses substantially less power, but dimming the screen still gives some power reduction.
Something else you can do is to avoid using a camera's flash. While in some cases it's impossible to get around or desired, many time you can avoid using a flash by simply turning it off and finding a steady place to set a camera against so your image isn't blurry. This has the added benefit of keeping your photos from getting washed out by the harsh light most flashes give out.
Step 5: Spinning Discs
There is one last thing thing that for portable computers, CD players, and DVD players can make a big difference in battery life: how much they spin their discs. Keeping a disc out of a laptops's drive can make a big difference in battery life, and many portable CD and DVD players can do things like MP3s and DIVX files, which allows the player to read the needed media to memory and let the disc spin down between tracks. Keeping these things in mind while using such devices can let you get more life from their batteries.
Hard drives also spin and use power. While this isn't something that's as easy to do much about, avoiding big file copies and transfers will let your laptop's hard drive have to work less hard. You may also be able to enable power management for the hard drive which will let it spin down when it's not in active use.
Step 6: Power Management Settings
While on the subject of power management, you can also tune your laptop, as well as many other portable devices to be a little more miserly with their power. Going into your computer's power management screen and having it spin down your drives, turn off the screen, or go into standby more quickly than the default lets it conserve it's power. You can tune these settings to your preference since having the screen shut off while you're in the middle of reading something isn't good, but neither is having your laptop burn all of it's power displaying something you walked away from an hour ago. You may also be able to set your processor to clock down, which makes it run at a slower speed than it normally would, making it use less power. (Thanks to alex-sharetskiy for the reminder about this one.)
If your power management built into your machine isn't able to do this there may also be aftermarket software that allow you underclock your processor, but be careful since these programs are usually able to overclock as well, putting more strain on the processor than it may be able to handle. You'll be saving a lot of battery power if your laptop breaks and can't use it.
Step 7: New Batteries
Another way you can extend the battery time of your electronics is to replace the batteries, either with new ones or with higher capacity ones. Many popular or power hungry cell phone designs have after market batteries that come with a larger back plate and have a higher capacity than the stock one. Replacing a laptop's battery after it's lost a sizable chunk of it's run time (after a couple years) is a quick, albeit not too cheap way to get more battery life. When looking for standard size rechargeable batteries, you can also keep an eye out for their capacity, rated in mAH (milli-Amp hours). The higher the number the longer it'll last.
Step 8: Turn It Off!
While it may seem obvious, one final thing that can be done to save power on a battery powered device is to simply turn it off or take out the battery. If you're going to be out of the house for a couple days and won't have your charger on you, you can turn off your phone when you know you won't need it and save its battery for when you do. This goes for laptops as well. Standby mode will eventually kill your laptop's battery, so if you won't be using it for a while but would also like to keep your programs running put it into Hibernate mode. This will have the computer save everything to the hard drive then power off. When you turn it back on it'll pick up where it left off.
I hope you've gotten some tips here that'll help your squeeze out that last vital drop of power from your batteries, and feel free to suggest any other battery saving tips below!
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Burning Questions: Round 5