How can I improve the battery life of my Windows laptop? [Ask ZDNet]

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Welcome to the latest episode of Ask ZDNetwhere we answer the questions that will make your IT guy reach for the Tums.

This week in the mail bag: A user wants to get through a working day without charging the battery of his laptop.

As you’ve discovered, there’s really no industry standard to measure battery life. And even if it did, there’s no guarantee that the standard measurement would produce a result close to what you see in your day-to-day work. CPU-intensive tasks, such as rendering video files or compiling large software projects, will drain your battery much faster than basic browsing and simple document editing.

That is why today many laptop manufacturers do their best to avoid battery life estimates. Instead, they stick to glittering generalities. For example, when I checked HP’s website, I found a PC that promised “Long battery life”[1] and HP Fast Charge Technology [that] you can work, watch and stay connected all day long.”

That footnote wasn’t reassuring: “Battery life depends on several factors, including product model, configuration, loaded applications, features, usage, wireless functionality, and power management settings.”

For its line of Surface laptops and tablets, Microsoft publishes figures based on: “typical use of Surface devices.” That test consists of browsing eight websites along with a “productivity test” using (of course) Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, Excel and Outlook.

And of course, third-party reviewers usually have their own benchmarks, which can be as simple as playing a video in a loop until the battery runs out, or as complex as running a series of script programs.

But what really matters is understanding how much actual battery life you get 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 actual battery life. You can find full instructions here: “Check the performance of your laptop battery.” (Although these instructions are for Windows 10, the tool works the same in Windows 11.)

Then find out which programs are most responsible for using your battery. In Windows 10, those details are in Settings > System > Battery, under the heading Battery usage by app. 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 easiest change you can make is to decrease the brightness of your screen when you’re on battery. The brighter the screen, the faster your battery runs out. You will be amazed at the difference a small change can make.

Then go to Settings > System > Power & Sleep (Windows 10) or Power & Battery (Windows 11) and set your display to turn off when 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-guzzling apps you identified earlier run automatically on launch, disable those auto-launch settings. You can find those options in the Task Manager, on the Startup tab.

For the most extreme power saving options, enable battery saver mode, which turns off all kinds of background activity and can extend your work session by hours. To enable Battery Saver in Windows 10, click the battery icon in the system tray and then click the Battery Saver option. In Windows 11, click the battery icon, then click the battery remaining indicator to open the power and battery settings, and then click the Enable Now button in the Battery Saver section.

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