Laptop PC Buyer’s Guide: Balancing Battery Life & Operating Systems For Optimal Performance

Battery Life

Dell Notebook PC battery

Everybody wants smaller, faster, more reliable laptops. But nobody wants to lose battery power. It is the age old problem of every manufacturer – how do we put all of this micro technology into one super slick unit, make it lightweight, fast and reliable, prevent heat and noise output and still provide excellent battery life. For years manufacturers have wrestled with this alligator! never getting the balance right between performance and power. Instead one always has to give, and it’s a choice the user can usually make.

Most low budget laptop PC’s are powered by lithium Ion 3-cell batteries (three cylindrical batteries encased in one battery pack). These 3-cell batteries rarely last upwards of 1½hrs, and in high intensity periods of use can last a measly 1hr. This is no real use to anyone, so manufacturers are increasingly installing 6-cell lithium Ion batteries as standard into modern notebook and tablet PC architecture. These 6-cell batteries provide 3 to 4hrs of use, which is a considerable upgrade but still not nearly enough for the truly mobile user. As such 9-cell batteries are available from most manufacturers and provide a whopping 9hrs of power. However, phenomenal battery life aside these 9-cell’s come at an additional cost and currently only sit as an extended battery slate on the bottom of laptop’s, hence adding considerable weight and sometimes heat to the base of the unit.

Whether you need 3, 6 or 9-cell battery power depends on your own laptop requirements. Do you really need a mobile unit with extended battery life? Will you have access to plug sockets wherever you ‘roam’? This is crucial to your decision, if your laptop will be mains powered the vast majority of the time then battery life is of no concern. If however you need the device for walk-round activities, on site work or during transit, then it would be advisable to look for a laptop that delivers battery power of at least 3 or 4hrs, making the 6 or 9-cell battery a must.

A word of warning do not get seduced by manufacturer claims when it comes to battery life. A laptop manufacturer that states battery life of 8+hrs is almost certainly embellishing the truth, and if they are not, this ‘statement’ is based on laptop testing where a unit has been sat doing nothing for a good proportion of that time. In fact any manufacturer claiming a laptop has battery life beyond 6hrs is most likely stretching the truth. Expect a laptop PC with a standard 6-cell battery pack to last around 3hrs during periods of high usage, and up to 4hrs during normal use. Whatever the use, with today’s cutting edge technology and processor hungry applications a 6-cell battery is the minimum requirement for anything other than a laptop that is going to sit connected to a power supply 95% of the time. For the ultramobile user, the 9-cell variety needs serious consideration.

Operating System

Windows Vista

When you are looking to buy a mid range notebook PC the standard operating system (OP) pre-installed will be Windows Vista. This is a slick and robust OP but is considerably more processor intensive than its predecessor Windows XP. Both are pretty effective, although obviously Windows XP has been around a lot longer as such it has greater reliability and compatibility with almost any imaginable piece of hardware or software. It does however have many security failings that Windows Vista doesn’t have. However, being only one year into its lifecycle Vista has yet to deliver compatibility drivers for all conceivable notebook components. This should not concern most users as the list of non conforming pieces of software and hardware is getting smaller by the day, and certainly all well know manufacturer’s devices work as well if not better with Vista than they do with XP.

As previously mentioned, it really won’t be a choice for people buying Windows driven notebook PC’s from now on. Windows Vista will come pre-installed on 90% of all new machines, such is Microsoft’s push to get Vista out to market. This is fine for most users as Vista offers a considerable upgrade to Windows XP. However for those with XP who are thinking of making the upgrade to Vista, and certainly for those purchasing a low end specification notebook, you need to seriously look at the specification of the notebook, particularly it’s processor, memory and graphics card. It cannot be stated strongly enough, Windows Vista is a graphically intensive operating system, it does not work with a low spec processor and to be effective needs 1GB of memory. Therefore before making such a dramatic change to your notebook setup (and making an operating system change is just that), question if it is really worth upgrading to an operating system that will make your machine clunky and may not allow certain legacy pieces of software or hardware to work?

Next >>> Buying a Laptop PC for Windows – Brand and Service

This post is part of the series: Laptop Buyers Guide: Looking Under the Hood

In this series we review the key laptop components that make mobile computers such a popular buy. Providing advice on buying a laptop we take a look at visuals, memory, power, features and more. Giving you a comprehensive, under the hood look at laptop technology and how to choose a laptop computer.
  1. Laptop Buyers Guide – An Introduction to Choosing a Laptop
  2. Laptop Buyers Guide – Choosing the Right Laptop Screen & Graphics Chipset
  3. Laptop Buyers Guide – Choosing the Right Laptop Weight, Size & Durability
  4. Laptop Buyers Guide – Choosing the Right Laptop Processor & Memory
  5. Laptop Buyers Guide – Choosing the Right Laptop HDD Storage Space & Optical Drive
  6. Laptop Buyers Guide – Choosing the Right Laptop Communications & Ports
  7. Buying a Laptop PC for Windows – Battery and Operating System
  8. Buying a Laptop PC for Windows – Brand and Service