May 3, 2009 at 10:53 am
This morning we have a second guest contribution from reader, Igor Igorski. He has followed his first article on the chiclet keyboard with a look at ways in which you can maximize your netbooks battery life through the choice of software used.
Netbooks are known for their portability. Not only are they small and lightweight but with their increased power efficiency, batteries can last much longer than conventional laptops. This also means you no longer have to carry a power adapter with you! Several brands emphasis the longevity of the battery as a strong selling point, and for those people who travel a lot, it sure is.
If battery life is important to you then your choice of software will have an impact on the strain placed on your CPU. There are a plethora of programs out there but not all are as power hungry.
The easy way to increase battery life is to use the “airplane mode”. This refers to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Webcam being off and the screen brightness set to 40 percent. Mind you they should call it “airplane flying at night with no cabin lights on mode” because if the lights are on you may need more than 40 percent brightness!
For the purpose of these tests, I am using an Asus Eee PC 1000HE netbook. It is powered by an Intel Atom N280 CPU with the GMA 950 graphics chipset, 2 GB RAM, 160GB HDD running Windows XP Home. During all of these tests, the ASUS Super Power Hybrid Engine was set to ‘Power Saving’ with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Camera and Sound turned off (the latter except for video and music tests) and screen brightness set to 40 percent. I got myself use to working in these conditions so if I do need that extra bit of power I can increase the CPU speed. When fully charged the Windows battery indicator told me I had 10 hours and 23 minutes.
Various Useful Tricks
There a number of simple measures you can take to stretch that battery life. Everything your computer does consumes energy, especially programs. Therefore keeping your apps small & simple and do away with any bells and whistles. Think practical rather than pretty. First thing is the OS, you need to run one but run it as efficient as possible. To do this there is a great tool which most of you know: Tweak UI. This tool will let you stop the Menu from gently appearing to just slide, which is less graphically intensive. You can disable tray-icons as that takes up some CPU power. Play around a little and you will be surprised what you can do! If you use a screensaver, use a simple one like Starfield rather than 3D Pipes. Also, go into the power options to adjust the HDD and sleep settings.
Unfortunately this is a necessary evil, (you Mac users can stop snickering now). Though it takes up energy, your netbook will be frequently used to access the net and therefore leave it open to malicious spam and viruses. Norton is good but even for a powerful desktop it is extremely CPU hungry. McAfee is very nice but costs some money. My preferred and light weight anti-virus protection comes in the form of AVG, CCleaner and Ad-Aware. These three together are enough to block or find and destroy any malicious software, cookies and Trojans AND they are all free for personal use!
[Ed Note: I’d also like to mention Avast, I’ve used it for years and it has never let me down. It’s free and is one of the most lightweight anti-virus programs I’ve used].
I spend quite a lot of time on trains and planes and enjoy watching a movie to pass the time. After 1 hour and 30 minutes of use, I still apparently had 9 hours and 20 minutes left! Granted it was a short movie but the battery minutes counted slower than movie minutes, so much the better. There are a number of video players out there but I strongly suggest opting for the free VLC media player. It is a small program, loads up fast and can play pretty much any type of video codec you need.
Being a fan of iPod’s I installed iTunes for listening to music, which is tied in with QuickTime. Both are rather heavy programs and drain power (battery life reduced by 2 hours). Windows media player is not much better I’m afraid (also reduced by 2 hours). I then opted for Winamp, which was the least power hungry (battery life reduced by 1 hour and 32 minutes). This will be a trade off for me; do I go with Winamp or stick to iTunes? Maybe I will do some more testing and find an alternative. I’ve heard good things about the open source Songbird program.
Netbooks are designed for surfing the Net. Here again I tested three programs, the ever so present Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome. For years I have been using Firefox and love it. I started using it on my netbook until I installed Chrome. Since then I have uninstalled Firefox, why you may ask? Chrome is a small app that starts up incredibly fast, does not take up a lot of power, takes up less screen estate and the Google search in the URL text box is very handy. Need you more reasons? I still use Firefox on my desktop and at work, however.
[Ed Note: I’m a big advocate of Opera, also well worth a try given its low CPU overhead, and super fast browsing experience.]
E-mail & chatting
Gmail, Gmail, Gmail and the off-line function is all you need for 100 percent mobile e-mails. You can check your mails from all computers where ever you are. You like to chat? You have messenger, Facebook, GoogleTalk etc. Then Digsby is for you! A handy program that combines all chatting systems into one and you save on screen space!
Word processing and the likes
The ASUS1000HE came with a version of a typical ‘office’ suite. After closer inspection I realized that it is an ASUS branded OpenOffice.org program. I’m used to Microsoft Office at work but at home I stick to the free and open source OpenOffice.org which fulfills all my office needs. For PDF’s I’ve opted for Foxit reader, which is smaller and lighter than Adobe’s PDF Reader.
Graphics editing program
Netbooks are not made for heavy graphical editing work but if you really want to you can install some limited apps such as the free multipleimageresizer. There is a free graphics editing program that is supposedly good but haven’t had the time yet to install it and test it out: Paint.Net I bought Paint Shop Pro eons ago (version 8 ) and that actually works quite fast.
[Ed Note: Sumo Paint is also meant to be very good, which works in a browser, although I haven’t spent much time with it myself].