Although most users are unaware of it, notebook operating systems have options designed to help maximize the computer's efficiency. Dave Heacock, business manager of battery management, Texas Instruments, compares these energy saving features to taking steps to improve your car's gas mileage. "It's simply a matter of being more prudent with usage," says Heacock. "For example, you can adjust the display intensity rather than running it full out. You can slow down the CPU." Users can also set the screen to go dark when battery powered system has not been used for a minute or two--rather than five or 10 minutes. These settings are irrelevant in terms of power conservation if the system is running off the AC adapter.
Users can also shorten the length of time before the system goes into suspend mode when inactive, thus conserving power. "When a system is suspended to RAM," says Martin Booth, product marketing manager, AMD, "everything is saved to the hard drive. It might take a while for the system to come back, but not as long as it would take for it to reboot, and everything is in place exactly how it was when it went into suspend mode."
Unfortunately, says Heacock, "most people just don't want to be bothered. They think, 'why can't the machine adjust the power to meet what I'm doing?'" On the plus side, , some new processors do instantaneously adjust a system's power usage based on user requirements.
One such product is PowerNow by AMD. In automatic mode, PowerNow adjusts the amount of power to match the needs of applications that are running. Depending on what applications are being used, users can gain up to a 30 percent improvement of battery efficiency, says Booth. This power management can be particularly useful to business travelers who are working only on a word processor or going through their e-mails while sitting in an airport or on a plane. (For more information on AMD's battery management product, go to the AMD link at www.destinationfaa.com/0501/links).
Compaq offers a calibration utility in its Armada series of notebooks to maximize run time. This utility allows the battery to discharge and perform a complete calibration of the fuel gauge, thereby allowing a user to get the maximum out of the system.
Poor User Buy-In
"Customers have mentioned that they don't understand it or don't know why they need to do it," says Michael Schneider, Compaq's principal member of staff, power subsystems, portable division. "We wanted to give people the ability to do it automatically, so the system asks the user, after a set number of cycles, if he wants to do the calibration. But people complain that it takes time to run the calibration, and they get confused by the instructions, which vary slightly based on the different operating systems."
Schneider admits to being frustrated by this experience. "We've made it as simple as process as possible," he says. "You go to Control Options, Power Options, select the battery and say Yes to the query. You disable the computer's hibernation option to complete the function; the process takes six hours, but should be easily completed overnight. "We went to a lot of trouble to create the utility and make it as user friendly as possible, but people just don't use it," Schneider says. "The percentage of users--based on surveys of commercial users and owners of particular products--is so small that we're reconsidering why we have it. Only about five percent of users take advantage of the calibration function." He guesses that people are either unaware of the function, never bother to read the manual to learn how to use it, don't understand what calibration means or don't want to spend the six hours to complete the function.
Kristi Urich, field service and utilities solutions manager at Intermec Technologies, agrees that most people probably don't want to be bothered to learn about and use a battery management system, even if it is already installed on their computer. "It probably isn't used often unless the person is on an IT staff or the type who simply likes to play with toys--a tech geek," she says. "Most of us were originally PC users, and we're used to being plugged into a wall all day."