How do I... extend laptop battery life in Windows Vista?

If you have Microsoft Windows Vista running your machine you might notice that your battery isn't getting nearly the life that the same laptop did when it was running Windows XP. Jack Wallen takes a look at some methods to optimize your battery power consumption.

Laptops are essential for business. Without the ability to untether yourself from your office, much work would go undone. Parallel to the importance of having a laptop is having a laptop with a battery that will last you long enough to get your work done. If you have an updated laptop, more than likely you have Vista running that machine. And if you have Microsoft Windows Vista running your machine, you might notice that your battery isn't getting nearly the life that the same laptop did when it was running XP. But fret not; there are ways to solve that fast battery drainage. Let's take a look at some methods to optimize your battery power consumption.

This blog post is also available in PDF format in a TechRepublic download.

Vista Battery Saver

The Vista Battery Saver is a third-party application that claims to save up to 30 percent of your Vista battery life. Now this 30-percent figure is enormously inflated. In fact, the reality is that you will save more like 1-4 percent of your battery life with this application. But even scrubbing 1-4 percent more battery life can mean the difference between getting a critical file saved or not. This simple application does this by disabling Aero and the Vista Sidebar when your laptop is running on battery and re-enabling the items when the machine is plugged back into power. This application is freeware, so you can download it and use it free of charge.

The installation is simple, download the installation binary from the main Web site and double-click the download file. Depending on if you have User Access Control enabled, you will have to allow the installation to continue.

During my installation, something strange happened. Near the end of the install it seemed as if the installation stalled. I noticed an icon for Vista Battery Saver Utility was already running in the system tray so I figured I would close it and see what happened. That did the trick. The installation completed, and I was able to fire up the application. Of course, locating the application was not as easy as it should be, because once installed the application was buried in Accessories. Click the name to bring up the configuration window (Figure A).

Figure A

This is the default configuration.

Six different sections make up the configuration options for the Vista Battery Saver Utility. The sections are fairly straightforward:


  • Always deactivate on battery
  • Never deactivate on battery
  • Deactivate when battery level is less than X (where X is a user-configured percentage)

Windows Sidebar

  • Always deactivate on battery
  • Never deactivate on battery
  • Deactivate when battery level is less than X (where X is a user-configured percentage)

Power Plans Management (Performance level of PC)

  • On Battery
  • Plugged in

Notification Messages

  • On
  • Off

Status of Aero and Sidebar

  • Indicates if either Aero or Sidebar are currently running.

Battery Saver Settings

  • Should Vista Battery Saver Utility run at startup?

Obviously the two most power-consumptive applications will be Aero and the Windows Sidebar. If you do not use these by default, you may not see much of a boost in battery life by using this application. If you do like to use them but you need to get more battery life, the choice is obvious.

You will also notice a small icon in the system tray. From this icon you can manually configure both Aero and the Sidebar by clicking the icon and selecting which application you want to act upon. From each submenu you can select Always Deactivate on Battery or Never Deactivate on Battery.

Of course, you don't have to install third-party applications to boost your Vista laptop's battery performance. If you open up the control panel you will notice an entry for Mobile PC. In the Mobile PC window you will notice six options. Of these, there are two sections to pay close attention to. The first section is the Windows Mobility Center. Here you can adjust:

  • Display Brightness
  • Volume
  • Battery Status
  • Wireless Network
  • External Display
  • Sync Center
  • Presentation Settings

The above settings, when changed in the Windows Mobility Center, are instant changes and do not change if the laptop is running on battery or power. In order to effect change depending upon what is powering the laptop, you need to take a look at the Power Options section and then click on the Change Plan Settings under the Plan you want to change.

One of the most effective changes you can make is to adjust the laptop brightness in accordance to what is powering the laptop. Click on Change Plan Settings under the Balanced section (Figure B) where you can modify three very important power-saving options.

Figure B

Unless you are doing processor-heavy work, the Balanced plan is your best bet.
Once you are in the Balanced section (Figure C), you will want to adjust the following:
  • Turn off display: How long before the display is turned off?
  • Put the computer to sleep: How long before the computer goes into hibernate?
  • Adjust display brightness: How bright is the display?

Figure C

You will find many valuable settings in the advanced options.

The most important of the above configurations is the display brightness when running on battery. Adjust this as low as you can and still work with your laptop in order to save as much battery power as you can.

Now go back to the Power Options and click on Choose What Closing the Lid Does. From here you can choose:

  • Nothing
  • Sleep
  • Hibernate
  • Shut Off

We'll leave out the choices Nothing and Shut Off for now. So the two remaining choices look like this:

  • Sleep: When your laptop is put into sleep mode the display shuts off, the hard drive shuts off, and the current state is saved into memory. This state uses a little bit of energy so your laptop can be quickly woken up by opening the lid.
  • Hibernate: Does the same thing as sleep but uses no power and requires a bit longer to wake up from this state.

If you want to conserve as much power as you can, choose Hibernate. If you're not too concerned or you won't be leaving your laptop often, select Sleep.

Now back at the Power Options window select Advanced Power Options. In this window (Figure D) you will see a number of options from which to choose. The options that will help you the most are:
  • Wireless Adapter Settings: To save the most power, select Maximum Power Savings.
  • SB Setting: To save the most power, enable On Battery Suspend.
  • Searching and Indexing: To save the most power, make sure Power Saver is selected for On Battery.

Figure D

Depending on your make/model of laptop you may have an extra tab in this section.

Final thoughts

Maximizing battery life can make or break your off-site work life with your laptop. And with Microsoft Vista there are plenty of options (and third-party applications) available to help you gain enough with your battery life to better make it through your workday. And this doesn't take into consideration care and feeding of the battery itself. Apply these tips wisely, and your laptop will repay you with a little more work.