It’s not usually the first question you ask of a new notebook computer but it’s not long before it comes up – how do I get more life out of my notebook battery?

In the end, the answers are pretty simple – and they work for any notebook, big or small, black or white, Windows or Apple.

The key is to reduce the number of components drawing power from the battery and of those that remain, to reduce their load on the battery to as little as possible. That’s true for any notebook, regardless of brand.

So here are our five simple options that are guaranteed to improve your notebook’s battery life.

1. Reduce the screen brightness

This is the No.1 power saving trick. You can almost forget the rest – dropping the screen brightness can make more of a difference than just about any other power saving trick, short of turning off your notebook.

Basically, the backlight of the LCD screen consumes considerable amounts of power as much as 40% of the notebook as a whole. By reducing the backlight level, you reduce its power consumption and improve battery life. In fact, most power management options will automatically reduce the brightness slightly when on battery power to boost the life.

You can boost it more by dragging the brightness level lower. It’s just a matter of finding the minimum level you need to see it clearly without going cross-eyed trying to read it. Any movement lower will give you some improvement in battery life.

2. Turn off any wireless connectivity features

Even if you’re not connected to a device or network, having wireless features such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth switched on consume power.

If you’re not using them, turn them off and you’ll save that little bit extra in battery power.

3. Turn off Windows 7/Vista’s Aero

Aero is the transparency windowed effect built into Windows 7 and Vista operating systems.

It’s a nice effect if you like that sort of thing. But it also consumes extra power. The effect requires DirectX9 graphics processing rather than just the normal low-power 2D garden-variety graphics – and that pulls the juice out of the battery.

Switching this off will give you a Windows XP-feel desktop but also reduce the strain on the battery.

4. Remove any USB flash drives

Even if you’re not access data from a USB flash drive. If it’s plugged in, it’s pulling power.

Any time you need to use a flash drive, keep your access to it as short as possible and remove it as soon as you’re done. These devices, especially when transferring and writing data, require a surprising amount of power so if you’re not using it, rip it out.

5. Avoid heavy-demand applications

This might sound a bit stupid but the types of applications you run can also affect battery life.

While most basic things like word processing don’t tax the notebook’s CPU, other applications such as showing movies do. Especially movies encoded in H.264 at higher resolutions. These require extra CPU processing to decode and display – and yep – that draws down on the battery. The other problem is that the more work the CPU does, the hotter it gets, energy from the battery that is basically wasted.

Some video codecs are more CPU-intensive than others – for example, MPEG-2 doesn’t require the same processing power as H.264.

Gaming is obviously another one – some basic games aren’t too bad but as soon as you talk about anything 3D, you’re looking at lots of processing and bigger power demands.

So if you want to make your battery last as long as possible, it basically comes down to two things – 1. turn off or remove anything you’re not using and 2. avoid high-demand applications such as 1080p video and the latest 3D games.

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