Does your laptop's battery keep going and going?
Ranking the longest-lasting laptops in recent GCN Lab reviews
The march forward has been steady enough that it might have gone unnoticed, but the battery life for laptop PCs and other portable devices is getting longer. In the GCN Lab’s May 2007 roundup of laptop PCs, the Dell Latitude D830 lasted the longest in the Lab’s worst-case-scenario battery test, clocking a time of 3 hours, 4 minutes. In this year’s laptop roundup, Apple’s MacBook Pro led the field with a time of 5 hours, 13 minutes.
That’s a sign of progress for mobile users, reflecting advances in the development of lower-power systems, for one thing. But it’s not that simple, of course. A lot of factors go into the battery life of a mobile device, including the type of processors, display screens and the batteries themselves – say, whether they are six, eight or nine cells. A laptop manufacturer looking to make a light, highly portable machine might sacrifice battery life for the lighter weight of a smaller battery, for instance.
Nevertheless, if battery life is paramount to you, the length of time your laptop keeps running outweighs, as it were, those other factors. And, overall, manufacturers have been making progress. So, how did the six laptops the Lab recently reviewed stack up in this category?
The Lab tests battery life by running a movie on the hard drive, with the screen brightness and sound each set to 80 percent, a scenario designed to put a lot of stress on the battery. Most users -- the ones not using their PCs as a home theater system substitute -- would find that their laptops last longer than the time listed here.
The top battery performers from this year’s review:
- Apple MacBook Pro: 5 hours, 13 minutes.
- Lenovo ThinkPad W510: 3 hours, 21 minutes.
- Samsung P580: 2 hours, 33 minutes.
- HP EliteBook 8540w: 2 hours, 10 minutes.
- Sony Vaio EB Series: 2 hours, 2 minutes.
- Fujitsu LifeBook E780: 1 hour, 49 minutes.
The laptops in that review were powerhouse machines, posting high scores on the PassMark Benchmark tests the Lab uses. But if you need that much juice, you might opt for a netbook. They're small, light and inexpensive, but with less powerful processors – though still adequate for many uses. Netbooks might not have big batteries, but they don’t really need them.
Battery life times from the Lab’s November 2009 netbook roundup:
- Toshiba Mini NB205-N210: 6 hours, 17 minutes.
- Sony Vaio W-series: 4 hours, 30 minutes.
- Dell Latitude 2100: 4 hours, 28 minutes.
- HP Mini 5101: 4 hours, 5 minutes.
- Fijutsu M2010: 3 hours, 42 minutes.
- Lenovo IdeaPad S10-2: 2 hours, 35 minutes.
If you need power and durability in the field, of course, rugged laptops are the obvious choice. You have to accept extra weight for the power and ruggedization, but you don’t have to trade off battery life, in most cases. Battery times for laptops and convertible tablet PCs from the Lab’s October 2009 rugged roundup:
- Panasonic Toughbook 30: 6 hours, 14 minutes.
- General Dynamics Itronix GD 8000: 4 hours, 45 minutes.
- Getac V100: 2 hours, 6 minutes.
In July 2010, the Lab tested the new Toughbook 31. It lasted 4 hours, 30 minutes in the battery test, but it’s also worth noting that it’s a much more powerful machine than the 30, scoring nearly twice as high on the PassMark Benchmark test.
Short battery life was once the bane of mobile computing, but these days it’s fairly easy to find a device that will at least get you through most domestic flights, or let you work from the back porch. And even longer times could be ahead, considering that the Apple iPad typically get 10 hours from a single charge.
For mobile users, thing are looking up.