Power-efficient notebooks: Get the LED display, drop the SSD.

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Power-efficient notebooks: Get the LED display, drop the SSD.

Chicago (IL) – Hardware designers have made stunning advances in designing much more power-efficient components than most of us are using in their notebooks today. Choosing the options wisely may result up to 50% more battery time in some, with little extra money spent. Unfortunately, there is very little information on these new components out there would provide a guideline what purchase makes sense and which not. Do you know which components have the most impact on the battery time the new generation of notebooks? I bet that there is at least one you wouldn’t expect.
 
This article is really a follow-up article to an article in which I raised some doubt that Hewlett-Packard’s claim that one of its notebooks can be configured in a way to exceed a battery time of 24 hours may not be entirely true. It took some time to catch up with HP and even if the company claims that it has exceeded 24 hours of battery time in Mobilemark, I still believe that it isn’t realistic to expect this notebook will hit 24 hours in a real-world scenario.

Jeremy Brody, HP’s global business notebook marketing manager, disagrees and stated that 24 hours is possible with the right adjustments – turn off your wireless network, dim the screen down and use applications that do not demand too much from your hardware (read about the additional configuration requirements in our previous article.) I will leave it at that and we will know more once the hardware HP described in the configuration will be available.

However, if you think about, the 24-hour claim isn’t really the big deal here. On very few occasions, you may want your notebook to hold up for 24 hours on one charge. The much more interesting question is: What would I have to buy to get a notebook that takes me through an entire workday on one charge – for 8 to 10 hours? Brody had some interesting recommendations, which I believe are important to pass on.

First, you really want to equip your notebook with the most battery capacity that is available. In HP’s case and the 14.1” Elite 6930p notebook that would be the standard 6-cell battery and an optional 12-cell battery, which promise a combined battery time of 16 hours. The extra battery will set you back $190.   

Second, how do you cut the power consumption most effectively beyond a low-power processor? According to Brody, you definitely would want to pick the company’s upcoming LED display, which will be offered as a $50 option in October. The LED display can cut the power consumption dramatically as the LCD typically eats most of the electricity provided by the battery. HP says that the LED alone may extend the battery time by 4 hours.

Read on the next page: An unexpected choice #3.

 

The third choice is free and was, at least to me, a surprise. As soon as you receive your notebook, you should download a BIOS and video driver update. The update will enable a power saving feature called Render Standby 2 (RS2), which, according to HP, will have a substantial impact on the battery time. You may get an extra 1 to 2 hours of extra battery time as a result of this update. The software should be available in October. It does not ship with the 6930p since the update wasn’t available at the time HP began to ship the 6930p and the company does not update the image for the life of that model (which is targeted at enterprise use.)

Add everything up and, in an ideal case, the battery time will hit more than 22 hours, if HP is right. I personally have a tough time getting my one-year old tx1000 HP notebook beyond 3 hours even in low-usage scenarios. So if this 6930p would hit 8-10 hours, I would consider the available battery time a massive improvement. There you have it: Spend $190 for the battery, $50 for the LED and download a software update and you could more than triple the standard battery time (6 hours) of this notebook, according to HP.   

But wait: What about an SSD? In the end, HP will offer Intel’s 80 GB SSD for the 6930p and we all know that SSDs consume less power than a hard drive. While that claim might be true, it is interesting to note that HP does not necessarily pitch the SSD as a tool to save power. Yes, even the most power-efficient hard drives run at about 2 watts, which is less than Intel’s performance SSDs will consume, but 13 times more than what the 80 GB SSD is promised to swallow. However, the bottom line is that the power savings aren’t that great in absolute numbers.

The impact is about 7% or not quite 2 hours in the ideal case HP described. That may sound much, but we also have to consider the associated cost: Intel will sell that drive for $600, which means that you will pay at least that at HP. In the end, those extra $600 will buy you just as much battery time as the free driver update promises and only half the extra battery time the $50 LED may provide.

At this time, the SSD does not make much economic sense when compared to a hard drive. Where it does make sense, however, is in notebooks that are performance-focused. Brody said that the Intel SSD works very well in such cases and actually increased the overall system performance by 57%.

Don’t, get me wrong, I still stand by my belief that the SSD will kill the hard drive eventually, but we aren’t there yet. If you are shopping for a notebook with maximum battery time and you are on a budget – and most of us are – drop the SSD for now. Focus on a large battery and that LED display, which provide a far greater bang for the buck, instead.  

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