Boost battery life in Linux on laptops

Do you use Linux? Do you have a laptop? You can configure the power settings to get the maximum performance or the maximum life out of the battery. Sadly, you cannot have both and it is one or the other. Of course, you could compromise and have a bit of battery saving plus a bit of performance. It is your choice.

For this article I will be using Linux Mint 17 with the cinnamon desktop, but apart from the interface, underneath it is very similar to Ubuntu and similar distros. You might not have Mint, but your Linux will have similar features.

Another thing I should point out here is that it is essential that you use the battery in your laptop as much as possible. With most devices, the more you use them the faster they wear out, but the opposite is true with rechargeable batteries. The more you use them the longer they last. It is strange, but true.

The first thing to do is to click the power icon at the right side of the bottom panel. The current battery charge is displayed and there is an option to go to Power Settings. Click it.

Access the battery gadget in Linux

There are headings at the top and mains power is on the left and battery power is on the right. The screen takes a lot of power and to ensure that the battery lasts as long as possible, the screen should be switched off when the laptop is inactive.

Linux opower settings

Set the top option under On battery power to five minutes. Touch the keyboard or mouse and the screen comes back on again. Set the A/C side to whatever your preference is because it won’t affect battery life.

The second option is Suspend when inactive for. What this means is that the laptop stops all activity and powers down everything it can so that as many components as possible are in a dormant low power state. The laptop is technically still switched on, but almost all activity is suspended. It monitors the mouse and keyboard, so that when you want to carry on working, it can quickly burst into life and continue with whatever you were doing.

Below the thin horizontal like is what to do when the battery power is critically low. Hibernate mode is different to suspend and the current laptop state is saved to disk and then the power is switched off. When the laptop is connected to the mains power to charge up the battery, it can be switched on and you can continue exactly where you left off.

The power button on PCs used to be a simple power switch, but these days it can be programmed to perform a variety of functions. Click When the power button is pressed and a menu of options is displayed. What do you want to happen?

Choose the power button options

Choose Suspend if you want the laptop to go into low power sleep mode when the power button is pressed. This is perfect for coffee breaks and lunch times where powering off would use more battery power than it would save. Choose Hibernate if you want to switch off completely, but still be able to start up and continue where you left off. Set it to Ask if you want the option to choose what to do when the power button is pressed.

There’s more you can do and right clicking the power indicator in the bottom panel provides access to configuration options.

linux-battery4

The battery percentage is useful, but what you really want to know is how long the battery will last. The configuration options enable this information to be displayed. Select Show percentage and time remaining.

Battery gadget settings in Linux

The time remaining depends on what you are doing and some activities use more battery power than others. Here you can see that there is 79% of battery life left and that equates to one 1 hour 59 minutes use. I’m on YouTube watching videos and this is a moderately heavy duty activity. Word processing is less power hungry and after a few minutes you might see the percentage power go down, but the time go up, reflecting the fact that less battery power is required and so even with less juice in the power pack, it will last longer.

Battery life in Linux

Here is the battery indicator a few minutes later after closing the web browser. Notice that the percentage has fallen to 76%, but the time has increased to 2 hours 49 minutes – nearly an hour longer. What you do on your laptop seriously affects the battery life.

Make the battery last longer

The features might vary from Linux to Linux, but most are broadly similar. Just poke around and you will discover similar settings in whatever flavour of Linux you use.


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