Going Linux

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Improve Your Linux Laptop Battery Life

Updated: 05-May-2016

As soon as Ubuntu MATE 16.04 was released on April 21, 2016, I spent a couple of hours backing up my laptop's hard drive and converting from Linux Mint Cinnamon 17.3. Ubuntu MATE 16.04 is now on my podcast production machine, a System76 Galago Ultrapro. My initial observations were these:

Wait! What?!

40% improvement in battery life? How did that happen?

Battery Life

No, although the screen shot above shows over 25 hours of battery life, that's an unrealistic expectation. I did, however, see an improvement in battery life from 3.5 hours to over 5 hours -- a 42% increase -- by simply replacing Linux Mint with Ubuntu MATE. In addition to explaining how this can happen, this article provides some other strategies for improving the amount of time your battery-powered PC can run unplugged.

Strategies for Improving Battery Life

Today you can install Linux on almost any computer hardware -- Mac or Windows PC. With a computer, like the designed-for-Linux System76 or Entroware lines, you can be sure you'll have the "just works" experience with whatever version of Linux you choose to install. But whether you choose a computer with Linux pre-installed, or you install it on hardware you already own, out-of-the-box laptop battery life is often disappointing. Here are some things you can do to improve your laptop's longevity when you don't have a connection to AC power.

  1. Adjust Power Management Settings
    The Power Management Settings allow you to control when the computer sleeps or hibernates, and how the display behaves. Focus on the "on battery power" settings. If your laptop doesn't behave when hibernating, use the "sleep" or "suspend" setting when closing the lid and when the computer is idle.
  2. Adjust screen brightness
    Usually a laptop's biggest battery usage is in powering the LCD screen. The brighter the screen, the more power is consumed. I found that reducing screen brightness from 100% to 30% provided enough illumination to see the screen comfortably except outdoors, and dramatically improved battery life. If you can find a setting the allows you to easily read the screen but no brighter, then you'll extend you on-battery time for sure.
  3. Turn off what you don't use
    Don't use a Bluetooth mouse, keyboard or headphones? Turn off your bluetooth adapter in system settings control panel. It uses power searching for bluetooth devices. Turn off similar settings for other devices you never or rarely use.
  4. Use TLP
    I was surprised that switching to Ubuntu MATE provided a 40% increase in battery life. It wasn't the MATE desktop environment or the Linux distribution per se that provided the improvement. It was TLP, an advanced power management utility for Linux. According Ubuntu MATE's creator, Martin Wimpress, the distribution comes pre-installed and pre-configured with the TLP command line utility. TLP optimizes power settings automatically on startup and every time you change the power source. If your distribution doesn't install it by default, look in your software repositories for TLP. It'll most likely be there.
  5. Get a new battery
    Although today's battery technology is vastly superior to that of just a few years ago, batteries have a finite lifetime. They don't develop a "memory" when you "top them up" like they used to, but they do have a limited number of full charge cycles they can handle before they expire. If your laptop's battery will no longer hold a charge, maybe it's time to replace it. Hopefully your model allows you to do that. If not, you may be tethered to AC power until you can replace your computer.

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