Does laptop battery life (or the lack thereof) tick you off? You’re hardly alone. Last month a Silicon Valley law firm filed a class action suit against Intel, claiming that the tests it uses to support claims of battery life have almost no connection to how people actually use their computers.
But I have a personal beef with this one. So (because this is my blog and I can) I’ll talk about my own experiences first, and then get into more about the suit.
A couple of years ago I got a Gateway laptop with, yes, Vista installed (because you can’t do a decent job complaining about something unless you experience the suffering first hand). It came with a “4-hour” battery that never lasted more than 2 hours and is now down to about 55 minutes on a good day with a tail wind. (And yes, I have fully drained it several times — it made no difference. Battery technology sucks.)
I dropped $130 more on a spare “6-hour” battery so I could work all the way from NY to LA, minus meals. I get about 2.5 hours out of that one. (Have I mentioned that battery technology sucks?)
Of course, this being Vista, I have options — three of them to be exact. To get a little more juice out of my battery I can choose “Power saving” mode, where the screen goes so dim I feel like I’ve got cataracts and the processor churns so slowly that by the time the little hourglass/cursor stops spinning I’ve forgotten what it is I wanted to do in the first place. Then there’s the damn-the-batteries-full-speed-ahead “High performance” mode, which with Vista means something comparable the Windows 98 machine I owned a decade ago. And then there’s “Balanced,” which offers the worst of both worlds.
So the next time you’re in an airport bar and you see some rumpled guy in a fedora scouring the baseboards looking for an AC outlet, that will probably be me. Buy me a beer and I might let you share my extension cord.
Because, as I think I may have already said, battery technology sucks, PC makers have been looking for other ways to squeeze out a scosh more life, largely by reducing CPU power consumption.
Intel has been spending gazillions building chips that suck less and less juice and then crowing that its chips last longer than AMD’s, according to something called the MobileMark 2007 benchmark. AMD claims the MobileMark 2007 benchmark doesn’t reflect how actual humans use actual computers, and wants the industry to adopt new ways to measure battery technology (which sucks, by the way, if I haven’t made that clear).
Rob Enderle, a longtime industry analyst who doesn’t mince words, puts it thusly:
Everyone in the industry knows this benchmark is wildly optimistic and that the actual battery life you’ll get is often less than half what MobileMark suggests. This is because MobileMark measures battery life much like you might measure gas mileage if you started the car, put it in neutral and coasted down a long hill.
Or, less colorfully but more literally, the New York Times’ Ashlee Vance reports:
Patrick Moorhead, a vice president for marketing at A.M.D., said the parameters for this test include having the screen at just 20 percent brightness, Wi-Fi turned off and no music, video, games or Web pages running. More or less, the test turns a computer into a dimly lit clock, then sees how long it can run.
And thus, we come to the law suit, which is really just another front in the long-running war between Intel and AMD (and, if successful, yet another attorney economic stimulus package). That laptop battery claims are lampoonish is a given; how much consumers have been harmed by that may be up a jury to decide, if the class action is ultimately approved.
If the suit resulted in batteries that actually lasted as long as vendors claimed they did, I’d jump in with both feet. Somehow I doubt that’s gonna happen. Meanwhile, PC vendors continue to generate generously optimistic claims about how long their machines will last.
Right now, for example, I’ve got a Acer Timeline AS3810T charging up on my desk. It’s a sweet looking, dare I say MacBook Air-like, Intel-based ultrathin that claims to deliver 8 to 9 hours of battery life, thanks to — you guessed it — the MobileMark 2007 benchmark.
If I can lug this sucker around for 8 hours doing what I normally do before I have to start hunting for an AC outlet, I will eat my hat, washed down with a tall frosty beer. Heck, give me six hours and I’d be happy.
I’ll let you know how that goes and, possibly, how my hat tastes.
Have you ever had a laptop battery that lasted as long as it was supposed to? Post your accounts here or email me direct: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post originally appeared on InfoWorld’s Notes From the Field blog.
Photo of actual working lemon battery (along with instructions on how to make one) found on Hila Road site. No, you cannot connect this to your laptop.