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Cybernaut

The all-day laptop

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Laptop computers are only really portable to the extent that you can take them wherever there’s a plug. Technically you can work on battery power, but most batteries will conk out in less than four hours and usually much faster if you’re using them for applications like watching movies or playing games. Even surfing the Internet, which diverts battery power to your Wi-Fi card, will speed up the drain, as will plugging in peripherals like a camera or a mouse.

Plus, most of us know by now that it’s not good for your battery to run it down to nothing without recharging it right away, as it will hold less charge the next time you power up and will wear out faster in the long run.

Most new laptops offer low power modes that shut down Wi-Fi, dim screens, and shut down unnecessary applications.

Laptops with flash memory-based hard drives also prolong battery life, using a sixth as much power as it takes to spin and read the hard drive. A new line of laptops is also on the way that runs your operating system on Read Only Memory or ROM, booting up instantly and requiring less power.

Other power-saving technologies en route include lower power LED screens, thinner and more efficient circuitry, redesigned processors that eliminate the work of once-separate graphics cards, more efficient motherboards, low heat designs that reduce fan usage, and optimized software that loads faster and uses less memory. Each improvement adds to your battery life, and taken together can add up to hours.

However, the crux of so-called portable devices like laptops, PDAs, phones, music players and other electronics is still the capacity and life of the batteries themselves.

While labs are working on ultracapacitor batteries that will charge almost instantly, and incremental improvements are being made in capacity, the best solution these days is simply to build bigger batteries.

To that end, Hewlett Packard is releasing a new Elitebook 6930p with an optional 12-cell battery that can reportedly offer 24 hours of battery time — presumably in low power mode without using a lot of power-draining applications. Somehow the weight still comes in at a respectable 4.7 pounds, which is slightly heavier than most laptops its size but it’s not going to break any briefcase handles. The typical laptop battery has four to six cells.

While the doubled capacity should result in a battery life of about 10 hours, give or take, HP also packed this notebook with other power-saving features like an Illumi-Lite LED display that supposedly adds about four hours to your computing time. It also includes an SSD (flash memory) hard drive that uses far less power than a conventional hard drive, as well as other low-power hardware.

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