Laptops with the best battery life

How do you find a laptop with the longest battery life possible? We've gone back through our reviews to find which recent laptops could last the longest without a recharge, and we've broken them down for you.

Need 459 minutes of video playback? Try this Dell Mini Netbook. Sarah Tew/CNET

We talk about a lot of factors when reviewing laptops, such as processor speed, weight, and wireless capabilities, but invariably, the single most important number readers ask about is battery life. We don't blame consumers for being obsessed with it--after all, who wants their laptop to shut down in the middle of a long flight or at an important meeting?

There is also much opportunity for confusion--different manufacturers measure battery life differently, and for the most part, any battery life numbers they advertise are, to be charitable, generously stated. We've attempted to take the thumb off the scale in our standard video playback battery drain test , which generally shows shorter (but more realistic) battery life than you'd find on a list of specs from a PC maker.

Over the years, we've found the battery life of laptops can range wildly: We've seen some systems push 7 hours, and others have trouble even clearing an hour and a half. Keep in mind that battery run time isn't everything--some laptops achieve long life by tacking on gigantic extended batteries or sticking you with absurdly low-power parts.

For your benefit and ours, we've gone back and cherry-picked the front-runners in battery life for 2010 laptops. Here are our discoveries, broken down across the four categories the majority of people are likely to care most about: Netbooks, 13-inch laptops, midsize laptops in the 14- to 15-inch range, and desktop replacements 16 inches and over.

Netbooks (10/11-inch displays) Battery life
Dell Inspiron Mini 1012 (SD) 459 minutes
MSI Wind U160 438 minutes
Acer Aspire One 532h-2326 429 minutes
 
13-inch laptops
Apple MacBook, Spring 2010 387 minutes
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch, Spring 2010 360 minutes
Toshiba Satellite T135D-S1324 359 minutes
 
Midsize laptops (14/15-inch displays)
Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch Spring 2010 356 minutes
Gateway EC5809u 343 minutes
HP Pavilion dv4-2165dx 334 minutes
 
Desktop replacments (16/17/18-inch displays)
Toshiba A505-S6025 268 minutes
Asus K60IJ-RBLX05 205 minutes
HP Pavilion dv7-3165dx 178 minutes

Some observations, based on these results:

  • You may not need extra-long battery life: We doubt anyone expects a laptop with a screen of 16 inches and larger to have an amazing battery life in the first place, simply because these types of machines are so heavy that they're never likely to migrate beyond your desk and wall outlet.
  • Size matters: The Toshiba A505 managed an impressive 4 hours and 28 minutes away from a power outlet, but at the cost of a massive 12-cell battery that sticks out like a giant kickstand from the bottom of the system. If all laptops had batteries this big, we'd see longer life everywhere--but they'd be much less portable.
  • Low-voltage processors help achieve better battery life:The Toshiba T135 series has great battery life for a 13-incher, but uses an ultralow-voltage, less powerful AMD processor. The same case applies to the Gateway EC5809u, which has a large 15-inch screen but a Core 2 Duo ULV CPU.
  • MacBooks lead the charts: This is due, in large part, to current MacBook Pros having extremely large, but non-removable, batteries. The new 13-inch MacBook and MacBook Pro also chose to stay with Core 2 Duo CPUs over Core i3/i5 processors, which also may have helped battery life somewhat.
  • Netbooks last longer than anything (except an iPad): Six-hour-plus battery lives are really one of the best reasons to consider a low-cost, low-power, small-screened Netbook. Though new Atom processors have boosted battery scores even further, some Netbooks do last longer than others.
  • Also worth checking out: One in-betweener that merits serious consideration for long battery life is the Lenovo ThinkPad X201, a 12-inch Core i5 ultraportable that netted a hair under 7 hours of battery life in our tests.

What do you think? Is battery life the most important metric for a laptop? How much battery life do you need? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.

 

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