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Operating Systems

Keep a closer watch on your notebook's battery

The free RightMark CPU Clock utility gives you an inside look at your laptop computer's power usage, CPU load, and other system info.

Most of the expert advice on extending the life of your notebook computer's battery boils down to common sense: turn off devices you don't need (CD drive, wireless adapter, Bluetooth, etc.); don't run AutoCAD and other graphics-intensive apps; don't run more apps than you need; turn down the brightness of your display (most laptops do this automatically); and set your system to hibernate after a shorter period of inactivity.

Quick aside: Lately whenever my notebook goes into hibernate mode I lose my wireless-network connection. I often have to restart the machine to get it to recognize my network. So much for power saving. I'll go into more detail about this problem in a blog post next week.

Even though Windows Vista gives laptop users more options for customizing their power-management settings, the only indication you get of how much power you have left is a tiny graph in the system tray in the shape of a battery. When you click it you see the percentage of battery life remaining. You can also select another power plan, and follow links to Windows' Power Options Control Panel applet, the Help and Support page on saving power, and the Windows Mobility Center, which puts a snazzier interface on your most common power options.

With all this information, you still don't get an estimate of how much computing time you have left before your battery goes kaput. That's why I downloaded and installed the free RightMark CPU Clock (RMClock) utility, which provides extensive information about your machine's battery use in addition to more than you ever thought you would know about its CPU.

The program is full of numbers, as well as multicolor graphs showing various aspects of your CPU and OS loads, but the digits I'm most interested in are under RMClock's battery-info tab: "Life time remaining." And just in case you're interested, you can also see your battery's remaining capacity in milliwatt hours, its estimated discharge rate in milliwatts, voltage, designed capacity, fully charged capacity, and the milliwatt hours left when the warning alert and low-battery alert are triggered. (Note that the original post erroneously referred to these measurements as "megawatts." My thanks to Net_Worker for the correction.)

The RightMark CPU Clock utility
The RightMark CPU Clock utility provides a wealth information about your notebook's battery. RightMark

The information RMClock provides about your CPU includes the model, core, core clock, core temperature, multiplier (think overclocking), CPU load, and OS load. You can also see as graphs your core clock and throttle, CPU and OS loads, CPU frequency and voltage IDs, and CPU core temperature. This last is particularly handy if your machine is overheating, or if you want to keep its temperature down to improve its performance.

The CPU performance graphs in the RMClock program
Get a view of your laptop's CPU activity with the free RMClock utility. RightMark

The program lets you change your notebook's power settings, including options not available (or easy to find) in Windows' own power options. It even lets you save logs of your CPU, OS, and battery performance. RMClock works with AMD K7 and K8 processors, as well as all Intel chips from the Pentium M/Centrino up to the Xeon, Core Duo, and Core 2 series, among other CPUs.

For fast access to your battery and CPU info, click one of the icons RMClock places in your system tray, one of which duplicates the Windows battery-life icon. The others show your processor speed and OS/CPU loads in a mini-graph. You can add or delete icons, change your power profile, and open the main program window via the system-tray shortcuts as well.

I'd like to tell you more about the program (and there's much more to tell), but it just told me I only have 59 minutes and 36 seconds of power left, and I've still got some YouTube videos to watch before I plug in again.

Monday: the fast way to clear out your list of auto-start apps in XP and Vista.