Toshiba is well known for making great notebooks and netbooks - their NB305 netbook is a nice 10" companion device. They also have available a slightly better 11.6" notebook sold as the Satellite T210 sporting the newer and more powerful AMD Nile platform. What makes both of these devices unique is that Toshiba employs a special power plan in the system settings known as "ECO Mode" to boost battery performance. It's a feature not found on any other brand to my knowledge, yet has proven to work very well and should be of importance to people wanting to get the most from their notebooks. It begs the question: can you get ECO Mode to work on your notebook, and can you tweak it to work even better? I'm happy to report that the answer is yes, and today I'll show you how to do just that.
1. Creating your power plan
First, you will need to create your own power plan alongside the ones your notebook already has. You could also go ahead and modify an existing plan, if you don't mind loosing the default settings for that plan. I'm going to explain this for folks who choose to go with the former, as that's a little simpler. The steps here were done using Windows 7 Home Premium, but should work for any flavor of Windows 7 or Vista.
|Creating your ECO Mode power plan is easy|
On the following screen, you will have your basic power plan settings, along with drop-down options for adjusting them. Note that at this point, your new ECO Mode plan hasn't been saved yet, you will need to click on the Create button to save the plan (don't do that yet!). Go ahead and adjust the drop-down options so that they show the following values:
Dim the display - 1 minute on battery, 2 minutes plugged in
Turn off the display - 2 minutes on battery, 5 minutes plugged in
Put the computer to sleep - 5 minutes on battery, 10 minutes plugged in
|Make sure to change your ECO Mode plan settings...|
Now that you have your plan saved, we can go into adjusting the plan's advanced settings. This is the part where we will tweak the ECO Mode plan and fine-tune individual options to get the most out of our notebook. It's not very difficult, but requires some attention.
2. Fine-tuning the plan settings
|...including adjusting advanced settings|
|This is where you will fine-tune your ECO Mode plan|
Here's the details of the ECO power plan as I had it set up on my HP dm1z that I reviewed recently:
-Require a password on wakeup
On battery: No
Plugged in: No
-Turn off hard disk after
On battery: 3 Minutes
Plugged in: 5 minutes
-Desktop background settings
On battery: Paused
Plugged in: Available
-Wireless Adapter Settings
-Power Saving Mode
On battery: Maximum Power Saving
Plugged in: Maximum Performance
On battery: 5 minutes
Plugged in: 10 minutes
-Allow hybrid sleep
On battery: Off
Plugged in: Off
On battery: 360 minutes
Plugged in: 360 minutes
-Allow wake timers
On battery: Disable
Plugged in: Disable
-USB selective suspend setting
On battery: Enabled
Plugged in: Enabled
-Power buttons and lid
-Lid close action
On battery: Sleep
Plugged in: Sleep
-Power button action
On battery: Sleep
Plugged in: Sleep
-Sleep button action
On battery: Sleep
Plugged in: Sleep
-Link State Power Management
On battery: Maximum power savings
Plugged in: Maximum power savings
-Processor power management
-Minimum processor state
On battery: 5%
Plugged in: 5%
-System cooling policy
On battery: Passive
Plugged in: Passive
-Maximum processor state:
On battery: 50%
Plugged in: 100%
-Dim display after
On battery: 1 minute
Plugged in: 2 minutes
-Turn off display after
On battery: 2 minutes
Plugged in: 5 minutes
On battery: 29%
Plugged in: 29%
-Dimmed display brightness
On battery: 0%
Plugged in: 0%
-When sharing media
On battery: Allow the computer to sleep
Plugged in: Allow the computer to sleep
-When playing video
On battery: Optimize power savings
Plugged in: Balanced
-Critical battery action
On battery: Hibernate
Plugged in: Do nothing
-Low battery level
On battery: 10%
Plugged in: 10%
-Critical battery level
On battery: 3%
Plugged in: 3%
-Low battery notification
On battery: On
Plugged in: On
-Low battery action
On battery: Do nothing
Plugged in: Do nothing
-Reserve battery level
On battery: 3%
Plugged in: 3%
-ATI Graphics Power Settings
-ATI Powerplay Settings
On battery: Maximize Battery Life
Plugged in: Maximize Performance
Go ahead and make your changes to each line as shown here - click on the blue values and adjust where needed.
You are free to ignore some of the changes I have here - some people will prefer to have a password on wakeup, for example, or set their power button to hibernate instead of sleep. Likewise, if you have integrated graphics or an nVidia GPU, the ATI settings won't apply to you. Do try to keep everything else as I have shown here, especially values that relate to power or performance.
Also, experienced users will notice there are some subtle changes here compared to what your system will likely have for it's "maxed battery" profile. I will now go over these.
3. The secrets of long battery life
Toshiba's ECO Mode already does a good job of getting the most out of your notebook, but there are circumstances where you can change the settings to make it work even better. Depending on the hardware you have, it might also be necessary to make changes to the settings so as not to have a negative effect on your battery's performance.
The first key setting is to adjust the on-battery maximum processor state. This setting determines how fast your CPU will perform when running on battery power. The lower your CPU performs, the lower it's heat output will be, keeping your fan running at a lower power setting. The default value is 100%, but depending on your system, you could possibly take it all the way down to as low as 33%. Obviously, this will have different ramifications for Intel systems versus AMD, single versus dual-core, and performance versus economy products. I had extremely good results on my K625-equipped HP dm1z with a 50% setting, but you are free to experiment here, and I recommend you do. The objective is to take it down low enough that you can still retain good use from your device, without hampering usability or performance. The lower you can go, the cooler your CPU will be, the less power your fan will consume, and the longer your system will run unplugged.
The second important setting you need to modify to get the most juice out of your battery is to change the three battery level percentages. Of these three, critical battery level is the most important, since it is at this point when Windows will ultimately end your unplugged fun, automatically hibernating to save your work and shutting down your system.
On the HP dm1z I was using for review, this setting had a lower limit of 7% and would not go any lower when adjusting using the arrows. That still left more battery life than needed for the system to hibernate, about 21 minutes in fact! I knew having a SSD drive meant that hibernation was near instantaneous, only taking a few seconds. Even regular drives that may take somewhat longer to write data for hibernating still won't need anything near 21 minutes battery life. Do the math - if your battery goes for 5 hours on a charge, 10% of that is half an hour. A three percent shutdown would still yield 9 minutes of life left in the battery, but since Windows 7 has this limit set at a 3% floor, it's the lowest setting you will be able to go with.
|Carefully note your GUID values - it's a long string|
Now, obviously, your own GUID values will be different than my example, but it's important to write out the full string as shown above, and keep the GUID values in the same order. Hit enter after the 3, and close the command prompt window when done. Verify your settings by going back to the advanced settings window for your ECO Mode power plan - your critical battery level should now read 3%. If you want to change the "plugged in" value as well to 3%, just replace the -setdcvalueindex switch above with -setacvalueindex and rerun the command.
Finally, you will notice in my power plan settings the dimmed display brightness is also set to 0%, which when on battery, goes into effect after 1 minute of idle. What this does is completely kill your backlight, which for even a LED backlit screen should save enough watts to push your system an extra 15-30 minutes. LED backlit displays already have lower power requirements than cathode-tube backlit screens, but unlike CCFL, dimming the brightness on a LED backlit display has absolutely no effect on power draw - a 40% screen will still draw the same power as a fully-bright display. Folks who think they're getting more battery by turning the brightness down are in effect doing nothing of the sort - such is the (little-known) characteristic of LED backlights! Turn that backlight all the way off, though, and you will definitely save power, while still being able to make out what's on your screen.
WHEN ECO MODE COMES UP SHORT:
Obviously, ECO Mode works best and is meant for notebooks/netbooks that use more-recent, low-power offerings from AMD and Intel. Processors such as the N550 Atom, K625 Turion II Neo and the Core i3 would benefit the most from using ECO Mode as these processors are already designed to work on low power, so any gains made will show up in significantly measurable battery times. For example, a 20% power saving on a system that normally runs for 5 hours will result in an additional full-hour of run-time.
The caveat is when you begin to apply ECO Mode on systems that are already big power hogs. I'm talking notebooks with lousy batteries to begin with, quad-core processors, SLI graphics, dual 7200RPM hard drives, or in the absolute worst case, all of the above! A perfect example of such a machine is my Toshiba Qosmio X305-Q708 workhorse. As fine as this machine runs, gaming time is limited at best to an hour when unplugged. Even if I were to somehow wring an astonishing 20% extra efficiency from the power-hungry components, it would still only translate into a measly 12 minutes of additional run-time. Given the limited real-world benefit such marginal gains would provide, the effort is not worth it.
Of course, that's not to say that I couldn't disable SLI, work on dual-core, and replace those 7200RPM platters with two SSD drives. But if stripping down performance and functionality is the route to getting more battery time, you're much smarter trading down to or buying an economical companion device that uses much less power with more power-friendly components. After all, if your dream is to get 36 miles per gallon on the freeway, you don't want to be driving a behemoth SUV. You have to keep in mind that long battery times will require a certain type of notebook. The lesson to be learned here - get the tool that works and does what you want!
At the opposite end of the scale is a very lean system such as a basic netbook. Pinetrail already delivers impressive battery life, so choking a N455 CPU to boost unplugged time may result in an unusable system. My experience has shown that at full CPU power, these systems provide adequate performance. But once you begin to apply very aggressive power management settings such as ECO Mode, performance and usability decreases very quickly. An increase of an hour or more of battery time will come only at the expense of sluggish performance doing basic tasks, and the inability to run most advanced tasks at all. Clearly, in this case, ECO mode would more than likely cripple any serious productivity. You could opt not to apply any of the processor power management settings, but if you have such a system, the best choice here if one battery doesn't cut it for you is to cough up the dough for a second battery and swap.
Some of you out there may wonder why I've yet to mention undervolting in any of my power-conserving articles. For those in the dark, undervolting involves dropping down the operating voltage of the CPU from it's default value to a minimal voltage where the CPU still retains full operation, but results in a lower power draw, thus increasing battery time. It's proven to work (very well) in a lot of cases, but it does have it's drawbacks.
Most notably, undervolting relies on the exclusive use of 3rd-party software, the most common of which goes by the name RMClock. This custom utility provides the controls and tools necessary to monitor your processor's status and make changes to the voltage level. That said, the software needs to support your operating system (by name and by bit-version) with the proper drivers, alongside include support for your particular CPU.
And therein lies the first problem, since from what I can tell, RMClock was last updated back in 2008!!! Need I mention that Penryn is no longer the mobile fashion trend? What may have been compatible for hardware back then is not going to work for a current-generation platform like Nile, much less upcoming mobile architectures such as Sandy Bridge. Had the software developer kept pace with processor advancements during 2009 and 2010, RMClock would still be an option to consider, but as it currently stands, I just cannot recommend it.
Compounding that negative recommendation is the lack of proper OS support. The overwhelming majority of notebooks sold today through retail channels come configured with a 64-bit flavor of Windows 7. Yet the developer of RMClock has not released a 64-bit version for either Windows 7 or Vista, and obtaining 64-bit driver compatibility required many workarounds. Linux 64-bit users get a better deal in this regard, but going with a Linux OS opens up it's own can of worms that Windows users probably don't want to hear about. Suffice to say, the time and effort needed to get undervolting to work, if you can at all, is just not worth it any more - you're much better off grabbing a higher-capacity battery for your notebook and putting ECO Mode to work instead!
ECO Mode is a fantastic yet simple feature that will wring the most out of your notebook's battery and provide you with maximum run time. While you may not get the nifty ECO Mode software Toshiba has, which tells you how "few" watts your system is sipping along with a progress graph, you DO get the same power saving advantages, which is the real value here. Tweak your settings further, as I have shown, and you can look forward to even better battery performance than manufacturers or Windows would offer you out-of-the-box.
Users of Pinetrail netbooks already get very good battery times, so turning down performance in their case would leave a system quite lean but also mostly unusable for more than basic tasks. However, on a system such as an AMD K625, performance suffers little, if anything, and offers a very notable increase in battery time. While I have yet to implement these settings on notebooks running a mobile Core 2 Duo or mobile Core i3/i5/i7, there's every possibility the recommendations shown here will push your unplugged performance enough to make a welcome difference in your work and play. Use a spare battery in your every-day mobile roaming, and your power savings can actually multiply!