June 2, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Vista beta sucks up battery juice

Windows Vista delivers some pretty snazzy new graphics, but all that "wow" can be a real drain.

With the new version of Windows, Microsoft has created an operating system that offers advances in many areas, but laptop battery life is not one of them. Going by internal tests at one hardware maker, which declined to be named, there is noticeably lower battery life when Vista runs in its "average power" mode.

Microsoft has said that the current versions of the update deliver less battery life than Windows XP, but the company has also said it hopes to close the gap in the coming months.

One of Vista's most visible changes is its Aero interface, which offers spiffier graphics when people navigate through the operating system. Its advanced Aero Glass effects include translucent windows and animated transitions, as well as the ability to move between windows and documents by selecting from miniature versions of those items.

"Doing all of those wonderful things that (the Aero Glass effect) allows, you are going to end up burning more milliwatts," said chip analyst Nathan Brookwood.

Even so, any lowering in battery life is a blow to the rest of the PC industry. Manufacturers have found it a struggle to boost the battery life of notebook computers, even as they've made easy advances in other areas, such as disk space and processor performance.

"Just when they thought they were getting closer, now they are further away," Brookwood said. Several hardware makers contacted by CNET News.com declined to comment.

Microsoft acknowledged that Vista's more intense graphics do cause a hit to battery life.

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"The Windows Vista Aero theme and components which implement it can use more resources than previous versions of the operating system," Microsoft product manager Mike Burk said in a statement.

The company said it is working with PC makers to ensure that systems are better able to handle the change. "As a result, the impact on battery life is small," Burk said. However, the company would not say how it might solve the battery woes.

Polishing Vista
Improving Vista's battery life is just one of many things Microsoft is trying to do between today's test version and the final release of the new operating system. The software maker is looking to wrap up its development work this year, though, which means a tight deadline for fixing bugs and improving things like raw performance and power use.

Jim Allchin, co-president of the Microsoft unit that includes Windows, said battery life is not on the top of his list of worries.

"In terms of battery life, no...that's not one that's at my concern level," he said during a recent interview.

Got views on Vista?

The company is still tweaking some settings, such as the degree to which Vista's built-in search engine indexes files while on battery power, and how often it does so. Microsoft has already made some decisions that won't show up publicly until the next major test version of Vista is released.

For those who want more battery life than Vista can deliver in all its glory, Microsoft suggests they switch to the "basic" theme in Vista. "Basic" strips out things like the Flip3D feature (for graphically switching among open windows) and the application thumbnails (which make the icon for a file a replica of the picture or document itself).

Another area that holds some promise is Vista's support for hybrid hard drives. These are traditional hard discs augmented by a significant amount of flash memory, which is less power-hungry than a standard hard drive. Samsung, which is building a hybrid hard drive, has said the feature gives notebook users an extra half hour of battery life.

Microsoft executives also said they hope to get better battery life--near Windows XP levels--by the time Vista is completed. However, the company has set itself other goals that have ended up falling by the wayside.

For example, Microsoft at one time thought it could eventually get Vista to run on machines with as little as 128MB of memory. When the system requirements came out last month, Vista instead required 512MB of memory--the same as Microsoft has called for all along.

Hot topic
Beyond the battery life question, there is also the matter of the heat generated by the graphics chips and other components, which work full throttle even doing basic tasks.

Robert McLaws, who runs Vista enthusiast site Longhornblogs.com, said that his Toshiba Tecra M4 has been generating considerably more heat running the operating system beta.

"A lot of these laptops weren't designed to have all that power all the time," he said.

Microsoft said it hasn't seen significant heat problems in its testing.

"We've been testing Windows Vista-based PCs in real-world 'worst-case' scenarios that push hardware theoretical maximum temperatures," Burk said. "Our tests involved 3D games, CAD applications and the like, and in each case revealed no major problems with hardware heat management."

The company did say it has "received a few isolated reports of bugs in services or applications which cause high CPU or disk utilization in Beta 2." It added, however, that none of the reports "characterize the heat levels as excessive to the point of damaging the system."

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37 comments

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The new Intel Apple MacBook (iBook) gets 6 genuine hours!
That's hard to beat!
Posted by CentrOS (126 comments )
Reply Link Flag
MacBook Pro
Indeed, i get 4.5hours with my 17" MBP when using Final Cut
Pro. Now thats a intense program, so 4 - 4.5hours is very good,
a operating system that gives you little battery life is not a good
thing. Also, they recomend turning off the fancy 3D effects,
people might as well just keep XP then.
Before anyone says anything, yes im a mac user, and im not
jumping down MS throat like most mac fanboys, i use windows
occasionally as well, but OSX is my main operating system that i
enjoy using. I just think MS need to really think before making a
OS, not make it up as they go along.
Posted by liam04uk (20 comments )
Link Flag
MY MACBOOK BATTERY ONLY LASTS 3 HOURS
I think the battery on my macbook 2.0 and my ipod nano suck. The rated life for the macbook is 3.45 hrs.I'm getting close to that but NO WHERE NEAR 6 HOURS STOP TELLING FIBS.
Posted by ferretboy88 (676 comments )
Link Flag
More of the same
Like always, Microsoft Operating Systems are forcing manufacturers to sell even more expensive hardware with each new version. Every time a new version of Windows is released people practically have to throw out their PCs and replace with a new one that meets the "minimal" requirements for the new windows version. As for this Aero interface, perhaps those of us who don't need to see flashy animation every time we open a work application can disable Aero to boost battery life. What would a new Windows version be without a load of unnecessary and resource consuming features?

Here's a hint: disable Themes in XP and see how it affects your battery life, you will be surprised.
Posted by Sentinel (199 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Building for Tomorrow, not Today
It's more of the same, and that is a good thing or we wouldn't have any reason to have operating systems advance beyond Windows 3.1x. And that OS was perfect, right? Heh.

Here's my opinion, not any facts.

When you build a product, you don't design it for today's needs- or even for today's hardware. To do so would render your product immediately obsolete. Design your product to work with what is out there now, but make sure that all your new features will be best supported by the new hardware in the works (and there is quite a bit of it). To some how expect all manufacturers to simply stop making advances because an OS maker has provided the OS that works on today's systems fully would be silly. What company would just stop bothering trying to develope new equipment? There's no money in that.

Imagine complaining that a car company makes cars that can go 200 mph, but the freeway speed is only 70 mph. That car company is irresponsible for making a system that exceeds what the freeway can support at that time, forcing the freeways to be upgraded to use all the features available in your much faster car. You could do that, or you could just stay at the slower speed, never use your car for what it can do, and keep complaining. You know, that horse and buggy idea was pretty good. Now why did the vehicle makers go and cause such a problem by putting an engine in there? Now we have to upgrade our roads, invent seat belts, air conditioning, and most importantly the cup holder.

Aero can easily be turned off. It literally is just transparent backgrounds on windows, transition effects, a 3D version of your ALT-TAB cycling between applications (Vista uses the WinKey+Tab, BTW), and showing a live view of each application instead of a tiny icon for the application when alt-tabbing between apps. Does it affect / improve your actual performance? Not in the slightest. It's one of the first things I turn off in any OS, including XP, Vista, and OS X. I'd rather use my computer than to play with it.

I've been working / supporting Longhorn/Vista for a bit over a year now internally at Microsoft and while I like a lot of it, so far it hasn't done enough to be different to be worth changing from XP for me- right now. Once the hardware catches up to some of the other features in the OS that *do* help with productivity and security, then I'll be looking at upgrading seriously.
Posted by Vegaman_Dan (6683 comments )
Link Flag
Definitely more of the same
But in my view it's the whiners who come along griping that they can't run the latest and greatest new OS on their IBM PC Jr and MS is going to send their goons to make sure they throw away their perfectly functioning computer and make them buy a new one.

Do you understand how lame you sound making the complaint? Probably not. FYI, I've run MS's Vista compatability program on the three computers I have and found that both of the systems I built two years ago are quite capable of running Vista in it's full Aero mode but the laptop I bought last fall doesn't have a good enough video card to make the Aero cut (Hello Gateway! You fools have known about this part of Vista's requirements for several years, why didn't you make your hardware compatible?).

Since I can't run Aero on that laptop it's pretty obvious that I'm not going to have an extra drain on the batteries.

However, your hint about disabling the Themes in XP is an interesting thought, thank you for the suggestion though I rarely actually have to use only the batteries.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Link Flag
REALLY?
"Like always, Microsoft Operating Systems are forcing manufacturers to sell even more expensive hardware with each new version."

Is that REALLY true? I have been using Macs for years and have always been able to load numerous versions of Apple's OS on my machines. I'm currently running the newest version of OSX (Tiger 10.4.6)on a 2000 made G4 tower and a 1999 G3 iBook laptop. Heck I even have an old SE/30 running System 7.5.5.
Posted by lantzn (130 comments )
Link Flag
Time to consider real cost of energy-hogging PCs
Perhaps an energy waste tax is in order to discourage making pretty computers at the expense of the energy infrastructure,.

One great negative of the Microsoft OS monopoly is that it is a waste-inefficient business model that continues to create millions of junked PCs, and new generations of power hogs that suck up ever more watts with each PC generation.

For example, a 700 MHz PIII we use for backup storage by spec has a CPU that uses something like 55 watts top usage; one of our current systems now uses according to specs some 500 watts in CPU power at max CPU load.

At a time of dramatically rising energy costs and increasingly scarce energy supply, we should ask why this insanity is allowed.

Moreover, one arae that could benefit by regulation would be all battery-powered devices. A heavy energy tax on battery-powered devices, and also batteries, would discourage this highly inefficient power model.

Since battery power can be up to thousands of times less efficient than line power in terms of its total opportunity costs for creation and delivery (I saw one report a few years ago noting that alkaline batteries are something like 5,000 times more costly in terms of price and resources used per power unit that line power), we also must ask why we encourage rather than regulate the use of battery-powered devices.
Posted by PolarUpgrade (103 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Batteries
Your points on batteries, while interesting from an efficiency standpoint, really don't make any impact on the primary reason we use batteries: portability.

The reason batteries are becoming more and more prevalent is their ability to bring the power with you. So while they may be nowhere near as efficient, with the increasing availability of wireless access to the internet everywhere (through wi-fi, EDGE, EVDO, HSDPA, etc.) demand for battery powered devices is only going to increase!

So perhaps the solution isn't to try and reduce the use of batteries, but to really work along the current lines, and develop new technologies to increase the efficiency of portable power.
Posted by Antemeridian (12 comments )
Link Flag
You must be a Liberal
Only a tax & spend Liberal would say "there ought to be a tax" as a pitiful attempt to solve this problem. What do you think will happen? MS or any other manufacturer will simply build this tax into the cost of their software/hardware and guess who pays it? The end-user! How about offering incentives for creating energy-efficent hardware? Or incentives for encouraging competition in a Capitalist marketplace? Now they already have EnergyStar standards for things like monitors, maybe they can expand on that? But good lord, not another fricking tax...
Posted by ebeamsales (36 comments )
Link Flag
Conversely, Energy Savings Due To Technology
One could make the case that Microsoft and Intel have resulted in a net energy SAVINGS by allowing people to be much more productive, to do far more with less energy expended (increased productivity). The kind of punish-tax plan you espouse is reminiscent of Al Gore type thinking. Al Gore, by the way, has convinced himself that his consumption of scare energy, as you put it, by jetting all over the world and driving around in limousines doesn't matter because he somehow offsets it buy buying energy credits from some poor slob in Bangladesh.
Posted by maxwis (141 comments )
Link Flag
I said that about WMP
When some folks were lauding the icon displays in the new
Windows Media Player, I wondered what effect displaying
everything as a graphic would have on battery life. I guess this
article answers that question.
Posted by Mimsy (14 comments )
Reply Link Flag
My Permitted Battery Life experiences
I can attest to a Real Time instance.
As a Vista Beta tester in good standing, I was viewing important Apps. data, research, and even my email. While running Vista, I randomly check the battery life status. On one case in point, I noticed a low battery alert of about 15 minutes. I decided to shutdown and Load Windows XP Pro SP2 from the other partition. I then observed that the battery status was > 25 minutes. Hmmm.
I do have a spare battery and of course the AC power adapter, but felt this was a way to later get a better charge on that routine.

On another unrelated instance, I also fell asleep with the Laptop like one of the CNET staff did. Go figure!

Ron
Posted by Ribbink (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Another review
And to think this OS is going up against the next version of OSX (leopard 10.5)not 10.4.

&lt;<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&#38;articleId=9000829&#38;pageNumber=1" target="_newWindow">http://www.computerworld.com/action/article.do?command=viewArticleBasic&#38;articleId=9000829&#38;pageNumber=1</a>&gt;
Posted by lantzn (130 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I Have Windows "Dark Glass"
I use a Windows feature called "Dark Glass" to get more battery life. I activate this feature by turning my screen brightness all the way down. That gives me an extra hour of battery life.

Regarding the extra heat generated by running Aero, make sure you test drive that new laptop in a quiet room before plunking down your hard earned cash. My laptop's fan sounds like a hair dryer when it is at maximum cooling RPM. I could not stand to listen to that for an extended period by running Vista.
Posted by maxwis (141 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I don't see the big deal
Whats the big deal with transparent windows and minimized app
windows? I'm a Mac user and am used to this already. I've been
using Unsanity's WindowShade X for over a year now, which
allows me to make windows transparent and minimized in place.
OS X already has that 3D effect when you do fast user
switching.. I bet that they will use that for regular window effects
in Leopard.

Bottom line:

Mac OS X already has those glitzy and glamorous features sans a
hit to battery life. Windows users should use Mac OS X before
getting too excited about the Aero effects.
Posted by steinah6 (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
You're right to some extent.
I also don't see the big deal with the transparent windows and minimized app windows; or the so-called new widget's like feature we see with Mac OS X. However, since I'm a gaming fan I'd really like to see just how much of a performance boost this new OS may bring. The new visual affects may be awe inspiring but may also take a slight toll on the overall performance on a PC. In the official release I guess we'll get the chance to see how more efficient and user-friendly it may be.
Posted by DCuerpoJr (28 comments )
Link Flag
I agree
I have been using effects like transparency on my linux laptop for a long time. I think it's great windows is including these-types of effects, but I don't understand why they're 1.) making such a huge deal out of something so small or 2.) insisting they be part of the defalt configuration.
Posted by ImNeat (47 comments )
Link Flag
Apple can do it
I'm a windows user myself, but could it be that Microsoft really can't create a good operating system even if they tried? Assuming that Apple's specs are somewhat accurate, Apple has been able to achieve 5.5 hours of battery life on their 17" laptop which has similar hardware specs as most of the x86 based laptops available today.

For a comparison I looked at the HP dv1000t series notebook. It rated up to 8.75 hours on a 12 cell extended battery. Now take into account that HP offers the T2300, Apple only offers the T2600 on the 17 MacBook pro, and that 8.75 hour battery life is probably based on the low end processor.

Now finally I come to my conclusion. If Apple can make an operating system that offers all the glitz and glamour, for several years I might add, that Microsoft is finally trying to integrate into Vista, why is Microsoft the dominate OS? Obviously Microsoft has become too big to consider how they should solve all their problems. Microsoft should quit trying to lock everyone out of operating system by making it difficult for vendors to properly integrate new code into windows and leave it more up to the hardware vendors to supply drivers. Now Im not talking about making Windows open source. All Im saying is that Microsoft should stick to making an operating system and leave all the smaller tasks to the people that know how to do it best. If MS did then I believe that we would see a leaner, more stable OS come from them that would be difficult to rival by any.

But then again, who knows. Maybe Im just being fallacious. If things were so simple then we wouldnt have anything to comment on.
Posted by nectufine (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Advancement in technology or stagnant?
Excuse me for the rant, but why must an operating system need so much juice to run? An operating system IMO should get out the way and save the power and battery for the applications. In no way should the OS drain the battery, especially when we have not seen any major improvement in battery technology.

I guess soon we will see Operating systems and Aps that's 4gig in size, processor speed up to 8 gigs and our battery in our laptop max at 4 hours, lol.
Posted by daveworld (123 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Reason for Home PC User To Upgrade?
Other than a slicker interface with cool graphics, what are the reasons for anyone on a home pc to upgrade from XP to Vista again?
Posted by chrisx1 (201 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Laptop Battery Help
I was having a lot of problems with my laptop holding a charge, I wasn't running Vista but I was running lots of photo editing and imaging software like Photoshop 7.0. By the end of my frustration my battery would barely hold a charge at all. A friend of mine told me that he got a laptop battery at a website called <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.laptopsforless.com/laptopbattery" target="_newWindow">http://www.laptopsforless.com/laptopbattery</a> for really cheap so I checked it out. I ended up getting a brand new battery for cheap and it has been holding a charge better than the original ever did. I would recommend checking out the site if you are fed up with your battery all together. Hope it helps.

Josh
Posted by GreenApple123 (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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