AMD: Let's Revamp Laptop Battery Metrics

If AMD has its way, your next notebook could offer more information on how it uses battery life.

If you've purchased a laptop recently, one requirement on your mind was likely battery life. Unless you plan on leaving your notebook on a desk for the majority of its lifespan, a manufacturer's estimate regarding mobile operating time is a vital statistic. From the 9-plus hours some netbooks claim to squeeze out of a battery to the two hours one might see with a 17-inch gaming powerhouse, battery life is almost as important to some as RAM or processor speed.

With laptops now representing a far greater chunk of computer sales compared to several years ago, many believe it's high time that manufacturers offer up both additional and accurate information regarding battery life. If a company claims its product can run on battery for four hours, what kind of conditions is that number coming from? Is it four hours on simple web surfing, or four hours while playing a game or watching DVDs?

Nigel Dessau, AMD's Chief Marketing Officer, wants a new metric for measuring laptop battery life. "Have you experienced a difference between your devices’ actual battery life relative to what the manufacturer tells you to expect? I thought so," said Dessau in a company blog. "Given this, it’s interesting to look at how PCs are rated on battery life. Typically you only get one number - and most people have no idea what that number really means in terms of how they will actually use the device...does this number represent the PC’s battery life with the machine in use, or sitting idle?"

Dessau then goes on to compare two different systems - one with an AMD Turion Ultra processor and one with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor. When his team ran MobileMark07, the figures show a large discrepancy between the two systems in terms of idle time. However, when both systems run 3DMark06 to measure battery life, the AMD and Intel laptops have near identical running times. Because of this, Dessau believes that laptop makers should start offering separate battery life estimates for idle time and work hours.

So what does rival Intel think about the metric proposal? “There are many ways to measure battery life,” said an Intel spokeswoman to the Wall Street Journal. “We believe the best way to determine how to measure battery life is by making proposals and debating it in industry consortiums and not via blog posts.” Sure, the results of an AMD vs. Intel laptop showdown run by AMD should be taken with caution, but definitively knowing that a laptop will idle for 6 hours but only play DVDs for two hours would certainly be welcome by consumers.

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  • jacobdrj
    I am glad someone is taking the initiative. But, IMHO, this sounds exactly like MPG rating with the EPA: You need an authority/standard, but you need the test to be meaningful.
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  • grieve
    This sounds like AMD trying to push there one advantage… lower power consumption.

    I do think it would be cool when you buy a laptop regardless of processor/VGA card you get a small breakdown included.
    Watch DVD – 4 hrs.
    3D Gaming – 1.5hrs
    Emailing – 6 hrs
    Surfing the net – 5 hrs.

    Whatever the statistics may be, just have it the same for all developers.


    At the end of the day, this is just a marketing ploy for AMD. “Buy AMD, for longer battery life!”
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  • mdillenbeck
    While I agree that some times you need an external source to enforce a standard (a top-down system), other times a consortium or industry consensus standard (a bottom-up system) also works.

    What metric would I like to see as measuring battery life for a device? Ideally, I'd like to see a "full feature at full load"/"expected use" time measure. This means the laptops all features are run in simulation full bore - wi-fi where signal is weak, bluetooth on, CPU under full load at maximum performance, graphics pushed, ram under heavy usage, screen at full brightness, HDD read/writes near constant, and so forth. This would produce an extreme measure of minimum life. Typical use would have to have it defined (example: single web browser window only in power saving mode with standard settings [wi-fi on, bluetooth off, minimal disk usage, cpu in underclocked mode, screen at 40% brightness]) so people can see what behavior the company expects out of users.

    Also, I might like to see the standard be table based, with listings for 10, 100, 250, and 500 recharges or even a continuous graph with margin of error listed.

    Do I expect companies to do this? No. I expect them to come up with a less intensive and less costly method. Also, my desired method takes a significant amount of time per device to develop and would not work for generic external battery manufacturers (who would have the burden of testing it with hundreds or thousands of compatible devices). After all, running a test 500 times with a battery even 30 times is costly and time consuming - and then there are external factors that can affect the results (temperature, humidity, variation on sample equipment, and so forth). Another factor not addressed is the "always plugged in system" or the "recharge after partial depletion" scenario.

    Thus, I know what I'd like to see - but I doubt it is possible due to cost. Also, it would not be an end-all be all solution.

    As to the notion that solutions should be made only at consortium meetings and not on blog posts, I find that to be disenfranchising. A blog post that solicits customer input will put the industry far more in touch with actual user desires for the metric. That system will be perceived as more inclusive, democratic, and transparent over an authoritarian top-down consortium approach.

    In the least, I hope that AMD succeeds in getting enough manufacturers to support listing idle/expected work load times for batteries. After all, I want to know how long I can actively use my device and not sit there and say "ooh, look - an idling laptop!"
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