Extend Your Laptop’s Battery Life

You get to the club with plenty of time, carefully set up all your equipment and, with just five minutes before start time, realize the worst: the laptop’s power supply is at home. In this nightmare scenario (which is more common than you might imagine) it is essential to know how to extend your battery life and get as much time as possible out of the laptop before the music stops. Let’s go into some tips on how to avoid this situation and deal with it if the problem pops up.

GET A BACK-UP

Chances are high that you use the same laptop for DJing and for casual home use. Each night this laptop and all accessories get packed up and put into a bag. Ultimately, its only a matter of time before one critical component gets left at home. Fix this problem permanently by creating a fully stocked DJ bag with all your cable accessories. The following items should never leave this bag or be used for personal use. This way, the power problem we go into later will never happen.

  • Power supply
  • USB cables
  • Firewire cables
  • 1/8″ to 1/4″ headphone adapter
  • Needles
  • Control records

Basically everything that is mission critical besides your laptop should never leave the dj bag. This will mean owning doubles of almost everything above in order to be really safe.

FIRST STEPS


If, for some reason, you must dj off battery power alone for at least 2 hours and need all your standard gear then read on. The following tips are things you can do to minimize power consumption, and are written from a Mac perspective but should be useful to all computer owners.
1) Turn off the airport

2) Quit all un-needed applications

3) Turn down/off the backlit keyboard

4) Dim your screen as low as possible

5) Elevate your laptop and Keep it cool

6) Invert the screen colors
This can be done in the System Preferences -> Universal Access and selecting the “White on Black” option  (or alternatively  the shortcut Control+Option+Command+8). More black pixels means less voltage needed to power the screen.

7) Turn off bluetooth

8) Max out your Ram

More ram means less hard-drive access. Those spinning plates suck up power!

8) Calibrate the battery once a month

9) Consider getting a 13″ (They have a longer battery expectancy)
If you follow the steps above then you should get 2 hours out of a fully optimized computer, enough for a basic set with standard gear. If you absolutely need more time than that and must provide the music then more drastic measures could be required.

THE EMERGENCY PLAN

To really save power, you may need to disconnect all peripherals including sound cards, controllers and possibly even high CPU drain dj software. Exactly how much power do all our peripherals and programs suck up?  Without diving too deep into my hardware, I found a program (MiniBatteryLogger) that monitors battery usage and life, with the added convenience of plotting the actual amp draw and battery level over time.  With it, I was able to asses what different pieces in my DJ setup consume more of the battery power.

TEST DETAILS

  • Equipment:  MacBook Pro 13″ purchased in Dec. ’09 with a 5000 mAh LiPo battery.
  • OS 10.6.4, Traktor 1.2.6 with an A2DJ soundcard and a VCI-100SE Arcade

Test runs consisted of loading a program or plugging a peripheral and reading the amp draw for 5 minutes (enough time for a stable reading).  At that time I noted the amp draw and battery time expectancy.  One test was run from 97% battery down to 0% to see if the predictions were accurate, and surprisingly it was within 2 minutes.

The Traktor configuration was run with 2 decks running, one looping on the master and one looping on cue.  Different tests with FX and heavy input from the VCI did not show significant impact to amp draw.

RESULTS

  • System after fresh restart with only the battery software running: 0.6A draw for a predicted battery time of 8h 20min.
  • Traktor running with A2DJ: 1.4A draw for 3h 20min duration.
  • Traktor with VCI-100SE (plugged into laptop) and A2DJ: 1.65A draw for 2h 50min duration.
  • Traktor with VCI-100SE (plugged into powered multi-tt USB hub) and A2DJ: 1.55A draw for 3h 0 min duration (This was the test that I ran to 0% battery, and it lasted 2:58).
  • iTunes with A2DJ: 1.15A for 4h 25 min duration.
  • iTunes from built-in audio card: 0.8A for 7h 45min duration.

CONCLUSION

The good news is that you can get away with running a full dj rig for a short period on your laptop battery alone.  As an absolute last ditch effort, iTunes and the built-in sound card can work if keeping the music running is a must for 3+ hours.  These tests are far from clinical data, but should provide some solid knowledge that will prepare you for that scary moment when disaster does strike.

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Comments (47)
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  • Elf

    Just a couple thoughts on some of these ideas..

    -I don’t think inverting pixels would do much here.. screens are typically backlit, so leaving the brightness alone, I think you would use slightly more energy by making the pixels darker. Lowering the brightness/backlight however will do a lot for minimizing power consumption.

    -Undervolting/underclocking on macbook/pro: http://www.coolbook.se sells a nifty program that allows both undervolting and underclocking. If tuned right, this can lower power consumption by the cpu, and as a result also cause less heat generation which in turn means less power needed for fans too. Used improperly it can cause crashes if you don’t leave a small safety margin on the undervolting though, so do be sure to run through all the testing to be sure your settings are stable. This will not work on the latest i5/i7 processors, but should work on (most?) of the previous intel chip ones. I used it with good results on my macbook pro core2duo I bought 3 years ago.

    -There is also a nifty program for the macbook/pro called Fan Control that allows you to customize the temperature/fan usage. This might come in handy as well.

    -Slightly off topic – someone mentioned wireless electricity. Nikola Tesla was doing this as early as 1893. I believe Edison didn’t like this much and according to some stories, purposely set out to ruin him. Unfortunately because of this, the idea won’t be helping us much today.

  • MusicMeister

    Here’s a couple more recommendations and additional info:

    1. Get a spare power supply. Radio Shack has a line you can pick up in a pinch for about $100.

    2. Get an extended life battery. Having an extended life battery saved me once and allowed me to play for more than 5 hours on battery power at a wedding. (It was also the last time I ever did 3 events in one day – I had left the power supply at the second event I was playing at while I was setting up and testing before going back to the first one to start the event).

    3. Changing to a darker screen saves power, but turning down the backlighting saves even more. Don’t think so? http://www.blackle.com.

    4. Turn off any hardware not being used. Networking, wireless, bluetooth, 3G, etc.

    5. Review the power options in windows and see if you can turn down some of the items. Setting the screen to blank after 1 minute for example can save a LOT of power if you’re running a playlist during cocktails for example.

    As for the battery calibration – some laptops have an option in the bios that discharges the battery, charges it, uncharges it, and charges it again. It calibrates the readings and allows the computer to provide accurate information. This isn’t available on all laptops. On mine it changed my battery life from about 6 minutes to over an hour once I ran the calibration (2 year old battery and it only gave me about 2 hours when it was new).

  • pilmat

    [quote comment=”36899″]Uh, what? If those things used only a few mA, you would be able to run your computer for hours, or even days, on a couple of AA batteries. Surely that can’t be right.

    A 5000mAh battery can provide 5 mA for 1000 hours, or 500mA for 10 hours.[/quote]
    Doh! Thanks for pointing out that typo. I changed it all to A and not mA. Now your calculation will make more sense.
    ..
    Phil.

  • Dj hustleman

    This is bullshit when you forget the whole damn bagg!! Lol

  • DJ Essentials

    I agree. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve heard in awhile. [quote comment=”37000″][quote post=”7869″]In addition, bring some cd’s and start DJing your set with club’s pioneers[/quote]

    This is so money I can barely handle it. If you’re at any decent club, they’re sure to have some sort of CDJ setup. While cue point juggling and random effects are nice, let’s not forget why you’re there: to professionally play music. Learn to mix on an analog mixer; learn to beatmatch and cue using a CDJ setup (auto-sync is the icing – not the cake itself).

    Pioneer’s new series of CDJ’s allows you to throw a thumb drive into a USB slot on the front of the deck and navigate through the folders. Throw one in your bag and have an instant backup that you can use to perform INSTEAD of playing your iPod to an unused channel or line-in.

    If you’re going to DJ, make sure you know how to DJ.[/quote]

  • jfhlka

    [quote comment=”36894″]GET A MAC!* Therefore, since everyone is getting a Mac, there is fat chance that you will be able to borrow Mac charger.
    Life would be so simple if we all had Macbooks, IDK why Apple hasn’t push trough to be mandatory for every newborn a Macbook has to be bought.

    *I effin hate people who shout GET A MAC. This comment was intentionally racisct thowards other laptop brands. Also it is nice to see brand-fanboyism lovered next to nothing in the comments. Cheers![/quote]

    Get a Mac!

  • Epiphenomenon

    [quote post=”7869″]In addition, bring some cd’s and start DJing your set with club’s pioneers[/quote]

    This is so money I can barely handle it. If you’re at any decent club, they’re sure to have some sort of CDJ setup. While cue point juggling and random effects are nice, let’s not forget why you’re there: to professionally play music. Learn to mix on an analog mixer; learn to beatmatch and cue using a CDJ setup (auto-sync is the icing – not the cake itself).

    Pioneer’s new series of CDJ’s allows you to throw a thumb drive into a USB slot on the front of the deck and navigate through the folders. Throw one in your bag and have an instant backup that you can use to perform INSTEAD of playing your iPod to an unused channel or line-in.

    If you’re going to DJ, make sure you know how to DJ.

  • George

    In a 2 hour period (unless you are in a foreign location) you could pay a friend to take a taxi and bring you the power supply 🙂

  • DJFreesoul

    I carry a memory stick with Traktor software preinstalled and about 2GB mp3s, you can always find a computer/laptop in a club/bar theese days…

  • GRiNSER

    [quote comment=”36940″]This is exactly why i built my laptop, soundcard, ext hd and all power supplies into a record deck flight case, the added bonus being that my setup time is almost zero, 1 kettle lead, 2 audio leads, and 2 midi leads. Done.

    If you’re gigging regularly then a dedicated laptop is a must,
    especially for pc users, with windows having so many virus problems, i keep my dj laptop offline, and so i dont need to run an antivirus either, freeing up more cpu cycles for traktor.[/quote]
    Dunno what you do with your computers but I couldn’t remember the last time I had a virus on my PC. I’m using AntiVir Personal tho (uses virtually none resources) but usually a bit of common sense should do it right.
    Still I have OS X runnin’ on my Macbook Pro for DJing purposes…

  • Quiggers

    This is exactly why i built my laptop, soundcard, ext hd and all power supplies into a record deck flight case, the added bonus being that my setup time is almost zero, 1 kettle lead, 2 audio leads, and 2 midi leads. Done.

    If you’re gigging regularly then a dedicated laptop is a must,
    especially for pc users, with windows having so many virus problems, i keep my dj laptop offline, and so i dont need to run an antivirus either, freeing up more cpu cycles for traktor.

  • DJ Spacecamp

    Really you should always disable your wireless card when running DJ software- it tends to really screw with it. That is, unless you’re using your connection actively- but it’s really ill advised, typically.

    Maxing your RAM makes some sense power-wise, as spinning those HD platters will always drain battery.But there’s no way your library will be stored in RAM- you’ll always be accessing it to throw a new song on, so for the ultimate power save, you could totally get a SSD drive for your laptop. Super-efficient.

  • tobamai

    I don’t know if a spare battery would be real useful… you’ll need to constantly make sure it’s charged (they lose charge over time) and when the one you’re using runs out, the music still stops while you’re swapping batteries.

    And I can’t agree more with the guys who bring a mix cd to drop in case something goes wrong. You can say it’s “cheating” or whatever all you want, but if something goes wrong in the booth, the floor should never know about it. And the easiest way to fix something (like a computer that just died or a buzzing from your soundcard) is to put in a mix so you can focus on the problem instead of trying to fix it between tracks.

  • kelvin

    lol, its like those tshirts you get with the ape to human on them…

    back in the days of vinyl, you had dat to back you up
    back in the days of cd, you had vinyl to back you up
    back in the days of laptops, you had cds to back you up

    and squashed in there was minidisc…

    i know this might be a far stretch… but dont any of you guys have a spare battery when you dj?

  • Andieman

    This very thing happened to me the other night!
    I felt like such a noob.
    I now have a back-up power supply in my bag at all times.

    Thanks for all the great tips, guys.
    This site is really becoming a great resource.

    Keep up the awesome work.
    ps. I love my midi fighter!

  • djfrogstar

    [quote comment=”36921″][quote comment=”36911″][quote comment=”36884″]I always carry some pre-mixed cd’s for the time when everything crashes and you need time to solve thing without changing trax every 3 minutes.

    Pre mixed cds… you shouldn`t be getting gigs bro..[/quote]

    vs the guy who sits there scratching his head and the dancefloor just starts laughing at laughing… while the guy with the premixed cds who get through the situation like any smart person still gets the girl at the end of the night.
    One thing that amazes me, are the armchair DJs who make comments with no clue what the real world is all about..
    The brilliant part about this blog entry is the reality of what can happen. People who have never had a dj gig in their life live in a fantasy world where nothing can go wrong. And the point of a party are the people having a good time.. so if something goes wrong, and your not prepared… then and only then should you not be getting gigs. If the energy level is high, and an battery is about to go out… The one who has the premixed cd will be a survivor and a professional for not letting the energy die. Thats the worst case … best case in that situation is to throw in some cds and start mixing. Sadly most newer djs who skip traditional djing are fish out of water in this situation..

  • SRO

    [quote comment=”36911″][quote comment=”36884″]I always carry some pre-mixed cd’s for the time when everything crashes and you need time to solve thing without changing trax every 3 minutes.

    Pre mixed cds… you shouldn`t be getting gigs bro..

  • thunderfoot

    COMING 2012. I found the invention of wireless electricity technology. http://m.gizmodo.com/5636704/real-wireless-charging-will-arrive-by-2012-fujitsu-claims

    Sells men and ladies too if any.I need more dj sources!!!.webs,music,any person place or thing that can sell me professional dj retail priced gear,software,ect. with 15% off or more off. Any thing to do with the dj field or music industry,video industry too. No musician freind,sweetwater,zzsounds,ect.unless you work there and can secretly discount aaaaalooot.im building a professional studio quick and need good sources.Hit me up if you are a secret saving machine.

    Thunderfunny@gmail.com

  • JesC

    haha great post, lastnight I left my main mbp charger in the car but I was lucky enough that I had a 2nd charger in my bag.

    If you guys saw my gig bag you would think something is wrong with me. this is what i carry

    * I only play on 1 deck and use instant doubles

    1. Four Traktor & Serato Vinyl Timecodes & 1 set of needles
    2. Four Traktor & Serato CD Timecodes
    3. 1 Audio 2 & 1 Audio 8, 4 USB cables, 2 Chargers, flashlight, 4 rca to 1/4″ adapters, rca to mono (for clubs on mono system), a cd booklet with +100 cds, Kontrol X1, and Karlos Santos

    My main rig to play at my residency is 2 CDJ-800 and 2 Ch mixer. I use my VCI-100 from time to time, but using the CDJs on DVS helps me bring in guest djs and its super easy to switch over to serato.

  • djfrogstar

    [quote comment=”36908″][quote comment=”36867″]In addition, bring some cd’s and start DJing your set with club’s pioneers![/quote]

    so y take your laptop????[/quote]

    Have you even read the title of this article?
    or are you looking for more info on how to dj with the I jammer

  • djfrogstar

    [quote comment=”36884″]I always carry some pre-mixed cd’s for the time when everything crashes and you need time to solve thing without changing trax every 3 minutes. and a double copy cd of LONG songs, like rare earth’s “get ready”, just in case the bathroom is very far away….
    also carry few cd’s of recent trax and try to mix with them on cdj’s so i still have the feel for them…[/quote]
    just bring a bottle with a wide mouth

  • piopro

    [quote comment=”36867″]In addition, bring some cd’s and start DJing your set with club’s pioneers![/quote]

    so y take your laptop????

  • Edubbs_NYC

    Good Article..once again..I have a printout of a gig check list posted above my desk. Whenever I go on gigs, I go thru the list. I don’t trust my memory because when your in a rush you cant possibly think of everything. Another good tip is always carry two sets of wires, ie usb cables, rca cables etc. For some reason, cables sometimes decide not to work outside of the house..lol!!!

  • deeco

    [quote post=”7869″]8) Calibrate the battery once a month[/quote]

    Can you go into this a little further. When I bought a replacement battery last year the guy at the genius bar told me to let my battery die completely once a month and then re-charge the battery up to 100% again. I’ve also heard that the battery should always have some charge. Some clarification would be helpful please.

  • D-Jam

    Great tips, but I am in agreement with two simple things:

    1) Buy a separate power cable specifically for gigging and leave it in your bag/box at all times. I have one I use for when I am using the laptop at home or what not, but one I keep in my old record box (that I use to haul my controller and laptop now). I’m still paranoid though and triple-check on all cables and such before I leave the house.

    2) Bring a book of CDs. Jimnastics is right on the money, and I think no matter what kind of setup you use, ANY DJ should know how to operate CDJs or rack-mounted CD players. I’ll still bring a book of 10-30 audio CDs with me as a backup. Worst thing is to tell a promoter you can’t play.

  • Hooker T

    Try asking the sound or lighting tech of the establishment you’re playing in. I have found people leave power supplies in the booth after a set more than you would think. Sometimes the club has a box of “left-overs”. You might get lucky.

  • Bart

    Uh, what? If those things used only a few mA, you would be able to run your computer for hours, or even days, on a couple of AA batteries. Surely that can’t be right.

    A 5000mAh battery can provide 5 mA for 1000 hours, or 500mA for 10 hours.

  • Vinicius Hoffmann

    [quote comment=”36895″]For those into hardcore overclocking… or underclocking in this case you can peel pack the voltage on your processor and/or reduce the amount that your cpu is clocked to – this will decrease the power usage of your CPU and give you precious extra time.

    Definitely NOT for the feint of heart of those those who do not know what they are doing, but definitely worth mentioning ![/quote]

    Some brands actually do that automatic if enabled, Dell does it, also HP, but I dunno macbooks can do it…

  • BentoSan

    For those into hardcore overclocking… or underclocking in this case you can peel pack the voltage on your processor and/or reduce the amount that your cpu is clocked to – this will decrease the power usage of your CPU and give you precious extra time.

    Definitely NOT for the feint of heart of those those who do not know what they are doing, but definitely worth mentioning !

  • ToS

    GET A MAC!* Therefore, since everyone is getting a Mac, there is fat chance that you will be able to borrow Mac charger.
    Life would be so simple if we all had Macbooks, IDK why Apple hasn’t push trough to be mandatory for every newborn a Macbook has to be bought.

    *I effin hate people who shout GET A MAC. This comment was intentionally racisct thowards other laptop brands. Also it is nice to see brand-fanboyism lovered next to nothing in the comments. Cheers!

  • Abyrne7

    I find when I unplug my laptop my CPU meter in Traktor jumps like crazy! Very unstable!

  • DVJ Kay Jay

    [quote post=”7869″]fill the rest of the CD with rather recent “lifesaver tracks” – generally intended for the worst case scenario of a sudden unexpected laptop failure or something like that.[/quote]

    Good idea!

  • DJ Moonie

    Some half ok ideas in the thread, others that frankly.. aren’t going to make any difference at all.

    For a headline article.. come on lads.. you can do better!

  • Markku Uttula

    [quote comment=”36867″]In addition, bring some cd’s and start DJing your set with club’s pioneers![/quote]
    Carrying a cakebox of empty CD-R’s is not a bad idea either. When the excrete hits the ventilation, you have a couple of hours to play with your system while (at the same time) you’re able to fill the CD-R’s with the latest tunes. Of course, burning the CD-R’s will snip a bit of time off the expected battery life – you did the battery fully charged to start with, though, did you?

    [quote comment=”36884″]I always carry some pre-mixed cd’s for the time when everything crashes and you need time to solve thing without changing trax every 3 minutes. and a double copy cd of LONG songs, like rare earth’s “get ready”, just in case the bathroom is very far away….
    also carry few cd’s of recent trax and try to mix with them on cdj’s so i still have the feel for them…[/quote]
    Personally I burn my timecode CDs myself. Reason being that I only really need one of the tracks while playing on the computer (the actual timecode track). I fill the rest of the CD with rather recent “lifesaver tracks” – generally intended for the worst case scenario of a sudden unexpected laptop failure or something like that. This way I always have at hand some tracks to save the day with.

  • Anonymous

    @ Idein

    Wireless electricity was invented a long time ago. Google it

  • Vassil Dogbref

    [quote comment=”36875″][quote comment=”36867″]In addition, bring some cd’s and start DJing your set with club’s pioneers![/quote]
    Smartest thing you can do is just that.[/quote]

    You should also bring two rubbing sticks to light your cigarettes with, just in case you forget your lighter.

  • funk sinatra

    I always carry some pre-mixed cd’s for the time when everything crashes and you need time to solve thing without changing trax every 3 minutes. and a double copy cd of LONG songs, like rare earth’s “get ready”, just in case the bathroom is very far away….
    also carry few cd’s of recent trax and try to mix with them on cdj’s so i still have the feel for them…

  • DVJ Kay Jay

    » 6) Invert the screen colors

    It’s useless.

  • Geoff

    Might be useful to keep a spare pair of underpants in your bag as well… i think you will need them by the middle of your set as you watch the battery percentage plummeting towards zero!!!!!!!

  • tobamai

    Depending on the type of LCD screen your laptop has, it might take more power to display black pixels than white pixels. But the difference is negligible, probably less than a tenth of a watt. In contrast, the difference between the brightest and the lowest setting for the screen’s backlight is probably closer to 3 watts. Changing the screen to show mostly black or mostly white can save you very little and you’d have to know what kind of screen you have to know that you aren’t using a little more power.

    I don’t know about maxing your RAM. I haven’t seen any data on RAM power consumption. I can tell you that laptop hard drives typically idle at half a watt and use between 2 and 3 watts when they’re reading or writing. Obviously you want to limit the hard drive IO, but loading tracks from disk is unavoidable and I can’t imagine a dj situation where your OS is paging out a lot of data to disk because you don’t have enough RAM (unless you’re running a legacy machine).

    By far the biggest power hog is your processor. Again, it varies depending on the kind of processor you have, but it’s typical for power consumption to quadruple for a processor when the clock rate doubles. So if you can run all your software with dynamic frequency switching enabled without hearing rice crispies in your audio, that’s how you’ll probably save the most power.

    “…or get a thinkpad with the super battery”
    I own a thinkpad and I’ll tell you that’s asinine advice. I have an extended battery, it’s great, but saying “get a thinkpad” is just as bad as people saying “get a mac.”

  • djfrogstar

    [quote comment=”36867″]In addition, bring some cd’s and start DJing your set with club’s pioneers![/quote]
    Smartest thing you can do is just that.

  • lauti

    …or get a thinkpad with the super battery

  • Idein

    I had an idea a couple of days ago; wireless electricity would be the greatest invention evaaaa. Imagine instead of 3g network technology it would be “10ec” (electric charge)wireless , you can wirelessly charge anything, such as your sponge bob tooth brush to your midifighter electric car. But then again it’s only an idea.
    Anyways, thanks for the post.

  • Connor/DJ you.S.bee

    all very good info but there is one fact in there that is incorrect, maxing out your ram with not do anything to save power, for ram to work at full capacity your processor has to be working hard aswell, the processor uses around 2-300% more power than an hd, and hard drives dont use that much, especially if u have ssd like me

  • Dj PC3

    Great Article! I find you should most of this anyway, as it will ensure that your mac (or pc) won’t crap out during a set…

  • Jimnastics

    In addition, bring some cd’s and start DJing your set with club’s pioneers!