Why Are Notebook Battery Figures So Misleading?

So, here's a thought. You know how vehicles sold in America have a "city" and "highway" MPG rating? And you know how cellphone companies rate their devices with a "standby time" and "talk time?" Why don't notebook makers follow suit? That terrific talking point is coming at you courtesy of AMD's senior vice president and chief marketing officer Nigel Dessau, who just recently wrote up a blog post on the subject.

Today, users are given one single notebook battery life figure, and every single one of us consumers understands that said number isn't apt to be accurate in most situations. It's something we've all just learned to deal with rather than attempt to change. For instance, Asus claims that its Eee PC 1000HE can get 9.5 hours of battery life. There's no "maximum" or "minimum," it's just 9.5 hours. When we tested it and discovered that it only lasted around 6.5 hours, we were elated. Isn't it a bit odd that we were stoked about a metric actually being far less than advertised? In reality, we were just happy that the 1000HE came that close to meeting the ridiculous sounding claim of 9.5 hours, but Mr. Dessau doesn't think that's the best way to go about things. And truthfully, now that our eyes have been opened, neither do we.

In essence, consumers aren't specifically told what the battery life figure on a laptop means. We all assume it's under "light to normal" circumstances, but really, what goes on in testing to get those numbers? How long does the machine sit idle? How long does it crunch calculations? Does it ever fall to sleep? Nigel points out that most industry battery benchmarks are determined by using MobileMark 2007, which is a rating of battery life when the PC is running on average less than 5 percent utilized, or as he calls it, "fundamentally idle." Most PC makers don't even bother activating Wi-Fi while testing. Seriously, how often do you keep your laptop at under 5 percent utilization with no Wi-Fi? Firing up Microsoft Word just once is likely to push that Atom CPU over the 5 percent mark -- just imagine how those benchmarks would change if a few YouTube videos were watched along the way.

Nigel also points out that most MM07 battery numbers really are "best case scenarios," which usually doesn't translate to "real-world scenarios." The MM07 number is certainly useful, but we agree in the belief that laptop makers need to provide another figure on the low-end in order to provide guide rails about battery life. Consumers deserve to know what average low and average high to expect, not just the latter. It's time for change in the battery measurement arena -- the question is, will we ever see it?