800 Mega Hertz is enough.

Eight years ago, I started secondary school, to help with my studies my parents gave me an Asus A54C. It came packaged with Windows 7, powered by an Intel i3-2330M and 4GB of RAM. The laptop was rather large too; it was roughly 15 inches across and weighed over two and a half kilos. It was a fantastic first laptop for me, and it happily coped with all the work secondary school could through at me. Surprisingly, I still haven't replaced that laptop. I made it a challenge to myself to see how long I could keep this laptop going and how much extra life I could squeeze from its ageing battery. This article details some of the ways I was able to keep older hardware going for longer. I realise that eight years is not a massive amount of time, and many people still use and interact with much older technology. However, this is my experience with older tech, and I would like to share some things that I have learned. I am a university student, which means saving money takes number one priority with every decision I make, so keeping my laptop running and not having to spend more on a new one is excellent! So this article could also help you if you want to save some money by breathing new life into a computer that was initially destined just to be discarded.

Batteries, unlike diamonds, are not forever.

I mentioned in the opening of this article that I didn't want to spend money on a new laptop. While I didn't spend money on a new laptop, I have spent money to get a new battery for my current one. As my Asus laptop is eight years old now, the price of replacement batteries have had time to decrease; a new one only set me back £10 pounds, and I didn't even have to pay for shipping! That already fixed a glaring issue that had developed from my many years of miss use. Numerous hours of being left plugged into the mains meant the battery developed a terrible memory and reducing its life down to a pitiful forty-five minutes. I could barely walk from one room to the other without needing to charge it! The replacement battery increased the time I could be unplugged to a whopping two hours. It was incredible being able to walk around and be able to do the things I would typically do while sitting at my desk for even longer!

Laptops are lightweights.

I don't mean this in the sense that computers can't handle their drinks because they certainly don't like liquids of any form. What I mean by "Laptops are lightweights." is that you can get a drastic increase in performance is you make smart choices about the type of software you use. Make sure to choose applications that are bloated and will nibble away at your precious RAM like a peckish mouse in between meals. Steer clear of programs that start up automatically as they can slow you down without even realising. Change to a more efficient OS, this point is a little bit more extreme than the last two. A lot of users aren't comfortable migrating to a new operating system for the sake of twenty minutes extra battery life, but it was one of the main reasons why I made a move to Arch Linux in the first place. The ability to configure your system for maximum power-efficiency is a feature shared across the majority of OS now. However, if Arch Linux isn't for you, then I would suggest taking a look at Manjaro, Lubuntu or Damn Small Linux, each has its perks for use on older hardware. Manjaro is Arch based so allows for all the control that comes with the Arch distros, but with a strong emphasis on stable releases rather than being at the cutting edge, this means you won't be as worried about if there will be compatibility issues with your hardware. Lubuntu, based on the Ubuntu distro, is a lightweight OS that uses the LXDE desktop to allow for a smaller overhead compared with Ubuntu's GNOME desktop and Unity shell. Finally, Damn Small Linux does what it says on the tiny tin that it comes in. It is only 50 MB in its entirety and comes fully loaded with a web browser, file viewer and even an audio player. I personally now use Manjaro after having issues with Arch's rolling release packages.

You don't need a sledgehammer to swat a fly.

Computers are amazing; they are so fast and can do so much. Nevertheless, what if we didn't need it to be so fast or do so much? That was the question I asked myself when I was trying to improve the battery life of my laptop even further. I came up with a simple solution. The processor that came in my computer runs at 2.2GHz, that isn't fast compared to modern laptops today, but it is still much faster than I need it to be. Each clock cycle uses a little bit of power, and if all I'm doing is typing out Latex documents, then I don't need that many clock cycles. I don't need one thousand four hundred of them to be precise.

There is a package called powertop that allows precise control over a computers power consumption. Using this command, we can set clock speed for the computer's CPU:

#cpupower frequency-set -u 800MHz

The command uses the "-u" flag to set the upper limit for the clock speed to be 800MHz. This is the lowest value my laptop's clock speed can be set. Reducing the CPU cycles done per second allows for up to an hour of extra battery life depending on what I am doing. It also doesn't affect my usage at all because I am never doing anything intensive like rendering videos or 3D modelling on this machine. The powertop package is an indispensable part of my Linux toolbox; it has helped so much in maximising the efficiency of my elder laptop.

A final note.

Lots of what I have written about in this article has been my own experiences and findings from searching places like the Arch wiki and Stackoverflow. If you have any more advice on increasing the efficiency of an older machine, leave a comment below or send me an email through the button at the bottom of this page.

Sam SladeHardware, Linux