Dell claims 19 hour battery life for new notebooks

While most notebooks wouldn’t have a hope of reaching 9 hours between recharges Dell has upped the ante with claims that its latest Latitude models can – given the right circumstances – hit an outrageous 19 hours without an AC outlet in sight.

Speaking at the Asia-Pacific launch of the new Latitude line-up Michael Dell observed that “no other demand has shaped the industry more than the need to be mobile. And the majority of us fit into the category of ‘digital nomads’ who are looking for the charger free workday who want to be always on and always connected”.

Reflecting on the company’s 1994 launch of the Latitude which was designed to “break the four hour battery barrier” in order to appeal to frequent business flyers shuttling between New York and Los Angeles Dell said that global business habits had turned long-haul international flights into “a new standard for the road warrior.”

With that in mind the new 14.1-inch Latitude E6400 (starting at $1783) is primed for “a 19 hour transcontinental battery life using industry standard battery benchmarks” such as MobileMark. 19 hours is a big call nonetheless and we’ll withhold judgement until we can get the E6400 on the test bench.

So what are the key ingredients in getting a notebook that’ll run almost around the clock?

First up a single battery pack won’t do. The E6400 comes with a 9-cell battery which is rated for 9 hours but needs to be partnered with a 12-cell ‘battery slice’ which sits under the notebook (smaller capacity battery slices are available for other models including a 6-cell pack for the 13.3-inch Latitude E4300 ultra-portable). “We’re now getting almost one hour per battery cell” says Jeff Morris Dell’s director for Latitude notebooks in Asia Pacific and Japan.

While there’s plenty of juice on tap the focus then turns to keeping as much of that juice as possible in the tank. It doesn’t hurt that the new Latitudes are all based on Intel’s second-gen 45nm processors which belong to the recently-launched Centrino 2 family and manage the usual mobility black magic of being more power efficient without being less powerful.

This includes a design feature known as HUGI or “Hurry Up and Get Idle” which uses the chip’s extra muscle to plough through the workload faster so it can return to a low-drain idle state. It’s in this mode that the real power savings kick in so the more time the notebook spends at rest the longer the battery lasts for.

Another trick is incredibly granular power management that can automatically disable selected parts of the system when they’re not active. If you’re using Wi-Fi for example the Ethernet port can be shut down. Got nothing plugged into the USB or FireWire ports or ExpressCard slot? Turn ’em off.

Don’t need the fingerprint reader not using the optical drive? Each of these can be switched off although Morris says they’ll spring to life if needed (which makes us think that there’s still the tiniest of pulses nipping through every now and again on the lookout for activity – but going from a constant stream of juice to a quick check just once every 200ms still results in a relatively sizeable gain overall). Dell says these measures can extend the notebook’s battery life by up to 20%.

There are few other ways to boost battery life between refills. The Latitude ON fast-boot Linux environment offers lets you do email and access the Web using a low-power processor and flash memory module without firing up the entire PC. And Dell now offers solid state drives as options across the Latitude range so as long as you’re happy to make do with a maximum 128GB of local storage you can claw back more minutes by ditching the spinning hard disk.

Even some small touches add to the whole. Morris says the motherboard was redesigned and then flipped upside down which happens to improve the thermals (and also makes the laptop quicker and easier to disassemble for a service call).

David Flynn travelled to New Delhi India as a guest of Dell.