Industry Pushes for 8-Hour Battery Life

By John G. Spooner  |  Posted 2005-12-15

Industry Pushes for 8-Hour Battery Life

The race is on to deliver all-day battery life for notebooks.

While Intel believes that Napa platform notebooks can push notebooks to or past an average of 5 hours of battery life in 2006, its still shooting for more.

The Santa Clara, Calif., company has said it would like to see standard-issue business notebooks run for 8 hours—or the equivalent of a day—on a single charge of a standard battery versus todays average of around four hours.

The extra run time would be a boon for businesses whose staffers are away from their desks most of the day in meetings, who spend long hours on airplanes or who work in the field.

But Intel alone cant ensure notebooks will get to the 8-hour mark. A host of others, including PC makers, display manufacturers and battery companies have all joined in the effort, many via a battery life consortium.

"Eight hours is a great next goal for the industry to work on," said Mike Trainor, chief mobile technology evangelist for Intels Mobile Platforms Group.

"Its still a challenge—the industry is in the throes of making it happen—but its the right balance of being aggressive and still doable as an industry."

Click here to read more about low-power chip plans.

Thus, in an effort to attack some of the areas outside of processors, which use only a small amount of the total power consumed by a notebook, numerous companies have joined the Mobile PC Extended Battery Life Working Group, a body that seeks to help boost battery life while still allowing companies to compete.

Efforts by the group, founded by Intel in 2002, include publishing a standard method for measuring the power consumption of an LCD panel, which PC makers can use to help compare panels to one another and design systems.

The group also helped set a voluntary three-watt LCD panel target for XGA-resolution or 1024 by 768-pixel panels in the 14-inch and 15-inch range, Trainor said.

"Reducing platform power [a notebooks average power consumption] is really an effort of finding a lot of small gains," he said. "Theres not really a silver bullet."

Indeed, cutting the power of LCD displays will be one of the main objectives of the effort, Intel said. Right now, an LCD panel consumes about 30 percent of the total power used by a notebook, followed by the chipset—chips that assist the computers processor—which can consume about 20 percent.

Voltage regulators, which convert current coming out of a battery to work with various components inside a notebook, are next, consuming about 12 percent, followed by processors at 10 percent of a notebooks power budget.

PC makers such as Gateway Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co., already offer add-on batteries that can double average battery life. But executives at the two companies praised the effort to save power and extend battery life in interviews with Ziff Davis Internet.

Next Page: A reachable goal.

A Reachable Goal

Despite numerous variables, including how each person uses their notebook, the goal is reachable, said William Diehl, vice president of product marketing at Gateway in Irvine, Calif.

"As a goal, yes I think there is a technology path that gets us to Intels vision of battery life and were certainly doing the best we can to make sure were the first to get there," he said.

"Its critical" to have such a goal, said Matt Wagner, a senior manager for strategic marketing inside HPs Mobile Global Business Unit, in Houston, Texas.

"Obviously, people buy notebooks mostly because they want to go mobile. Battery life run time continues to be one of the top concerns or criteria that buyers apply when looking to purchase a new notebook."

Diehl said lower-power LCDs and hybrid hard drives, which use flash memory to store data, allowing them to spin down, are good ways to help save power.

"We are at a point now where continuing to reduce processor [power] consumption is a little bit of diminishing returns when you look at an average power perspective," Diehl said.

"Its starting to get to the point where its more important to focus on displays, hard drives, graphics…and the battery technology."

Still, Intel has made power a priority in the design of new notebook chips and chipsets. The company said it has lowered the power consumption of the chipset inside its Napa platform.

Meanwhile, Yonah, the forthcoming dual-core Pentium M, is expected to consume about the same amount of power as the current single core Pentium M.

Click here to read more about Intels Yonah chip.

Over time, "Were going to bring our chipset average power consumption to two watts or less," Trainor said.

Intel is also aiming to move its processors power consumption to one-watt on average and ratchet down its Wi-Fi modules to "under low 10s of milliwatts," he said.

"As we run into situations where power wants to poke above 1 watt or 2 watts, the engineering teams go back and want to fix that."

Intel thinks that through engineering work, manufacturers can ultimately shave down the average power consumption of a notebook to about 9 watts versus todays range of 10 watts to 12 watts.

Intel-based notebooks would dedicate one third of that power budget to their processors and chipsets, while the rest would go to LCD displays, wireless modules, voltage regulators and other parts, he said.

The other side of the equation, boosting batteries, is an equally tricky proposition, however. Despite continuous development, gains in the power output of lithium-ion cells, todays main battery technology, have come slowly.

By the time 2008 rolls around and systems get down to 9 watts, manufacturers would need to deliver battery packs capable of 72-watt hours, or the amount of power they can dole out over time, versus todays standard of around 60, to last for 8 hours, Trainor said.

More powerful, 2,600 milliamp hour lithium-ion cells, which can be combined inside notebook battery packs, are arriving now. But more advanced lithium-ion or alternative chemistries may ultimately be needed to arrive at the 72-watt hour goal, Trainor said.

Battery makers are already working toward it, however. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., known as Panasonic in the United States, has announced plans to deliver a higher-energy lithium-ion battery in early 2006, for example. Intel has been working with the company to help with power management, for one, Trainor said.

Sanyo Electric Co. and Sony Corp., the worlds other two largest battery makers, are likely to be working on similar batteries, he added.

Meanwhile, startups such as Zinc Matrix Power Inc., are working on alternatives to Lithium-ion. Zinc Matrix Power recently demonstrated a 120-watt hour zinc-based battery it said could run one of Lenovo Group. LTDs ThinkPad T-40 notebooks for 10 hours.

Intel has been assisting the Santa Barbara, Calif., with developing packaging.

Fuel cells also remain a good prospect for powering notebooks. But they face numerous engineering challenges, which will take time to overcome, and it may be past 2008 before manufacturers offer them widely.

Most manufacturers are exploring all of the alternatives, Wagner said.

"Were looking at all of them," he said. "They key to all of this is getting energy density up. The amount of energy you can get out of a fixed volume and fixed weight."

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