by Yury Vayukin
01/13/2004 | 11:09 PM
This article was written to describe a not very big, but highly functional testing tool which is intended to measure the life time of the accumulator battery of any portable computer (notebook).
The Battery Eater project was started back in the spring of 2002 by Ilya Prokhodtsev, but the first version of the program was released to the public only on December 20, 2002, after all the necessary improvements and perfections had been made.
The first users’ feedback made it clear that the project should be continued. Some corrections were introduced in the next version of the program that appeared soon after the first one. Battery Eater 2003 was officially released by X-bit labs on January 5, 2003. Since then, this program acquired such features as system configuration report, battery charge level indicator, and graph of battery discharge. Moreover, there also appeared a Battery Eater homepage, which you can check out here.
In the new Battery Eater version aka Battery Eater Pro 2.0 the developers introduced a few changes and additional features to their software and modified it for the English-speaking users, upon X-bit's request. Now it offers two new testing modes, enhanced system configuration and testing reports, a new module for benchmarking performance of the computer subsystems, and more test settings.
Why did we decided to use this test? Unlike many other non-commercial projects that often remain raw betas and never develop any further, the Battery Eater tool has been improving and evolving quite actively. The program has been included into many free software catalogues and recognized in notebook reviews on many websites.
So what made Battery Eater so popular? The main purpose of this utility is to carry out a kind of “battery race”. It is most important for a notebook owner to know how long his computer can work from its battery under maximum or minimum workload. That’s not just a pure knowledge or curiosity – portability is the most important characteristic of a notebook at large. It would also be good to know about the battery life before you go shopping for a notebook.
There are a few ways for determining manually the time your notebook batteries can last. Method 1: charge the batteries to the full, disconnect the notebook form the wall outlet and launch the Motherboard Monitor utility having set it up to write into the report file some information (for example, the CPU frequency) once every minute. Thus, after the batteries peter out, you will read the test start and end times in this file; their difference is the time of autonomous work. For the file not to become corrupted in case the power goes down during the actual write operation, you should set the utility up to write into two files of different formats. This method helps to estimate the battery life time under a minimum workload. If you want to estimate the same time under a workload of a certain application, just start this application up when disconnecting the notebook from the external power source.
Method 2 requires that you purchase special licensed software like Mobile Mark. This test gives out the time your notebook will last when running specific applications, which are often not very resources-hungry. Sometimes it is not easy to estimate the battery life time in a game like Unreal Tournament using the data you get in this test. Mobile Mark also offers a reader’s test that emulates an average user reading a text file page by page; its results show how much your notebook can last on its batteries under the smallest workload.
These two methods imply that you’ve got a testbed for running the test, but you can hardly have one until you buy a notebook.
So there remains only one way for you to get this kind of information about the notebook you intend to purchase – Internet reviews (that is, if you cannot borrow the device from a friend of yours for a while). Until recently, however, you could only find the data on a notebook’s battery life in specific applications included into the testing program used by the tester/reviewer. Battery Eater is an attempt to solve this problem.
Let’s start from the very beginning, to be more exact, from the size of the distributive. First of all, Battery Eater is small, occupying just a single diskette (for note: Mobile Mark takes as much as 2 compact-discs). By the way, an owner of a sub-notebook may find himself disabled as his computer doesn’t have a CD-drive. Of course, such media as flash drives solve this problem, but it’s anyway easier to transfer a 1MB file than a 1GB distributive.
Some people may say that this comparison is not correct, as the two testing programs are quite different and belong to different “weights”, but I think this is appropriate: both serve the same purpose – measuring the notebook’s battery life time.
Next thing is installation of this program and its uninstallation after you finish testing. Battery Eater doesn’t in fact require any installation – just copy its files into any folder, that’s all. To wipe the program out from your hard drive, just delete this folder. Mobile Mark, on the contrary, should be installed as a fully-fledged application. Moreover, it installs cut-down versions of many popular programs like Adobe Photoshop and Microsoft Office (I haven’t checked what happens if you already have a full version of this very Microsoft Office on your computer). The installation process takes much longer of course, and after you uninstall Mobile Mark, some folders are still left behind (with those cut-down versions of office programs) that you should kill manually.
One more disadvantage of Mobile Mark is its continuing work when an error occurs. After that it doesn’t produce any results, but informs you about the incorrect test termination without giving any explanation. Well, the older version of Battery Eater made the same error sometimes, as the notebook would shut down right at the moment when the program was updating the report file. However, this problem was eliminated in the next version of the test thanks to the users’ feedback and the immediate reaction on the author’s part.
Of course, the two tests I am trying to compare have different goals. Battery Eater was originally conceived as a program to put every computer subsystem under the maximum workload to produce the minimum time this notebook can work on its batteries. Mobile Mark, on the contrary, emulates an average user – that’s why so much third-party software should be installed before testing. Moreover, the test makes regular pauses in work as if this average user went away from the computer. As a result, both programs measure the notebook’s operational time until the batteries are completely discharged. Battery Eater also provides a battery discharge graph, while Mobile Mark – the system performance rating. I will discuss shortly how you can use Battery Eater to check the performance of your system.
Both tests can measure the notebook’s battery life time in the text “reading” mode. Battery Eater uses an integrated module for text browsing and includes a text of “Hamlet, the Prince of Denmark”, in English, of course. Mobile Mark reads “War and Peace” in English, in Netscape Communicator 6.0. Besides that, Battery Eater will again show you the battery discharge graph.
This is where Mobile Mark’s capabilities end, while Battery Eater can offer some more interesting things.
Besides the above-described modes, Battery Eater features the so-called Idle mode when it doesn’t put the notebook under any serious workload, but only writes a small file onto the HDD every minute and shows the battery charge level. What is this test mode for? First, you can estimate the time the notebook can last in the idle mode (there are variants – with the display turned on or off). Second, you can see how long you can work in your favorite applications. The results are the same: the time until the notebook’s shutdown and the battery discharge graph.
Battery Eater can measure your system performance, for each subsystem independently. The program also comes with an easy-to-use independent module to sit in the Tray next to the clock and show you the current battery charge level.
After copying the program files into a folder on your hard disk (it is recommended to use only Latin letters and digits in the name of the folder), you run the BEPro.exe file.
The main window tells you about the current power source, the battery status, the battery charge level. You will also see the elapsed time and the estimated time left in this window during tests.
Clicking the Info button, you open a window with a list of all main subsystems in the left part and detailed info about the selected subsystem in the right part of the window.
When you select the Performance item, the Test button appears in the bottom of the screen. Clicking it starts benchmarking the performance of the computer subsystems (CPU, graphics, RAM, HDD). The results will be displayed in the right part of the window.
You can save the system configuration and the performance results in a HTML file by clicking the Report button and typing in the name of the file. After saving, the program will show you the report file in your default browser.
You can change the testing mode and the test settings in the Options section.
So far, Battery Eater offers three interface languages: English, Russian and Ukrainian. Then, you can select the test mode: Classic, Reader’s, Idle. The next option allows you set up the width of the battery discharge graph (this is not important for ordinary users, but can be useful for professional testers). The next options will depend on the selected test mode. For the Classic mode you can set the resolution and the color depth for the image displayed during the test and indicate whether the test should run full-screen or windowed.
When other test modes are selected, some settings related to the Classic mode are missing.
Before launching the test in the Reader’s mode, you can click on the Select Text button and choose a text in RTF or TXT formats other than the one included with Battery Eater.
To return to the default settings, you press the Defaults button. Only the results with the default settings are included into the database compiled by the author of Battery Eater.
Clicking on the Help button in the program’s main window, you can learn about the features of this utility, testing modes and system requirements.
After changing the test settings, you can launch it by checking the “Launch Test on AC Disconnect” checkbox: you should wait until the batteries are fully charged and disconnect the notebook from the wall outlet (but don’t turn the notebook off).
The developer offers one more option for starting the test, although is was originally introduced for debugging purposes. You can press Shift+F3 keys to start Battery Eater even on a desktop computer.
On the next startup Battery Eater processes the results that are saved into a separate folder with the current date in its name. The results are also output onto the screen as a report file. The folder with the testing results is created in Battery Eater’s installation folder.
Whatever goals you pursue in your own tests, you should prevent your notebook from switching into the sleep mode when the battery charge is low. Some notebook manufacturers install exclusive software for flexible control over the power-saving functions, which doesn’t allow disabling this option. If this is the case, you can still use the test, but the author bears no responsibility if the results will turn out not quite correct in this case. You can leave the screen-saver alone: the test will disable it automatically.
If you want to check out the time the notebook can work in real conditions, i.e. with some applications running in the background (e-mail client, antivirus, sound card mixer, task scheduler, instant messenger), you can run the test in the idle mode.
This is the way you can get the maximum work time for your notebook: set the lowest power consumption mode in the BIOS, set the lowest display brightness, and disable network controllers and audio devices in the system properties. Then you disable all background applications and services that don’t affect the system’s operability. For example, even when you disable the network controller, the network service SVCHOST.EXE will remain running (look it up in the Task Manager); it doesn’t affect the work of the system, but does influence its performance (i.e. its battery life time). So you shut down all services like CTFMON.EXE or MSMSGS.EXE and other user-launched applications, save for EXPLORER.EXE and TASKMGR.EXE. That done, you open the Control Panel to select the Portable scheme in the Power options, but you should disable turning off the monitor and the hard disks and switching into the idle mode. Now you can run Battery Eater.
You can check the influence of the screen brightness on the battery life: just increase it, run the test once again and compare the results.
I would like to say a few words about the performance tests included into Battery Eater software package. Many notebooks today keep track of the AC power supply, and the processor enters the low power consumption mode only after the notebook starts working on its own batteries. It means the performance results will depend on the type of the power. To get the correct performance numbers, you should get your notebook working from the batteries and then run the test.
Winding up this guide, I would like to thank the developer of the Battery Eater for the very idea of the test as well as for his great job on the project and continuous expansion of its functionality in every new version. Good luck!
Battery Eater Pro version 2.0 can be downloaded here (720KB).