Better notebook batteries – we sure as heck need them

The news that scientists at Monash University are developing systems that might end in superfast rechargeable batteries will come as a boon to anyone who uses a notebook PC.

Ex-Intel engineer Bob Metcalfe famously said some years ago that what “[Andy] Grove gives, [Bill] Gates takes away.”

Every little bit of software eats up battery life, and the peculiar thing is that there hasn’t been very much improvement in life over the last goodness knows how many years.

Of course, the energy pull on your notebook is also considerably reduced by better functionality, by the type of graphics card you have, and most importantly by the display.  The industry has long realised that this has been a problem but the measures it’s taken and the prospects it’s offered – including small fuel cells – have never really materialised. Sure, you can turn down the brightness to extend the battery life a little bit but then you have to really really peer to see what you’re doing.

I’ve used notebooks now since 1986 – over all of those years I’ve had many models but getting more than a few hours without plugging them in has always been a struggle. What really annoys me is that Windows “metre” that one minute tells you have four hours remaining and the next minute tells you you have 20 minutes.  Windows 7 deciding to update you on closedown gets a little bit frightening if you’re nowhere near a socket.

You could argue that if we weren’t using X86 processors and Microsoft Windows we might be happy with the life we get out of li-ion batteries, but they’re not going to go away any time soon now. Sure, netbooks achieve longer battery life, but that’s at the expense of overall functionality.

The boffins at Monash didn’t indicate when we will actually see graphene like batteries in our machine – there are no doubt many obstacles to commercialising the concept and the University didn’t even attempt to estimate when we get our greedy hands on them.

It will be really great to have a notebook that I don’t have to fret over all the time when I’m out on the road covering the technology business. I wonder if it will happen before I shuffle off my mortal coil?