This is quite an eye opener, at least for me it was. We all knew it from experience but not why.
Imagine if automakers got together and started measuring the gas mileage of new cars with a cool test of their own making—one in which the cars were rolling downhill with their engines idling. Suddenly you'd have some pretty amazing claims: Why, that three-ton SUV gets 300 miles per gallon! This subcompact gets 500! In tiny print at the bottom of the window sticker you'd find a disclaimer saying that, well, um, you know, your mileage may vary.
Crazy, right? Yet that's more or less what's happening with laptop computers and their battery lives. Right now, I'm looking at a Best Buy flier touting a $599 Dell laptop that gets "up to 5 hours and 40 minutes of battery life." Down in the fine print comes a disclaimer explaining that "battery life will vary" based on a bunch of factors. Translation: you ain't gonna get five hours and 40 minutes, bub. Not ever. Not even close.
So how can Dell and Best Buy make that claim? These battery-life numbers are based on a benchmark test called MobileMark 2007 (MM07). The test was created by a consortium called BAPCo (Business Application Performance Corp.), whose members are—you guessed it—computer makers and other tech companies. AMD, the No. 2 maker of microprocessors, is a member of BAPCo, but now has become a whistle-blower. AMD says PC makers know full well that the new tests produce misleading numbers, but they are touting them anyway.
Laptops score big numbers because they're tested with screens dimmed to 20 to 30 percent of full brightness, the Wi-Fi turned off and the main processor chip running at 7.5 percent of capacity—just like those cars idling downhill. Techies and industry insiders have long known that official battery-life claims are pretty much worthless. But regular folks don't. As a result, some are getting pushed toward pricier machines by sales reps who tell them they'll get an extra hour of battery life. Those customers may be paying a premium and getting nothing. "There's only three endings to this story," says Patrick Moorhead, a marketing vice president at AMD. "Either the industry regulates itself, or the FTC steps in and regulates us, or we get hit with a class-action lawsuit. I suggest the industry go with the first option."
Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. -- Carl Jung
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