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Browsing with Flash knocks third off MacBook Air battery life

by Pete Mason on 5 November 2010, 12:22

Tags: MacBook Air, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL), Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE)

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It's no secret that Apple isn't exactly a fan of Flash, so the company's decision to stop shipping its new computers with the plugin preinstalled for "security" reasons didn't come as much of a surprise. Personal and professional vendettas aside, though, the latest tests have shown that there may have been some major practical benefits to the move.

During its review of the new 11in MacBook Air, Ars Technica found that the battery was only able to survive a disappointing 4 hours of casual web surfing. Suspecting that something might be amiss, the reviewer removed Flash, and with the exact same websites open, managed to easily pass the six-hour mark.

Anandtech found similar results, with battery life on the 13in MacBook dropping by more than 50 per cent.

The cause of the problem was the Flash-based adverts that appear on many sites, causing the processor to work a lot harder than it would otherwise have to. With the banners replaced by static versions, battery life improved by a huge amount. Obviously more involved content will require more CPU cycles, but such a drastic reduction in endurance doesn't speak well to the efficiency of either Flash or those banner ads.

It's obvious that a lot of Flash content will put strain on a CPU, but this is one of the few empirical tests showing the impact that it can have on laptop run times. Obviously a lot of web content still relies on the plugin, but it does raise the question of whether the "full web experience" is worth a two-hour drop in battery life, especially on lightweight or mobile devices.

HEXUS Forums :: 14 Comments

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I don't think this will surprise many people on hexus tbh - the ads on here are sometimes attrociously inefficient (I remember a motorola ad some time ago that was hitting my 2GHz Core 2 Duo with around 50% CPU usage…)

Nice to see it quantified though: I'll definitely have to put some thought into whether I want flash on my laptops - it's just a shame that so much content is delivered via flash nowadays…
That's why I've installed flashblock on Chrome. Each ad will literally fill 100% of a CPU core (the Linux and Mac flash plugins are much less efficient than the Windows plugin), which is murder for battery life and longevity and strains my hardware unnecessarily. I'm sorry, I'm not destroying my laptop for any site.
This is a compelling reason to be using Adblock on a laptop, TBH. I know many sites depend on the revenue, but if laptop users are moving to block ads because of the drain on battery life, surely revenues could be better raised by switching to less resource-intensive ads? Google does text ads, for example. Or perhaps banner ads that are replaced by text ads if adblock is used?
As scaryjim says, this is far from a surprise..it's well known that flash is appallingly inefficient, and its the biggest reason I don't have it installed on any of my mobile devices.

Even before this test you could do some fun things to prove this - on my old macbook, and my current laptop (when i had flash installed), you could browse the web, watch HD movies etc..fans would never once come on audibly.

Navigate to any website containing flash content however, and the fans would turn on full blast, and the laptop starts to get very hot.

Use the same machine and load a silverlight app for example, or try playing some HTML 5 content..no problem whatsoever.

Flash was great in its day when it had no competition, but its past it now..it's been surpassed by much better technologies and should be consigned to the past in my opinion.

Just as an afterthought - it's interesting how the “story” that Apple is not shipping flash pre-installed with ios/osx is picked up by all the tech press, when Microsoft has never included it with windows, and most linux distributions don't either, but it never gets mentioned :)
Does any know any recommended flashblocker for Firefox and chrome?

Or is it just best just to remove flash from the laptop totally?