A class action lawsuit filed against Intel claims that the chip maker artificially inflated laptop battery lifespans, fraudulently enticing consumers to buy machines equipped with Intel chips.

The suit was filed late last month in California by veteran class action firm Girard Gibbs. and claims that Intel cited a test known as MobileMark2007 to inflate battery life estimates and entice consumers to pay more for their laptops. Some consumers have found their battery life to be as little as half the amount advertised. The suit charges that Intel "wrongly increased its profits from the sale of laptops with Intel processors."

MobileMark came into widespread use several years ago. It measures battery life while a machine is performing a number of tasks, including playing a DVD or creating a spreadsheet. The test was developed by the Business Applications Performance Corporation (BAPCo), a nonprofit trade group whose membership is made up mostly of laptop and chip manufacturers. Indeed, BAPCo counts among its members Intel, one of the very companies who would stand to profit from the use of the MobileMark test.

Critics contend that the test treats battery life as a one-size-fits-all proposition. MobileMark, among other things, assumes that the user has his or her screen brightness set to extremely low levels--20% as bright as the average consumer's--and that accessories like Bluetooth aren't running. The test does include a "productivity" portion, in which a robot uses programs like Excel and e-mail. That test, however, doesn't include some of the most energy-draining applications, like iTunes and Windows Media Player.

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), a well-known manufacturer of processors and other technology, started the ball rolling when it suggested that laptop batteries often don't live up to their advertised lifespan. The company contends that tests used to provide the estimates--including MobileMark--don't account for the length or intensity of use while the machine is unplugged. AMD also complained that, when using the MobileMark test, Intel-equipped computers invariably have longer battery lives than machines containing AMD processors.

Some, including AMD, have suggested that computer manufacturers perform two separate tests: one for "resting time," when the computer is turned on but not in use, and one for "active time," when the machine is being engaged by its owner. This would allow active laptop users to adjust their expectations based on how much they use their machine. Such user-specific statistics are hardly without precedent; for years, car manufacturers have provided both highway and city estimates for fuel consumption, allowing drivers to base predictions on their own pattern of behavior.

Although the suit has already been filed, Girard Gibbs is still looking for consumers affected by unexpectedly short battery lives. Affected consumers can contact the firm via their Web site.