laptop_mode is a knob that controls "laptop mode". When the knob is set, any physical disk I/O (that might have caused the hard disk to spin up, see /proc/sys/vm/block_dump) causes Linux to flush all dirty blocks. The result of this is that after a disk has spun down, it will not be spun up anymore to write dirty blocks, because those blocks had already been written immediately after the most recent read operation. The value of the laptop_mode knob determines the time between the occurrence of disk I/O and when the flush is triggered. A sensible value for the knob is 5 seconds. Setting the knob to 0 disables laptop mode.