An essential MacBook user battery condition guide

How can you complain about battery life when you don't know how to treat it?

Apple, MacBook, macOS, battery life, MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro
Credit: Jonny Evans

Battery technology is improving, but disasters like the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 prove how careful we have to be with the energy stored in these things. There’s a ton of research going on, but while we wait for huge leaps in battery technology here are a few tips to help you stay in control of battery life on your Apple MacBook.

What this is

This isn’t a collection of tips for battery life – things like decreasing screen brightness, turning off Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, decreasing the number of apps you are running and/or not playing music and video will always be the best ways to try to tweak that extra ten minutes you need to finish a project off before you reach the next power socket. (As is using the Energy Saver preferences panel).

Instead, this will help you keep an eye on how healthy your battery is, which will give you better insight into how much usable time you can expect from each battery charge.

What state’s it in?

Do you know what state your battery is in? Why does it matter? The batteries used inside your Apple notebook degrade over time and after a certain number of “charge cycles” they begin to hold less charge until they eventually need to be replaced. So how can you tell what state your battery is in? Hold down the Option key and click the battery indicator and you’ll see battery ‘Condition’ noted at the top of the drop down menu. The four conditions it sees are Normal, Replace Soon, Replace Now and Service Battery, in all three of the last scenarios it is probably time to replace the battery.

How often have I used it?

The battery inside your Mac is designed to run at optimal levels of efficiency for a number of charge cycles, based on a unit of 100 percent of battery capacity. The number of cycles supported by the battery isn’t fixed – current models support over 1,000, older ones as few as 200, but once the limit is reached you can expect some degradation in battery efficiency. They won’t hold as much charge, won’t last as long between each charge and won’t give you as much usable time. You can check how many cycles your battery has gone through in About this Mac>System Report. In the long list that appears you should see Power, choose this and in the next section look for Health Information. There you should be able to see how many cycles your Mac has run and what condition the battery is in.

You may want to use a dedicated battery monitoring utility to get better information about your Mac’s battery life, such as Battery Health 2. Among its other features the app lets you compare the original maximum capacity of your battery with the maximum capacity you currently enjoy.

Treat it properly

Treated properly a battery should last for years. Apple suggests charging and discharging your MacBook’s battery at least once a month to keep it calibrated. One of the best ways to preserve battery life when you are going on vacation is to charge it to about 50 percent charge and switch it off – don’t let it sleep, just shut it down. MacBook batteries are much happier left this way. If you leave it to sleep it may enter a deep discharge state in which it cannot hold any charge at all.

The Tech Specs site provides Apple's battery life expectations for battery usage.

Apple Diagnostics

One final way to assess battery condition is to run Apple Diagnostics (available in Macs introduced since June 2013). With the Mac plugged into power and all peripherals disconnected you should shut down your Mac and then turn it on again while pressing the D key. The diagnostic session should take 2-3 minutes after which you’ll be told if any issues have been identified and given reference codes for those problems (if any). If Apple Diagnostics tells you that your battery requires service and cites reference code PPT004 you should run the test again, but this time run Option-D, which runs the same tests over the Internet. If the problem is identified once again, contact Apple Support.

I hope this short report helps you get better insight into your MacBook, MacBook Air or MacBook Pro’s battery life.

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