How to check the condition of your Mac’s battery

If you’re thinking about buying a second-hand Mac notebook, you need to know how to find the condition of the battery. This simple tip helps you do that.

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A friend of mine was considering purchasing an old(ish) MacBook Pro and wanted to check the battery life as they arranged the deal.

That’s when I thought it might be worth sharing this little tip, given lots of people will be selling Macs to get hold of a new MacBook Air.

Battery cycles for battery health

That’s when I remembered this little-known, but really quite useful (and mercifully short), Mac tip that helps you get some kind of insight into your Mac’s battery health.

The batteries used inside Macs are built to handle a number of battery cycles.

Apple advises that once your battery has used up all these cycles, it should be considered as needing replacement.

The company also says: “Your battery is designed to retain up to 80 percent of its original capacity at 1,000 complete charge cycles."

They usually work way beyond that number (it’s kind of notional), but you may experience increasingly low battery life between charges until you end up with a notebook you have to plug into power to use.

This is why you need to know how to find the battery cycle count data, particularly if you are about to purchase a second-hand Mac notebook. That way you know why what you are buying seems to be a bargain and can plan in advance for a battery replacement.

How to check the battery cycle count on Macs

Apple makes it easy to check the battery cycle count on Macs; you just need to follow these instructions:

  • Open About This Mac in the Apple Menu.
  • General information about your system will appear in a small window.
  • At the bottom left of that window you’ll find a button called ‘System Report’.
  • Press this button, and a new window appears offering all kinds of hardware-related information about your Mac – choose the Power section.
  • NB: Hold down the Option key when you press About This Mac to open the System Report directly.
  • In the right-hand window in the next pane look for Health Information.
  • This tells you your current cycle count and lets you know the condition of your battery.

What about the battery icon?

You can also get a general sense of battery health using the battery icon.

Option-click the battery icon in the menu bar, and you will see one of these statements:

  • Normal: This is what you want to see
  • Replace Soon: The battery works but needs replacing.
  • Replace Now: You can keep using the battery, but don’t expect too much time between charges, and you should look to replacing it.
  • Service Battery: Don’t panic, you can keep using your Mac, but you really should take the machine in and get it services.

What is battery cycle?

The batteries used in notebooks are not built to last forever.

Battery cycles are a shorthand used by manufacturers to estimate battery life. A battery cycle represents what happens when the battery is fully charged and then used until it empties – that’s one cycle.

If you use 90 percdent of your Mac’s power until it reaches 10 percent power, charge it to 100%, and then use a tenth of the power in the now charged Mac, that counts as a single charge (90 +10 = 100). Use up 50 percent four times running, and that’s two charges.

What is my Mac’s battery cycle?

Most current Macs (MacBooks, MacBook Airs, and MacBook Pros) use batteries assessed as having 1,000 battery cycles. That’s pretty much good enough for at least three years of regular use.

Older Macs (including the original MacBook Air) carried batteries with just 300 cycles inside. You can check how many cycles your Mac is meant to have here.

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