It sounds like an obvious statement, but batteries are a vital consideration for laptop users. They make or break the portability of the device. So if you own a Mac (or plan on owning one), you may well be wondering about its battery life, how you can check its battery health, and what you can do to improve its runtime.
We thought we’d help by putting together this comprehensive post on MacBook batteries. In it we cover the following:
- What batteries do Macs use?
- What affects Mac battery life and battery runtime?
- How to check Mac battery health?
- How to improve Mac battery runtime?
What batteries do Macs use?
The batteries found in Macs use lithium-ion (Li-ion) technology. Li-ion batteries are the most common choice for consumer products as they have a high-power density, are comparatively light, and have a long lifespan.
That being said, all batteries are consumable components and over time lose their effectiveness to hold a charge. Li-ion batteries are no exception.
What affects Mac battery life and battery lifespan?
Before we go into this in further detail, it’s worth defining some of the technical key terms that Apple uses when talking about batteries and battery condition:
Battery Cycle count: Batteries are expected to function for a certain number of cycles. This number represents the sum of total and partial discharge cycles throughout the life of the battery.
Full charge capacity: Measured in mAH (milliampere-hours), this refers to the amount of power the battery is capable of containing, less the energy required to shut down the device. This number lowers as the battery becomes depleted with usage and age.
Load: The amount of activity being performed by a task or tasks. Certain power-intensive processes place a heavier load on the battery and result in a much-reduced runtime per charge.
When we talk about battery life, we’re talking about runtime or the amount of time a device, such as your MacBook, can run before it needs to be charged. Meanwhile, battery lifespan is the amount of time a battery lasts until it needs to be replaced.
The lifespan of a battery depends on more than its age. It also depends on its chemical age. The chemical age of a battery can be impacted by the usage and temperature history.
Using programmes that are demanding or place a heavy load will reduce battery runtime significantly. During testing we found that running a Zoom call with four participants reduced the battery life of a 16-inch MacBook Pro to less than 3 hours. This is a large drop from Apple’s advertised figure of 11 hours for this model. In real-world usage, Apple’s battery life figures are difficult to obtain, though our example shows how a seemingly basic app can have a significant effect on battery power.
Common culprits of higher-than-usual battery loads are Chrome, Zoom, apps from the Adobe suite (Premiere Pro, Photoshop, Illustrator, etc) and Final Cut Pro. Activities such as streaming video, playing music through the internal speakers and having external peripherals plugged in contribute to battery load. System settings such as display brightness and when the display sleeps also have a significant impact.
Li-ion batteries have an operating temperature range of 10 to 35°C. Below or above this and charge capacity is reduced. Prolonged storage or usage at temperatures outside of this range will permanently degrade the charge capacity. These temperatures can easily be exceeded if the Mac is left in a car on a hot summer day or cold winter evening.
How to check Mac battery health?
When it comes to Macs, there are two ways by which you can check battery health: by checking capacity and usage.
The capacity of a battery is how much charge it can hold. When new, a battery should hold 99-100% of its full charge capacity. Over time the full charge capacity will naturally reduce as a result of use and increasing number of charge cycles. Apple advise that their batteries should last 1000 charging cycles before the full charge capacity deteriorates significantly.
The full charge capacity and charge cycle count can be checked on a Mac by clicking the Apple sign top left, About This Mac, System Report… then referencing the Power row in the nested Hardware menu.
There is also a handy third party tool called Coconut Battery that displays battery information more clearly and provides some more information. Coconut battery displays the current full charge capacity as a percentage of its designed full charge capacity (the capacity when new).
macOS Big Sur introduces a new tool to check on Battery usage that is found in System Preferences.
The System Preferences Battery pane allows you seen see how quickly the battery is being depleted of charge over 24 hours and 10 days. This however does not tell you exactly what is causing the battery charge to deplete. In order to see which apps or processes are loading the battery you can click the battery icon on the menu bar, this will advise which apps are “Using Significant Energy”. (Depending on how significantly the battery has deteriorated, it might also display messages such as ‘service battery’ or ‘replace now’ if you need a new battery.)
This is a live view of what apps are depleting battery life, but what if the offending app has already been closed and you want to see if it was the culprit? Another tool called Activity Monitor will allow you to see some more detail. To open Activity Monitor click the Spotlight icon in the menu bar, type in Activity Monitor and open the app. Once opened select the Energy tab and order descending the 12 hr Power column descending by clicking beside it.
This will show you which apps or processes have been having the largest effect on battery drain over the last 12 hours of usage, the higher the score the more load it is placing on the battery. Closing these apps will reduce load on the battery and increase run time.
How to improve Mac battery runtime?
Here are 5 simple ways by which you can improve Mac battery runtime:
1. Try to set your screen brightness so that it’s not 100% (nor should it be so low that you are struggling to see what’s on the screen).
2. Avoid overheating your laptop. This can happen if you run resource-draining apps or leave it in direct sunlight for extended periods of time.
3. Once you know which apps or processes are having the greatest impact on your battery runtime, consider limiting their use or closing them.
4. Similar to the above, if your default browser is Chrome, consider switching to Safari. The latter is more streamlined and efficient. Take a look below at what the legendary Walt Mossberg (American technology journalist and moderator) has to say about it.
5. Connected devices - Disconnect and eject peripherals and quit applications not in use. Make sure your MacBook is plugged in and powered on when you’re using it to charge other devices via USB. Otherwise those devices may drain the battery in your MacBook faster than normal.
We hope you find the above tips useful. At Hoxton Macs, all of our devices are checked to ensure batteries have below 500 battery cycles and the full charge capacity is above 80% prior to sale to ensure battery runtime is not going to affect your productivity on the go! Why not check out some of our latest Macbook Air, iMac and Macbook Pro options that we have available