Pages

Apple solves my MacBook Pro battery problem

After finding that my MacBook Pro's battery required service and would no longer hold a charge I made an appointment with the Genius Bar at my local Apple store in Reston, VA. After a short wait Vilma (the Genius) called me up and asked what the trouble was. After I filled her in on the issue she reached into a drawer and grabbed an iPod Nano that was labeled "Battery Diagnostics":



Once that was plugged in and she rebooted the machine she loaded up a diagnostic application and sure enough the status of my battery was decidedly bad:


I bought this MacBook Pro in June of 2008 so it's nearly one and a half years old, yet still under the 3 year AppleCare warranty I purchased. She told me however that batteries are not covered under the extended AppleCare warranty unless the failure is a result of a manufacturers defect. Though she delivered the news in a friendly and empathetic way I was not happy.

Vilma could see that I only had 48 cycles on the battery and it seemed reasonable to me that this should be covered by the warranty. According to Apple a removable MacBook / Pro battery should be able to retain up to an 80% charge after 300 cycles. She pulled the information on the battery and left to talk to someone else, presumably a manager, explaining to me as she left that she would do everything she could to get it covered. A few minutes later she returned and said Apple would be replacing it under the warranty.

I don't know if she replaced it because it had a "manufacturers defect" or because it only had 48 cycles on it. Fortunately for me I didn't have to shell out $129 for a new battery. She popped in the new battery and fired up the diagnostics and sure enough, the new battery registered healthy.


Ideal Battery Care
As we were wrapping up the battery replacement I asked Vilma how I should treat the battery to get optimal life out of it. Her recommendation was to cycle the battery constantly, running the machine on the battery almost exclusively. The seemed a little excessive to me but clearly leaving my MBP plugged in nearly 24 hours a day was not the right answer.

Apple has a page on battery care and their recommendation is that if you are not regularly running your notebook from the battery that you should do full charge / discharge cycle at least once per month. This apparently helps keep the "battery juices" flowing, which does make sense. They also recommend that if you are going to keep your MacBook powered down for an extended period of time that you leave it at about 50% power, which will help preserve the battery life.

I wish that Apple had made this information more apparent to me when I purchased my MacBook Pro; if they did it was likely just a footnote in the information I was provided. Telling someone that they need to manage their battery life does seem odd coming from a company that prides itself on simple "it just works" products. Apparently the latest generation of MacBook Pros with the sealed in batteries are not nearly as finicky when it comes to battery life, though Apple does recommend this charge / discharge cycle for them as well.

Personally I'm just happy I have a battery that can actually hold a charge again. I'll be setting up a weekly reminder to run a full charge / discharge cycle on my battery too, with another reminder to do a full battery recalibration per Apple's Support Knowledge Base.

Any suggestions on how best to make your MacBook's battery life last as long as possible? Please drop a note in the comments!

43 comments:

Keleko said...

We're getting conflicting advice from the Genius Bar.

When I had my battery replaced I asked if I should do calibration as well. The Genius at the store said it wasn't really necessary. I also have a friend who rarely uses the battery on his MacBook Pro (late 2007 model). It stays plugged in almost all the time. His battery is still in the 90% range of health after 2 years.

The Lenovo laptop I have stays plugged in most of the time as well. The battery has never been as long life compared to the Mac, but it hasn't degraded very much since I've had it, either. I've had it at least 6 months longer than my Mac, too. It still has the original battery.

It also seems when I run my MBP on battery, the health declines faster than if I just leave it plugged in. I don't run it completely empty every time, but it does get down to the "red zone" at least a couple of times a month.

Glad you got yours replaced. I've heard nothing about batteries not covered under AppleCare from the Genius when I had my current battery checked last.

David Alison said...

@Keleko: Yep, it seems everyone has a slightly different way of approaching this issue. Given that I'm going to stick with the recommendations Apple puts up on their site. If I have a recurrence of the battery failing then I will have followed their instructions and feel that it clearly would be a manufacturing defect if the battery fails again.

The genius I spoke to mentioned that while she does see this happen with previous generation machines she personally had not seen a single of the newer MacBook Pros with the non-removable batteries have a problem. Of course, all of those machines are still pretty new but it's an encouraging sign.

Dan said...

Nice they replaced it for you. There should have been no question to the Genius that 40 cycles and the battery showing bad in her diagnostics means you get a new battery. Sad she had to ask a manager

If what you had was not a defect, then what do they consider a defect, explosion, fire??

KLank said...

I know that there were a batch of Sony batteries that were used in the Mac Book Pro's that were defective. Mine was about in the same situation as yours, 18 months in, 40 something charges and wouldn't hold a charge. They replaced under warranty and I didn't have Apple Care. I was told there was a service bulletin, but no recall.

Greg said...

David:

I had the exact same results. The reason they stated they would replace my battery was the low number of cycles. Ironically, if you followed their recommendations, you would have had a much higher number of cycles so they might not have replaced it free.

I'm not saying that's the right plan or the best way to take care of a battery, just that Apple's warranty/Applecare policy seems to favor those of us who abuse our batteries. :)

Greg

David Fields said...

Keep in mind that there are several types of batteries in use today. Most of them are Lithium-based in one way or another, but that doesn't mean they all use the same compounds. This means that while a battery might be a battery, they won't necessarily perform the same way.

As a former electronics technician, I can tell you that the shop I worked in ran into battery problems frequently. Some devices, like the early Technics portable CD player, clearly marked in its instructions that you should never let the battery completely discharge or you would damage the battery. The problem was, they didn't include a 'sleep' mode in the player that would shut it down before the battery died. Nor did they provide any kind of circuit to prevent those last few volts from discharging on their own. End result, the only way you could prevent it from discharging completely was to recharge it after every use or keep it plugged into a power source all the time. As you can guess, the battery soon developed a 'memory' that reduced the operational life by half or more.

On the other hand, other batteries required you to run the device to full discharge to give you the longest possible battery life. The drawback here was that if you'd already partially drained the battery on a previous use, you either risked giving it a 'memory,' or the device quitting in the middle of the party.

Either way, battery 'memory' was the primary issue. The batteries used by Technics couldn't be 'reconditioned.' The other batteries could sometimes be saved by a series of full charge/discharge cycles using a lamp/resistor/voltmeter circuit to monitor the battery drain. The 'memory' was usually quite obvious by the lamp staying bright for a certain amount of time as the voltage slowly dropped, then suddenly going dim while the battery still showed usable voltage. By cycling the battery 5 times or so, we could just about double the 'memory' time of the battery, but we usually recommended the customer locate and purchase a replacement battery before the original completely died.

Apple's system seems to be somewhat similar to the second example; they want you to cycle the battery fully as much as possible to get the longest life out of it. I believe they also chose to make the battery non-replaceable to reduce the risk of third-party replacement batteries damaging the computer. In my own case, I have a 900Mhz G3 iBook (not one of the 'Hello Kitty' clamshells) still giving me between 3 and 4 hours of use on the original battery. But then, I don't run it plugged in all the time, either. On the other hand, my 1st-gen Intel MacBook is lucky to give me about 3 hours at best at half the age.

Brian M said...

I can confirm that calibrating may be needed (I am a certified Macintosh Technician).
I've had a few cases where the "Full Charge Capacity" (a percentage based on the current maximum mAh compared with what the normal maximum is) had dropped to the low 80 percentile (or lower) doing a full calibration (drain until it goes to sleep after reserve power warning, then fully charge), and after the full charge, the FCC had gone back up to 95%, which I verified by doing a run test on the battery. It indeed was holding more charge than before the calibration.

Rick Baskett said...

Oye. I just tried to unplug the power from my macbook pro, but since it's hooked up to Apple's LED display, the display turned off and my laptop went to sleep. So much for keeping it healthy. Then again I have the unibody so maybe it'll still be ok. Like you said, it's still so new.. it's kind of hard to know what kind of issues it has yet.

huckie said...

I have a 3-year old 15" MBP (2.33 GHz Core 2 Duo) and I've gone through no less than 3 batteries, and I'm looking at needing a 4th in the next few weeks. Each battery fails rapidly after about a year with only 40 to 90 charging cycles. The first battery I got replaced for free, but for the second two I've had no love from Apple.

As for Apple's advice on both running the battery down once a month and on calibration, they are both complete bunk. I run my batteries down at least once a week, and 99% of the time once the battery has started to go bad, the calibration process fails because the computer runs itself out out power completely, rather than going to sleep.

I'm currently on my third battery, it's been in for about a year, and sure enough, in the past month, it dropped from 99% to 49%, and there was nothing I could do to stop it. I've been using the Coconut Battery utility to track the health over time, and once it starts to go bad, even running it down daily doesn't seem to help.

This problem is too consistent to be just bad batteries. There must be something wrong in the power charging and power management chips of the laptops that are having this issue.

Ast A. Moore said...

Going back to Battery University, your battery's worst enemy is heat. Look at how quickly a Li-Ion battery degrades at higher temperatures.

To quote Isidor Buchmann:

The battery compartment on many laptops rises to about 45°C (113°F) during operation. The combination of high charge level and elevated ambient temperature presents an unfavorable condition for the battery. This explains the short lifespan of many laptop batteries.

Smee Jenkins said...

One more vote for heat being the killer.

Had two batteries in my MacBook Pro die early, not holding charge. Although the batteries did get a good number of discharge/recharge cycles, the MBP also spent a lot of time on my desk, plugged into the wall... including overnights. When that happens, the battery gets warm and stays that way.

For my third battery, I got one of those raised cooling stands under the MBP, and added a fan for ventilation. The underside (and battery) is much cooler now. It looks like this battery is holding its charge a lot better, which is good, as my 3-year extended AppleCare has expired!

Lynn said...

Earlier this week I went into an Apple store and received a third battery for my 3-yr old MBP. All 3 were replaced for health issues with less than 100 cycles. The most recently replaced battery had 35% health (2250 mAh capacity) after only 100 cycles. A new battery has around 5500 mAh. I cycle the battery regularly since the first time I got a replacement. The first replacement was made over the phone, the next 2 were done in an Apple store. In none of the cases did I have to do more than show the number of charge cycles and remaining capacity. The genius this week did run the same bootup battery analysis utility which came up with the "battery needs to replaced" message. As soon as he saw the # of cycles, he went to the stockroom to get a new battery.

According to support documentation at http://www.apple.com/batteries/notebooks.html:

Battery Lifespan

For Apple notebooks with removable batteries — such as previous generation MacBook and MacBook Pro computers — a properly maintained battery is designed to retain up to 80% of its original capacity at 300 full charge and discharge cycles.

The built-in battery of the MacBook Air is designed to retain up to 80% of its original capacity at up to 750 full charge and discharge cycles.

The built-in battery in the new 13-, 15-, and 17-inch MacBook Pro is designed to retain up to 80% of its original capacity at up to 1000 full charge and discharge cycles.

Anonymous said...

I am quite sure that I'm related to Murphy on the Irish side, so I'm very hesitant to add to this thread; however, in the interest of science...

I have a MacPro 17" Dual Core (first 17" out). The first battery was one of those that swelled up and it was exchanged with Apple care over the phone, no fuss. I wish I remember when that was for this post, I'd say somewhere after 2 yrs. That would make the current battery say 1.5-2yrs.

As of today (thanks for the Coconut Battery tip), I've got 450 cycles and 90% capacity (5675mAh from 6300mAh originally).

For the better part of this battery's life, the day begins on battery then off to work where it gets charged and mostly only used at lunch. Back to home it's used on battery, at least half the time down to the low battery warning. A couple times a month it gets run down past that. Back to work again and it gets charged up...

So, without thinking about it, I'm sure I 'service' the battery more than once a month.

On the heating side, early on I installed clear ~3/4"square x 1/2"high feet. Got 'em at the hardware store, don't know the brand but they're with cabinet bumpons and non-skid/scratch stickons for stuff you put on tables/shelves. Can hardly see the clear and they *stay on* in and out of my carry case (bumpons were too short and fell off).

I also have Temperature Monitor installed. I was running smcFanControl but am now running FanControl as it cycles fan speed on it's own.

Kerin

justablog said...

Batteries need to be cycled dude, it's part of how they work. Full charges and discharges help it maintain its life.

long life battery said...

The article is usefull for me. I’ll be coming back to your blog.

dasil003 said...

I have a similar story with my mid-2008 MBP, only I use it A LOT (I work for a startup) and I had 200 cycles on it in the first 9 months at which point it suddenly fell off a cliff and would hold maybe 60%.

Apple replaced that one, then 6 months later it started going wonky again, and Apple replaced it a second time. There was no "talking to a manager" involved, the genius was pretty cut and dried about the requirements for a free replacement... it seemed very routine. This is Palo Alto though, so they probably see this a lot.

That was a couple months ago. My current battery has 50 cycles and is holding 98% still. Hopefully this one will last until the next MBP refresh at which point I will be upgrading anyway.

Todd Wilkinson said...

3 year old MBP 15" 2.2GHz and I'm already on my 3rd battery. Apple Store geniuses have replaced them all. First was under warranty. Second and third were because my cycles were WAY low.

Just noticed my THIRD battery says "service." iStat Pro says: Health 75%, Cycles 24 (!?). I also use a cooling stand for my MacBook and I run down the battery at LEAST a couple times a month.

This can't all be heat. Gotta be some kind of power management chip problem, no?

Ryan said...

David, I have had similar issues with batteries. As to external monitors, I quickly snapped up a 15" MBP of the refurbished site quickly after the internal batts. came out. I mainly use my MBP as a desktop and wreck my first battery by always having it plugged in (for external monitor use). I feel Apple hasn't really addressed that issue. You destroy your battery by having it plugged in all the time, but how then do you use an external monitor and prevent that when you can't take your battery out?

Anonymous said...

I had a similar problem with the battery on my MacBook Pro. Bought 7/07 with AppleCare. Had 50 cycles and Snow Leopard said replace (but it was obviously not holding a charge.) After reading this article, I took it in to the local Apple Store. They used the same iPod diagnostic tool, saw the battery needed to replace, and just did it, no questions asked. Also replaced my charger that seemed to have a loose wire. Great service.

Anonymous said...

Frustrated Professor says

I have a macbook pro. Both of my batteries would only last about an hour. This weekend after working on the back porch with a space heater on the battery would not hold a charge at all (I was plugged into the same outlet as the heater). So, I surmise that I burned the battery. But then the second battery did the same thing. Now the third battery won't charge (from my wife's pro). I have also used 3 different chargers. Obviously, it is my Macbook pro, not the batteries or chargers (they work on other systems). What the heck could be wrong with my computer to prevent charging (runs fine on any charger, just won't charge any battery, but runs on a charged battery fine).

David Alison said...

@Frustrated Professor: If you have access to an Apple Store or a certified Apple repair center I highly recommend you bring your MBP, the batteries and the charger in and have them test them. There are lots of things that can impact those devices and a space heater can draw a serious amount of current and potentially cause damage to sensitive devices that are attached. This is a quick diagnostic and they should be able to check it out and tell you what the problem is very quickly.

Paul Russo said...

The Genius Bar people are your friends. My dad called me yesterday to tell me an amazing Genius Bar story.

His old iMac was having display trouble again. It was three years old, a machine that is probably three generations out of date. The AppleCare warrantee was almost over. The Genius guy saw that it was a repeat problem, that it had originally been bought at the Apple Store, and realized the hassle of waiting for the backordered repair part.

To make a long story short, the Genius guy walked into the back of the store and five minutes later, he emerged with a brand new 21.5" iMac to replace my Dad's old one.

Wow. The only money my dad spent was for a new AppleCare warrantee for the new machine.

I've had a similar experience, being handed a brand new computer to replace a failed computer that was a couple of generations out of date.

So realize that the Genius Bar people are your friends. Treat them well and they can do amazing things for you. Just tell them your story. Be assertive if you need to be, but never have an attitude or be aggressive. You are not entitled to have the rules broken for you. Certainly do not ask to see a manager. They *are* managers. They have the authority to do what it takes to make something right.

Also, If you originally bought the item from the Apple Store rather than from a reseller, they are more likely to do something amazing like this.

Enjoy your Apple service.

Bill in NC said...

IIRC, those who have had batteries replaced say Apple focuses on the number of cycles.

If you had 500 cycles on that 18 month old battery Apple wouldn't have replaced it.

So by leaving it plugged in and NOT cycling the battery you have the best chance of having a bad battery replaced.

Anonymous said...

I have a 20 month old MBP 2.4 running 10.6.2. Coconut battery is telling me the my maximum battery charge is 2155mAh (!)and capacity compared to original battery is only 38%(!!). Since its only done 166 cycles, I'm off to my local app store tomorrow to see what they can do (not getting my hopes up though for a positive reaction). Will be back to let you know what happens...

Michael Rosenthal said...

I had a failing battery in a mid-2008 MBP, relatively few cycles and health in the 60% range, noted after about 9 months of use. Data was from iStat Pro. I phoned Apple support and the person who answered asked me to open System Profiler. Near the bottom of its File menu I clicked on "Send to Apple..." Within seconds he said, "Oh, I see. We'll send you a new battery." It was at my door in less than 18 hours.

Charlie said...

Apple just made me pay $99 for a new "service part" battery - same part, but only a 3 month warranty on it - in the store. Same result on my diag. 156 cycle, early 2008 mbp failing at 65% charge showing. Boo.

Imran said...

Hi David,
I had an unrelated question but seeing as you also use visual studio via vmware fusion on the mac (or did at some point) I thought i'd ask anyway as its driving me nuts. Did you ever come across an easy way of typing the '#' whilst in vmware fusion? Its easy enough in mac os, typing option-3 works, but when in vs it doesn't seem to work.

The blog is great by the way always an interesting read.

Regards,

Imran

Naren Bharatwaj said...

Sir,

Good to hear that apple has replaced your battery. Let me explain my case. I bought a MACBOOK 2,1 in August 2007. It worked fine until one day i noted the battery information column in system profiler as well as coconut battery utility. Even after about 200 cycles the health information was showing me around 3700mAh and this value keeps changing all the time. I don't plug-in the macbook to the AC adapter all the time. I noticed this in July 2009 and promptly called apple customer care. I was told that since it had been almost 2 years since i bought the MAC, they would not cover it under warranty. Neither my battery has completed 300 cycles nor is it 3 years old. Now the cycle count is 257 and the full charge capacity keeps varying form 200 to 3700. I'll be really grateful if you can suggest something.

Thanks for your time,

Naren

David Alison said...

@Naren: Sorry to hear that. As you can see from the comments here Apple has generally been very supportive in getting this issue addressed, even though nearly every time it's been outside of their coverage. You may want to try again and stress that you have heard of many other people getting their batteries covered and that clearly 257 cycles is not too many for a high end computer battery before failing.

Best of luck...

J said...

Hi there,

My husband and I are considering switching to Macs (we're a Dell family) and your blog has been incredibly interesting to go back and read, so thank you for documenting your experience. I wanted to let you know that it has been useful for us!

All the best,

Jessica

David Alison said...

@Jessica: Thanks for the nice words! This is one of the reasons I recorded my experiences so I'm glad it's helpful.

Craig C said...

Here's something I've done to try to "save" my battery from dying an early death:

Don't use it. :-)

Seriously, what I've done is to simply remove the battery when I'm using my MacBook Pro at the desk (which honestly is 95% of the time).

That way, the battery isn't getting charge-cycled, and is effectively just "in storage."

I don't know if it'll actually prolong its life, but that's what I've been trying, after having my PowerBook G4's battery die an all-too-early death.

CAVEAT: One major downside is that you have to be really careful to remember that you've removed the battery!! Also, despite the MagSafe connector being a wonderful invention, it makes it much easier to accidentally unplug it, which normally isn't a big deal, but catastrophic if the battery has been removed.

YMMV.

Craig

fate101 said...

well ive never had a problem-- my battery is at 450 cycles after 3 years (mbp 2007) and is still at a usable 65% health. health % really depends on how much time you are getting with each charge, depending on what you do on your computer; if you just word process it will last longer and your computer will report a higher battery health-from experience

--Jacob

Anonymous said...

I have a unibody MacBook pro that I just got in august of 09. It's just seven months old. I just got an internal osx warning that the battery needs to be replaced. I am pissed. This battery is "non replacable". What should I do?

David Alison said...

@Anon: You should still be covered under the basic Apple Care warranty. I would take it in to an Apple Store or an authorized Apple service center. They should replace it pretty quickly. Make sure you do a full backup before taking it in though!

geoffrey said...

i have a macbook, and my battery have about 300 cycles when my friend told me to go to the ICT (at my school) to replace my battery, mine have about 70% of original battery capacity and they replaced mine for free from the applecare thing

Chola said...

Am wondering what I need to do with my battery for a 2008 macbook 5,1. It was giving me a check battery indication after an upgrade to snow leopard. Not long after I did a reinstallation and the error disappeared, though checking the system profile seems to indicate the error is still there. Have only run it for 95 cycles. Does it have to go to the apple store to get a fix or is there a workaround?

David Alison said...

@Chola: The only thing I've found that you can do that may increase your batteries life is to recalibrate it according to Apple's support article. If that doesn't help, you're probably stuck buying a new one since that's pretty far out of the warranty classification (worth asking Apple about if you have access to an Apple store).

You may also want to check out a blog post I did on <a href="http://www.davidalison.com/2011/04/replacing-macbook-pro-battery.html'>finding a replacement battery for a MacBook Pro</a>. There are some excellent aftermarket batteries out there that are less expensive than the Apple version. The one I purchased (NewerTech NuPower) has been outstanding and I highly recommend it.

James said...

David,

Great blog. I have a 2009 MacBook Pro and I am undecided about buying a replacement battery. The charge indicated 100% but does not last 5 hours. The diagnostic indicated service battery. Do I go to the Apple store and ask them to replace the battery $129 right on the spot or what do you suggest?
James
asiareview@yahoo.com

David Alison said...

@James: It's not the charge complete but the health that indicates the quality of the battery. I'd bring it in to Apple. They've been known to replace a battery if the number of cycle on it are low for the age of the battery.

David Dines said...

Am on my second battery on a MBP4,1 (53 months old) First lasted about 3 years, the second battery is about 1.5 years old with 282 cycles and 69% capacity. Brought to the apple store and they lectured me on in a rude and condescending way about the whole thing and refused to replace it. I felt like I was dealing with the cable company. I am very disappointed in their response and how they treated me. Needless to say, I am seriously thinking about replacing it with another brand, something I would never have thought of 2 days ago.

Anonymous said...

There are so many conflicting advice and techniques, shame on Apple for not addressing this by publishing an authoritative document on their support site, on how to cycle their batteries for maximum usage. They rely on their "genius" staff to spout nothing more than suggestions and attitude. When I took my MB Pro to the genius bar, with a 2 hr old battery with 123 cycles, the "genius" actually said to me, paraphrasing here: "a laptop is supposed to be used for mobility, not connected persistently to a power source". I didn't know that I was disobeying Apple's terms of use contract when I use it like a desktop. What arrogance. Makes you wonder how Apple maintains its rabidly loyal fans.

Anonymous said...

@David Dines,
Sounds very similar to my situation. 123 cycles with a 2yr old battery. The Cussed customer service at the genius bar took an attitude, chiding me that the laptop should be treated as a mobile device, and not persistently connected to a power source. He was offering advice willy nilly on prepping a new battery, and when asked to show an Apple document on the website that reflected his advice, he could not. Like you, I am amazed that Apple has retained its rabid fan base. I also would consider other brands on my next go-round.
Mike