A MacBook Pro and a Dying Battery

I've gotten a lot of e-mail lately asking why I haven't been updating my blog. Frankly it's because of two reasons: my business has kept me busier than a one-armed wall-paper hanger and my Macs have just worked. With my adjustment period from Windows to Mac firmly in the rear view mirror and a well rounded set of applications available for use, I haven't really had any issues to speak of.

That is, until this last weekend when my MacBook Pro's battery decided to act up.

Since I have a very powerful Mac Pro humming away under my desk I don't use my MacBook Pro too often. I'll take it when I travel but don't use it on battery power too often. Since I bought the machine about 18 months ago I've only cycled the battery 47 times according to System Profiler.

While traveling over Thanksgiving I pulled the MBP from my bag, powered it up and started happily working away. Oddly the battery indicator—which should show a full charge—rapidly dropped to 92%. Within about 15 minutes my battery power was already dropping below 70%.

I kept working away, popping open some web sites and updating a spreadsheet with some of the data I was looking up. I glanced up at the battery gauge and saw that it was already down in the 40% range after only about 20 minutes of use when suddenly my MBP shut down.

This wasn't a graceful "I'm going to sleep now" shut down. There were no warnings, no kernel panics and no obvious signs of distress from my Mac. The screen just went black. I had about 3 seconds of noise from the fans and hard drive spinning down while I contemplated what had just happened. Did I save what I was working on? Did I really only get 20 minutes of use out of my battery?

I closed the MBP and flipped it over, pushed the little battery indicator button and two little green lights winked back at me. Odd. I pressed the power button and the MBP started to boot up. It was nearly through the boot process when it decided to give up and shut down again.

I grabbed my power cord, plugged the machine in and booted it up. It came up fine, no issues and dutifully reported that it was charging the battery. I remembered that I had recently seen an article on calibrating the battery from Apple. The process was simple:
Get the machine fully recharged then let it rest in that state for at least 2 hours. Once charged, unplug the power and run it down until the machine goes into a sleep state. Let it stay in sleep mode for at least 5 hours to fully exhaust the battery. Recharge from there and you are ready to go.
The problem was, the machine would shut off well before I got down too low on the battery. I decided to get it as close to the "shut down zone" as I could (about 40%), then put the machine to sleep. The graceful pulsating light told me it was happily slumbering away. I left it like that to see how long the battery would last while preserving the memory in sleep mode.

Three days later I lost patience and tried to wake it from sleep mode while still disconnected from power. Though the light was still pulsing I couldn't wake the machine. Not completely dead, it appeared to be in a coma. I reconnected power, turned on the machine and it quickly restored itself. The battery gauge was registering numbers all over the map and after it charged fully it indicated that I needed to "Service Battery":

At this point I'll try taking it into to my local Apple store and see how they deal with it. I have an Apple Care extended warranty though I'm not sure if they will cover the battery with that. Stay tuned and I'll post an update once I learn the outcome. I posted a note about this on Twitter and got lots of responses telling me that Apple quickly replaced their batteries for them. Then again, I also got a link to this page about Apple's battery policy.

Had a battery issue with a MacBook Pro? Did you get a resolution that worked for you? Drop a note in the comments and let me know!

Follow Up: Apple resolved this problem for me. You can read about it here.


Keleko said…
I had a battery problem with my MacBook Pro as well after about 11 months of owning it. It wasn't this problem, but the battery's health had been declining too rapidly from what it should be. I took it to the Genius Bar, they booted up the MBP from an iPod with a specific battery testing tool. It clearly marks "good", "used up" and "bad", and mine was very much in the "bad". They sent me on my way with a new battery.

Unfortunately 11 months later from the replacement battery is doing the same thing. I took it in back in Sep. when Snow Leopard first started showing the "Service Battery", but this time it passed with "good". It has been rapidly declining in health since then, so I'll find time to try again in a couple of weeks. I'm wondering if the MBP is doing something to kill the battery, or if I'm just getting unlucky with my batteries. I only use battery power about 2-3x a month, so theoretically they should stay in good shape for a long time.
David Alison said…
@Keleko: If you haven't already done it, I suggest following the instructions above to re-calibrate your battery. If Apple is saying the battery is "good" then re-calibrating it should help.
DBS said…
I have an MBP Santa Rosa whose battery exhibited identical symptoms (as yours) with only 100 charge cycles.

I spent a couple of hours on the telephone with Apple Customer Support, citing all sorts of published reports that, in similar circumstances, Apple replaced the battery free of charge.

No luck. Apple basically told me, yes, your battery probably SHOULD last longer than 100 cycles BUT it's over a year old and too bad for you.

Maybe you'll have better luck because you have Apple Care (hope so). But don't assume that Apple will just "do the right thing" 'cause, in my case, they absolutely refused.
Ast A. Moore said…
Here's an excellent read on the subject of battery use: Battery University. Very informative. This is the ultimate resource on everything chargeable. I don't think there's a question it doesn't answer.
Nic Lake said…
I've had a similar problem with my PowerBook G4 battery (though it's more due to age than anything). A good way of checking the quality of the battery is this handy application called coconutBattery (http://www.coconut-flavour.com/coconutbattery/). I snagged it a couple months back, and it helped me to quickly diagnose my issues that I was having.

Hope that helps.
Unknown said…
I had pretty much the same problem not once, but twice with my 15" MacBook Pro (early 2007 model). Both times I took it to a Genius at my local Apple Store. They booted the laptop from a USB drive that contained some special battery testing software. It reported the battery was "bad". Really, that's all that it said... black text on a red background!

Since I had AppleCare, they quickly gave me a free replacement. Both times my battery was well below the magic 300 cycles, so they considered the battery defective and replaced it.

This latest battery seems to be doing fine... so far.
Chris Bulow said…
I've had 3 batteries replaced FOC in my mid-2007 MBP. Purely good-will on the part of the store though, so YMMV here :)
Dave L said…

You should have luck with your Applecare. They wont replace if it has reached the end of its useful life but will if it is faulty is my understanding.

Good Luck
BC said…
hi David

I recently had the same problem with my almost-3yr old MBP. when running on battery, at about 38~40% charge remaining the computer would suddenly shut off without a low power warning - as if someone yanked out the battery. My guess was there was a faulty/dead internal cell in the battery pack.

I had about a month left on my 3yr AppleCare warranty and the AppleStore replaced it for free. actually, this was the 2nd battery for this MBP that Apple replaced under warranty, the first one was within the first 2 years. I also received a replacement charger under AppleCare so it was well worth it in my case.

the key is that the number of cycles has to be below (I believe) 300 cycles - you can check it in System Profiler. In my case, the battery was somewhere between 200 and 300 cycles, I forget exactly. Over 300 cycles they consider a dead battery to be normal lifespan of a battery.

one word of warning - you should bring your laptop into the AppleStore in a just-discharged state, ie run it to the ~40% charge point of failure.

at first I made the mistake of bringing my MBP into the store fully charged. the way they test this is the Genius plugs in a specially modified iPod nano with a battery diagnostic. your battery has to check out to be in the "bad" quadrant of the test result for them to replace - the Genius has no ability to stray from the diagnostic result. So with a fully charged battery, the diagnostic showed a good battery (of course). No amount of explaining the problem to the Genius could get him to change his mind, or offer to let the computer run the battery down. He only offered to sell me a new battery.

I decided to return another day with the battery discharged and this time the diagnostic showed a clear fail, and below the acceptable number of cycles. The Genius (a different guy) replaced it on the spot.

good luck with yours
swift_texas said…
I had a problem with the original battery in my MBP 2.33 Core2. That battery was not as sick as yours, but clearly held only about 50% charge after only 50 cycles. It fell under Apple's extended MBP battery warranty program and was replaced promptly at my local Genius bar. No muss, no fuss.

Lo, about 10 months later my NEW battery (saw them take it out of a box) was showing the EXACT behavior you describe. Complete and total discharge in about an hour with no graceful warning or shutdown. It happened too fast for the system to catch. That battery also had 50 or fewer cycles on it. Can't remember exactly.

So, back to the Genius Bar. They hooked up the iPod tester someone else mentioned and the battery registered "BAD" all the way across. Another new battery popped in no muss, no fuss. That was about a month ago.

And note that I do NOT have Apple Care. This was straight up good customer service.

Unknown said…
The battery of my wife's 2.1 year old MBP suffered a similar fate. With no AppleCare to fall back on we forked over $129 for the replacement from Apple. I saw generic batteries available on eBay but the reviews were sketchy at best.
Unknown said…
For those who use a laptop infrequently, that can be a source of the problem.
The ideal scenario according to Apple is someone who takes the train in the morning.
My local genius bar said those who run the laptop with a fully charged battery all the time tend to be those with most battery problems.
I've forgotten the term they use, but leaving the battery fully charged causes the cells to lose charging capacity.
Hendrik said…
They will replace it for you no problem. I had my battery replaced twice. I asked if there maybe is something wrong with the electronics in my laptop that caused the batteries to degrade that fast. The Apple store guy told me that he thought that was very unlikely and that the current state of battery technology (at the time) was just poor. Which is probably why Apple developed their own battery tech for the new laptops.

Apple has an internal threshold for replacing batteries. I think they guarantee that the battery will still hold at least 80% of its charge after 500 cycles or something like that. And as others have mentioned, they have a testing setup in their stores. So yeah, just take it in and you should just get a new one.

The integrated battery in my new Macbook Pro has been holding up super well. And it is giving me 5-6 hours of coffee shop work time. Love it.
David Fields said…
I'm sure you're already aware that Apple has been a little picky on their battery replacements lately. It seems that their testing device reads the number of charges vs total hours used (or something like that) to determine if the MacBook has been run plugged in all the time vs using the battery. If they determine that the battery hasn't been cycled enough times for the amount of usage the machine reports, they may choose not to replace it under warranty.

This makes perfect sense to a good extent, but it is annoying and upsetting if the machine is a 'primary use' computer. Apple is essentially saying, "If you want a desktop, buy a desktop. Use the portable for what it was made to do; as a portable."
Keleko said…
@David: I've done calibration, and it doesn't help.
MagerValp said…
@keleko: "I only use battery power about 2-3x a month, so theoretically they should stay in good shape for a long time."

No, the battery needs a bit of exercise to stay healthy. Apple's techs now recommend that you run the machine on battery if not daily then at least weekly.

If you're not using the battery it should be stored cool at 40% charge (though that's rather tricky with the new macbooks...).
Charlie said…
Hi Dave, I converted at the same time you did, same MacBook Pro, and I'm experiencing this same problem. No AppleCare, and I'll have to get it checked out next time I'm in a major city though, so please let us know what happens for you.
David Alison said…
@Charlie: Will do. I have an appointment with the Genius Bar tomorrow evening (earliest I could get!)
Unknown said…
Is the MBP running Snow Leopard? I, along with many others, believe these wierd battery readings are caused by Snow Leopard. My battery can show good, replace or service at various times. After showing replace, you can fiddle for a while with calibrations, booting without the battery etc, and it will magically go good again, only to fail some time later. See http://discussions.apple.com/thread.jspa?threadID=2139186&start=0&tstart=105. 41 pages and counting!

On many occasions, using System Profiler, my battery is shown to have a charge of over 65,000 (when a normal charge is up to 5,000). So it always shows as having 10 hours run time (I wish) and then, of course, shuts down spontaneously when the actual charge runs out. Interestingly, I can put the battery into another MBP and it says the same thing - these figures are somehow stored in the actual battery. At other times it shows a max charge only in the hundreds, until it fixes itself for a while. Then I'll have a perfectly healthy battery that lasts 3 hours. All very frustrating!
MikeP said…
I had the exact same problem with my 2006 MBP after about a year of use and 60 or so cycles. Apple happily replaced the battery. The replacement battery did exactly the same thing and Apple replaced it again. My 2nd replacement battery, which is now on 70 cycles and about a year old, is starting to show signs of flakiness. I give it about 2 months at most then I will probably have to buy a new battery. I'm not sure Apple will come through a third time for me.
Adam said…
I've had the exact same problem you describe in your post with my MBP (about 1.5 years old) now running Snow Leopard. I get anywhere from 5-20 minutes of battery life before it just turns off. My battery status says "service." I don't remember having this problem before SL though-just short battery life (about an hour). I see a trip to the Apple store soon.
Unknown said…

I had a Macbook Unibody that had a bad battery about 9 months old (also had AppleCare). The key is how many cycles you have. I can't remember their exact number, but I'd say you're safe if it's under 250 cycles. Ironically, their policy benefits people who don't properly cycle their batteries (me), because they will cover it with fewer cycles. In fact, I just did it over the phone and they shipped a new battery with a pre-paid return for my old battery. I'm sure they'll take care of you just fine.

Daniel said…
I've got a Macbook Pro 3,1 2.4GHz and my battery is starting to act up similar to yours but not as extreme... yet.

I look forward to hearing what the result is and enjoyed reading everyone else's reports of what happened to them :D

I'll have to check my charge cycles though... I might be over 300 cycles though :S
Anonymous said…
Advice to whoever reads this: Calibrate your battery regularly! If you do not calibrate your battery once a month, it will degrade. See www.apple.com/batteries. That is why there are people stating they are having the same problem again after a battery swap: they are treating the new battery the same as the old. The battery is not defective, it just isn't being used so it degrades.
swift_texas said…
I have to disagree Anonymous. I started calibrating my battery monthly before my first battery died, but it was truly defective and didn't prolong it. My 2nd battery was regularly calibrated monthly (I have an iCal reminder) and it lived an even shorter life.

I believe Apple's and the general advice that regular calibration is necessary to maximize life. But there is also something going on with quality control concerning these batteries.
Charlie said…

You know, I never had a problem until I upgraded to Snow Leopard either. I assume the problem just started to happen at the same time I upgraded, but maybe there's something to that theory.
swift_texas said…
I think Snow Leopard changed the reporting of the problem, but did not introduce the problem. Under Snow Leopard I noticed a message about getting my batter "serviced" in the Menu Bar Battery Menu. I don't think that message occurred in Leopard.
Unknown said…

I am convinced it's caused by Snow Leopard. There are just too many people reporting the problem since the upgrade (see the thread I mentioned). And my battery can be reported as having a max charge of 65,000 or 700 from one time to the next. While I suppose the battery could be at fault, at the times it settles down it lasts for a normal 3+ hours.

Yes, SL added the extra reporting. But I think in doing so it's messed things up. There are plenty of reports from people who were forced to buy new batteries, only to find the problem recurred.


Be interesting to hear what happens if you get to a Store...
JoshS said…
This won't solve your problem, but if you want to keep your computer from totally shutting down on you like that you should check out low battery saver. It makes sure your Mac sleeps before the battery completely runs out and, more importantly, lets you set a warning to alert you that the computer is about to sleep. (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/low-battery-saver/id480383312?mt=12) It won't fix your battery problems but at least you won't lose your work, have to restart your computer etc.

Unknown said…
I i was wondering if a battery on a mac book would get messed up if you keep taking the cord out before it has finished charging? I know that it happens with a phone, but i wasn't sure if it happens with laptops or not. THanks.

Popular posts from this blog

Keyboard vs. Mouse

Some cool Firefox add-ons

A hardcore Windows guy gets a Mac