As your MacBook ages, your battery performance decreases — that’s just a fact of life. But if you correctly calibrate and maintain your battery, it’s possible to improve performance and put off replacing it for as long as possible.
Calibrating Your MacBook Battery
If you have a MacBook or a MacBook Pro, you should calibrate your lithium-ion battery once a month. According to Apple, MacBooks, MacBook Pros, and MacBook Airs released after mid-2009 are pre-calibrated and don’t require calibration. Other laptops, however, can benefit from a calibration. Batteries have internal microprocessors, and properly calibrating them will keep your onscreen battery display accurate and your battery operating at maximum efficiency.
A properly-calibrated and battery will help you keep tabs on your power source and prevent the annoyance of having your computer not give you a warning before it goes to sleep or telling you that it has a few minutes left when it could easily go for another few hours. After a successful calibration, your MacBook’s battery meter will be a lot more accurate.
To calibrate the battery on your MacBook, you’ll need to perform a full cycle through the battery’s life.
- Plug in the power adapter and fully charge your PowerBook’s battery until the light ring or LED on the power adapter plug changes to green and the onscreen meter in the menu bar indicates that the battery is fully charged.
- Allow the battery to rest in the fully charged state for at least two hours. You may use your computer during this time as long as the adapter is plugged in.
- Disconnect the power adapter while the computer still on and start running the computer off battery power. You may use your computer during this time. When your battery gets low, the low battery warning dialog appears on the screen.
- At this point, save your work. Continue to use your computer; when the battery gets very low, the computer will automatically go to sleep.
- Turn off the computer or allow it to sleep for five hours or more.
- Connect the power adapter and leave it connected until the battery is fully charged again.
Even though safe sleep mode will save any open files when your computer goes to sleep, it’s a good idea to save everything and close your apps before it goes to sleep. Once you’ve run the calibration cycle, your computer will have a much better idea of how much power is really left in your battery.
Monitoring Your MacBook’s Battery Health
In addition to calibrating your battery, you can take steps to monitor the health and charge level to give you an even better idea of the overall condition. There are a number of apps that we’ve covered before, like Watts and CoconutBattery. I use a free app called BatteryHealth that keeps an icon in the menu bar; clicking it opens up a monitoring window that gives you a lot of useful information about your battery.
As you can see here, you get the current charge level, current and original maximum charge, an estimate of time remaining on the current charge, number of cycles, age, and pretty much everything else you need to monitor the overall health of your battery.
The most important things here are the health percentage and the number of cycles. The health number is the total percentage of the original max charge that your battery can hold. Cycles are a measure of how much use your battery has received—as it increases, your battery performance will degrade.
This page shows the number of cycles that your MacBook battery can go through before it’s considered “consumed” and should be replaced. Most new models can handle about 1,000 cycles, but some older models are only rated for 500 or so.
Maintaining Your MacBook’s Battery
So now that you have a good idea of how well your battery is working, what can you do to make sure that you get the best performance out of it for a long period of time? There are a number of things you can do to keep it working well, including, surprisingly, unplugging it.
It’s important to keep energy moving through your battery to keep it running smoothly—if it’s always plugged in and rarely discharged, you might see a decrease in performance long before you’ve reached a high cycle count. Make sure to unplug and discharge your battery on a daily basis. You don’t have to take it all the way down to the emergency sleep state, but make sure that your battery is putting in the work it needs to stay healthy.
The other big thing is to make sure that you get as much as possible out of each charge cycle. If you’re using each cycle as efficiently as possible, it’ll take longer to go through a charge cycle and your count will increase more slowly, giving you better long-term battery life. So taking steps to maximize the use you get out of each charge doesn’t just pay off by letting you use your laptop longer, it also has long-term benefits.
To get the most out of each charge, you’ll want to take a number of battery-saving steps. First, dim your screen. Most of the time, you don’t need it on full brightness, and maxing it out can strain your eyes (while you’re at it consider f.lux to further reduce strain). The screen can consume a large portion of your battery’s capacity, so this will make a big difference.
Extraneous apps and connections can also take a toll on your battery, so close apps that you’re not using – especially if they open connections to refresh. Social networking and IM apps, iTunes, Dropbox, Messages, FaceTime, and Skype often accept incoming connections, and this can be a drain on your battery. Going to System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Firewall > Firewall Options will let you choose which applications are allowed to accept incoming connections with the OS X firewall. You can also choose to block them all.
If you don’t need to connect to the internet, turning off your wi-fi will save a lot of power, as will disabling Bluetooth – and if you don’t need you Bluetooth keyboard or mouse there’s no reason to keep it enabled. If you have other peripherals that connect via USB or Thunderbolt, unplug those when they’re not in use, as they can still draw power.
Replacing Your Macbook’s Battery
If your battery doesn’t hold much of a charge, you may want to get it replaced. While you can do it yourself with the aid of a resource like iFixit, it’s generally recommended that you bring it into an Apple store and let them do it. If you make an appointment at a store, you can usually get it replaced the same day. Having Apple replace the battery will cost you between $129 for a MacBook Air, 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro; $179 for a 17-inch MacBook Pro; or $199 for a MacBook Pro Retina.
Having Apple replace your battery will maintain any warranty or Apple Care plan you still have on the machine, whereas doing it yourself or approaching a third-party won’t – though you’ll likely save on parts and labor.
Getting your cycle count close to the 800 or 1,000 mark doesn’t have to mean that your battery performance has to suffer. If you take steps to maintain your battery and keep it calibrated before you start having problems, you can maximize the life of your battery and get years of good use out of it. And don’t forget to check out these 20 ways to increase your battery life!
What are your favorite battery calibration and monitoring tools? How do you maintain your battery? Share your thoughts below!