Incredible Battery Life Under OS X

Over the summer I stumbled onto something interesting: the new 15-inch MacBook Pro delivered an ungodly amount of battery life. By shrinking the battery, Apple was able to cram a 73Whr battery where they used to only have a 50Whr pack:

The rest of the lineup got a similarly sizeable upgrade in 2009:

  New Lithium Polymer Battery (Integrated)

Old Lithium Ion Battery (Removable)

Increase in Capacity
MacBook Pro 13-inch 58WHr 45WHr 29%
MacBook Pro 15-inch 73WHr 50WHr 46%
MacBook Pro 17-inch 95WHr 68WHr 40%

 

I only tested the 15-inch over the summer, but recently I had the opportunity to try the entire lineup. I brewed up some new battery life test and put Apple's "up to 7 hours" claims to the test.

Light Web Browsing

Our first test is the one that yields the longest battery life: the light web browsing test. Here we're simply listening to MP3s in iTunes on repeat while browsing through a series of webpages with no flash on them. Each page forwards on to the next in the series after 20 seconds.

The display is kept at 50% brightness, all screen savers are disabled, but the hard drive is allowed to go to sleep if there's no disk activity. The wireless connection is enabled and connected to a local access point less than 20 feet away. This test represents the longest battery life you can achieve on the platform while doing minimal work. The results here are comparable to what you'd see typing a document in TextEdit or reading documents.

All of the new unibody MacBook Pros here get over 7 hours of battery life. This isn't idle folks, this is actual, real world battery life with real world settings. The worst was actually the 15-inch MacBook Pro at only 7.4 hours, while the 13-inch and 17-inch MacBook Pro got closer to 8 hours.

If you own a previous generation MacBook Pro (non-unibody) then the battery life is nearly double (a 76% increase). My personal 15-inch MacBook Pro is the first laptop I've owned where I was happy with both the performance and the battery life. It's what a notebook should be.

Flash Web Browsing

Our next test more closely simulates a very heavy web browsing scenario. The test here has three Safari windows open, each browsing a set of web pages with between 1 - 4 animated flash ads per page, at the same time. Each page forwards onto the next after about 20 seconds.

As always, the display is set to 50% brightness, audio at two bars, screensaver disabled and the hard drive is allowed to go to sleep if idle. The wireless connection is enabled and connected to a local access point less than 20 feet away.

Battery life drops significantly. Our 7.4+ hours now drop down to 3.7 hours on the 13-inch MacBook Pro, 4.6 hours on the 15-inch and 4.4 hours on the 17-inch. That's still not bad but between these two numbers you get a reasonable idea of how long one of these systems will last while browsing the web. The smaller capacity battery on the 13-inch appears to be really holding it back here as the 15-inch manages nearly another hour of battery life.

Here we're actually doubling the battery life of the older 15-inch MacBook Pro from early 2008. It's interesting to note that Apple's lightest notebook, the MacBook Air, offers similar battery life to the MacBook Pro from almost two years ago.

XviD Video Playback

Watching movies on your laptop is very realistic usage model, but I wanted to spice it up a bit. The DVD playback test is so done, I wanted something a little more forward looking. I ripped The Dark Knight to XviD and played it back continuously in QuickTime X with Perian installed.

For this test the display was set to full brightess and audio was set at two bars below maximum. Once more the hard drive was allowed to go to sleep if it was idle. The AirPort (wireless LAN) was enabled and connected to a local access point less than 20 feet away.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro comes in with the shortest battery life of 3.45 hours. The 15-inch is the winner at 3.83 hours, with the 17-inch close at 3.76 hours. All of the notebooks promise good enough battery life to get you through one long movie, but not quite enough for two back to back at full brightness. A couple of short ~100 minute movies is definitely doable though.

The older notebooks could only do a single long movie, the MacBook Air could barely finish one. Apple was very smart with its roadmap - when Intel could not provide significantly better performance, it delivered much better battery life to give users a reason to upgrade.

Multitasking Battery Life

Our final battery life test is the worst case scenario. In this test we have three open Safari windows, each browsing a set of web pages with between 1 - 4 flash ads per page, at the same time. We're also playing an XviD video in a window all while downloading files from a server at approximately 500KB/s.

This test proved to bring our notebooks to their knees. The 13-inch MacBook Pro managed under 2.5 hours, while the 15-inch came close to 3 and the 17-inch actual broke it with 3.1 hours.

Between these four tests you can get a general idea of how long these notebooks will last. The 13-inch will last you between 2.5 and 7.4 hours, the 15-inch is more like 3 - 7.8, and the 17-inch is fairly similar at 3 - 7.9 hours. On average expecting four to five hours of battery life while doing real work isn't unrealistic.

Which, I should mention, is freaking awesome on these notebooks. It's also worth noting that these aren't just benchmarks, these are scenarios I've created and also vetted with my own experience with the 15-inch MacBook Pro. For a writer, any of these MacBook Pros are perfect, especially when traveling. The lack of a removable battery just isn't an issue.

Ugh, SSDs in the MacBook Pro Snow Leopard: Bad for Battery Life
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  • v12v12 - Tuesday, December 01, 2009 - link

    Try this: SAGER http://www.sagernotebook.com/category.php">http://www.sagernotebook.com/category.php

    My buddy built a custom laptop for $1500 that DOMINATES any MacPro, with a better to equal screen res, oh plus the caveat of a MATTE screen, thus it's a better screen actually. It's faster, better GFX, BUILT better, completely custom, looks nice and WORKS.

    There's no comparison when the elitism and snobbery of blindly knowing you got ripped off for a fluffed up Intel machine in satin and lace gloves. I have a MacPro, and other PC laptops... Guess what machine gets WORK done in the corp environment more so than the Mac needing to run silly emulations of Windows in order to get things done. But why so? If these overpriced luxo-pads really ARE "superior" then ask yourself why again hasn't Mac broken into the working world of business and corps if they are user-friendly and problem free?

    You'd think a smart corp would take note and thus spend a little extra capital for these machines, as it’s part of my job to support them... Guess what, Mac's aren't going to be adopted nor switched over b/c they are mere flash and dash for the foo-foo to keep fluffing their yaps about how great it is to get SUB-PAR performance at premium prices... Oh and don’t forget Apples RIDICULOUS (strike) LAUGHABLE service requirements…

    Applecare Technician cert required to work on these toys? HAHA Anyone with ½ an A+ cert can take this BS machine apart just like a PC and then some. But with Apple at the helm, you’ve gotta agree to their pricing schemes and wanna-be island in the sky certs to do work that a teenage can do. Again more hidden costs and fees associated with the wanna-be Elite crowd. Do you know why they have to charge these exuberant fees out of sight? To long bait you into their way of things, to where there’s no point of turning back once committed. The fees also help keep them afloat; remember for it not for Creative’s ideas they stole, Intels hardware, and the stupidity or nativity of it’s fan(boy) user base… “Apple” would be rancid and a DECAYING company haha… and you all know it… Botching performance specs can only keep you “competitive” for so long, until your own flock began noticing how ailing those junk G-series were haha… What a joke.

    Sorta like a hopping up Civic with "euro" lights and smooth lines and then getting dogged by an American competitor that's near 30% less = interior and those "build quality" upgrades that everyone's hollering about added to surpass you.

    You can get a Porsche 911 C4S for near $90K... Vs a Base vette C6 (which is still faster lol) for $60K and CUSTOMIZE it way beyond what Porsche could dream of at such a price; yes that’s BETTER; performance in every category, interior upgrades also... Apple is all fluff when it comes down to it. IT's NOT a hardware brand, it's borrowed technology from INTEL; it's master, then some BS ideology slapped onto it to appease the easily swayed/coerced. Sorry but I'm sick of the people who pay MORE for > less and have the nerve to claim superiority.

    But like OMG, it’s sOOOOOO PRETTY – YAAAAAYYyyyy! That subject to OPINION and thus a forever MOOT POINT.


    Who knows... Apple has been found GUILTY more than once for stealing other's innovations and pawning/spinning them off as their own. Google that FYI...

    Hype and flash; smoke and mirrors... Case dismissed.
    Reply
  • mashi - Friday, February 12, 2010 - link

    people never own a mac never understand. I have few ibm/lenovo thinkpad. but i always use my mac. osx is clean and fast OS. i think their kernel is more optimized than windows. if you using snow leopard and parallels 5 with windows xp. basically you don't even know it is VM. the response and everything is fast. Once you used to OSX. you don't want PC. that's my opinion. Reply
  • aucl - Wednesday, November 25, 2009 - link

    I think blaming Apple for the bad performance is not totally fair.

    Long before the release of Snow Leopard Apple tried to drill all partners, driver vendors and so to deliver new 64bit builds for their plugins and extensions.

    The flash plugin is provided by Adobe and only distributed by Apple. Probably cause most users would complain if flash content won't work any more.

    so lets look what we got:

    host-20i:~ aucl$ file /Applications/Safari.app/Contents/MacOS/Safari
    /Applications/Safari.app/Contents/MacOS/Safari: Mach-O universal binary with 2 architectures
    /Applications/Safari.app/Contents/MacOS/Safari (for architecture i386): Mach-O executable i386
    /Applications/Safari.app/Contents/MacOS/Safari (for architecture x86_64): Mach-O 64-bit executable x86_64
    host-20i:~ aucl$ file /Library/Internet\ Plug-Ins/Flash\ Player.plugin/Contents/MacOS/Flash\ Player
    /Library/Internet Plug-Ins/Flash Player.plugin/Contents/MacOS/Flash Player: Mach-O universal binary with 2 architectures
    /Library/Internet Plug-Ins/Flash Player.plugin/Contents/MacOS/Flash Player (for architecture ppc): Mach-O bundle ppc
    /Library/Internet Plug-Ins/Flash Player.plugin/Contents/MacOS/Flash Player (for architecture i386): Mach-O bundle i386

    Looks like Adobe Flash is not 64bit ready.

    So i am not sure about the details in current Intel architecture, but switching between 32 and 64bit was always an expensive operation as i remember???

    PS: On my mac quite everything is 64bit, and flash is "disabled" with the Click4Flash plugin.
    Reply
  • fokka - Monday, November 16, 2009 - link

    come on anand, i know apple articles create a lot of clicks, but this macbook/apple- fanboyism is getting ridiculous.

    yes, everyone knows that the unibodies are good computers and the battery-life is better than on most other pcs, but the price-aspect especially on the 17"-machine is just too big, that a normal person could honestly overlook it...

    do you know what you get in the non-apple-world for 2500$+? other dimansion, just other dimension.
    Reply
  • WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot - Monday, November 23, 2009 - link

    Oh for cryin' out loud! The bloke writes an article relating to a tech issue that just happens to be on a Mac and suddenly he's a "fanboy"????!!!

    You Win-Nut trolls remind me of primary school kids - someone talks about something you're not into and suddenly you all start calling him names. If you're only interested in bashing Apple (and if Apple's so crap why do they threaten you so much?) go to the green grocer's, buy a box of granny smiths, and go hit them with a cricket bat. Get some of your frustration out that way. If you're interested in discussing the content of the article (ie. how to maximise battery charge) with some practical suggestions (other than "just buy a cheap windows brick and keep it plugged into the wall") then by all means post.

    ... why do I even bother reading Win-Nut posts??? .....
    Reply
  • marraco - Sunday, November 15, 2009 - link

    [I've been a staunch advocate of Apple's hardware and software for years now, but ...
    ...Apple is making the mistake of stating that non-Apple hardware isn't supported]

    Big fail.

    you pay 2,5X more than an i7 PC (not accounting the Windows license needed to run 99% of the software), gets obsolete hardware, and ZERO support.

    If I pay extra for a computer, I want to get any luxe, including the expandability.
    Reply
  • geok1ng - Sunday, November 15, 2009 - link

    It is a PITA that i couldnt buy a decent notebook over the last two years: a decent CPU with good screen resolution and STATE-OF-ART integrated graphics; AMD had excelent integrated graphics paired with hot and 2 generatiosn older CPUs, Intel had decent CPUs paired with crap integrated graphis. And when NVDIA finally put a decent integrated graphics on the C2D platform, it is sold as MacBook- an expensive piece of good looks paired with all manner of junkware using an OS that simply cant game!

    Battery life is a mix of good hardware project and good OS drives. For that you need 45nm CPUs with at least 55nm chipstes with the OS installed in a SDD. And the OS cant suck!

    I would be fine with a 2Ghz dual core (or an atom for a netbook), 9400m/4200 level graphics, 4GB RAM, 60GB SSD and at least 720p resolution together in a 11"-13" chassis. But every single netbook/subnotebook/notebook that comes close to this requirements costs an arm and a leg and fails to deliver one or more of these hardware requirements.
    Reply
  • batmanuel - Sunday, November 15, 2009 - link

    My wife picked up the new unibody plastic Macbook recently, and it is really a good deal compared to the 13" MacBook Pro. You get the same processor, multitouch trackpad, LED backlit screen, 7 hour battery, and RAM as in the Pro version, plus a bigger hard drive. If you don't need FW800, the SD reader, and the backlit keyboard, the plastic unibody Macbook is a great machine for $1000. Reply
  • Hrel - Friday, November 13, 2009 - link

    I'd really love it if Asus could would make a 15-16" laptop with the specs on the 15" macbook except with a 1600x900 screen, a 320GB 7200rpm hard drive and the option to add a dedicated GPU to the integrated one. With a price ranging from 700-1000. I'm thinking MR HD4530/210M, HD4670, and the HD4850 as dedicated graphics options.

    Most importantly though; let's not forget that the screen needs to be at least 500:1 contrast ratio, preferably 1000:1 with very high color accuracy.
    Reply
  • MonicaS - Thursday, November 12, 2009 - link

    I can understand why Apple did it, but again, their reasons all but ignore the end user. Seriously, how hung up are people about the look of the underside of their laptop, that it needs to be made sleeker. Take a look at a Mac Pro and you'll see a beautiful and very accessible interior that even the most novice can access. Not the same here and its a shame.

    Monica S
    Los Angeles Computer Repair
    http://www.sebecomputercare.com/?p=1178">http://www.sebecomputercare.com/?p=1178
    Reply

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