When buying a new Apple laptop, you should keep one word at the forefront of your thoughts: longevity.
You obviously want a computer that will last several years and be worth the money you’re going to spend. The design of the latest MacBook models requires that you lock in a configuration at the start that will last the life of the machine.
Until recently, a laptop’s useful life could be nudged further into the future by adding more memory, increasing storage, replacing a standard hard disk with an SSD (a Solid State Drive, the best method of giving an old machine new life), or all three.
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Now, though, all of Apple’s current MacBook models are designed around components that are difficult to replace, from soldered RAM to custom-shaped battery cells that can’t be removed.
Today I want to talk about batteries because most people (myself included, until recently) don’t properly take care of the component that makes a portable.
Apple laptops built beginning in 2009 no longer use removable batteries that can be swapped when one needs to be recharged.
To be honest, I’ve always thought that having multiple swappable batteries was a pain. If I wanted more than three solid hours of use, I had to carry an extra battery, adding weight to my bag.
Although I do a fair amount of work in coffee shops or in my living room, most of my MacBook Pro’s time is spent connected to power in my home office. That common practice, however, is bad for the battery and sinks the machine’s longevity. At some point, the computer will work only when anchored to a power socket.
Batteries need to be discharged and refreshed on a regular basis to prevent them from going stale and losing their capacity over time.
The problem is, OS X gives you very little information about whether the battery is being given the right amount of a workout. The System Information utility offers some battery information: the battery’s full charge capacity, the cycle count (how many full discharge/recharge cycles have occurred), and a generic Condition label that should read “Normal.” (You can find the utility located in the Utilities folder, or accessible by clicking the Apple menu, choosing About This Mac, clicking More Info, and then clicking System Report. Select Power in the sidebar.)
Instead, for the past several months I’ve used an application called FruitJuice ($9.99, fruitjuiceapp.com) to monitor and help me use my MacBook Pro’s battery smarter.
FruitJuice initially performs a Maintenance Cycle to discharge the battery to under 20 percent of its capacity and collect data about the battery. From then on, it calculates how much time the laptop should work from the battery each day to keep it working well.
Each day, the FruitJuice menu-bar icon tells me how much time to spend off AC power. When the goal is reached, the utility pops up a notification, using the OS X Notification Center and alerts. I can optionally view other alerts, such as when the battery’s charge drops below a specified percentage or when the battery is fully charged.
And if you want more data about the battery, FruitJuice is happy to serve it up with a straw and a little umbrella. The FruitJuice menu displays today’s target and actual time spent on battery; a daily average of the past seven days; the battery’s overall capacity percentage and cycle count. (I’m at 82 percent and 387 out of 1,000 cycles, which isn’t bad for a 2010 MacBook Pro.)
FruitJuice also tracks battery history, so you can view a chart of how much time you spent fully charged, charging and on battery going back a full year. And lastly, a Battery Info option includes the battery’s age and an anticipated life span expressed in a pie chart. (Mine entered the world on March 30, 2010.)
In the past, I’ve dealt with faulty batteries that petered out long before their time. I imagine FruitJuice would help identify a failing battery sooner, so that I could get it checked out earlier.
Using FruitJuice, I feel like I’m finally treating my MacBook Pro’s battery correctly, and look forward to extending the machine’s longevity even longer.
Jeff Carlson writes the Practical Mac column for Personal Technology and about technology in general for The Seattle Times and other publications. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. More Practical Mac columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.