MacBook Pro Battery Life

As regular readers will know, I own two notebooks, an original 1GHz 17″ Powerbook and a top of the Sony Vaio Z1. As we all know, the 1GHz 17″ Powerbook is based around a G4.

The PowerBook gets about 2-3 hours of battery life out of my typical use. That’s with the screen turned down to an acceptable level, now DVD drive use and most of the other power saving features switched on. I’ve had better than before now, but only when I’ve gone really offline and only the machine for writing or browsing content, rather than my more usual process of browsing the Internet (which implies wireless connectivity, and more power) and recompiling lots of code.

That’s why I specified the battery time in terms of my, so as not to confuse those readers who will chime in with comments that all timings are wrong…

The Sony Z1 is based around the Centrino set and the Pentium-M mobile CPU, both these components are predecessors to the components built into the new MacBook Pro. This has far more complex power saving systems, such as the ability to switch off (rather than simply not use) the DVD drive, and even to power off the PC Cards, built-in memory stick reader and of course reduce the CPU MHz and power requirements to a very low level.

With the standard battery on the Sony I get about the same period of battery powered usage as the Powerbook. It can be as high as 4 hours, but in the majority of cases a more realistic figure is about 3 hours of my more typical use.

I can slap in a larger battery (exactly twice the size and capacity) and that I can get about 6.5 hours mobile use. It does however ruin the look of the laptop, and raise the back by about 3/4 of an inch.

Now just to summarize:

Powerbook G4, 17″, standard battery: 2-3 hours
Sony Vaio Z1, standard battery: 2-3 hours

To get 2-3 hours (and more) out of a Powerbook is quite an achievement when you think about the Z1, which is Centrino/Pentium-M based and has a heap of power saving technology. Both are using the battery that came with the machine.

Standard battery, standard machines, more or less equal battery life.

Just in case the point I’m making still isn’t clear, using the Vaio, a notebook using the previous version of ‘low power’ technology that is in the new MacBooks I get the SAME battery life as my G4.

What could I expect out of the new MacBook Pro?

I’d expect about the same as I get from the Vaio, perhaps a modest 10-15% increase based on the newer technology, but that has to be tempered by a combination of other factors, like the fact that this is a first generation item from Apple, and that we’re using newer Dual-Core CPU.

For some reason however we have a bunch of Apple commentators (I refuse to call them fans, since they seem to be doing nothing more than slagging Apple off at the moment) who seem to think that the new PowerBooks should have 5, 6 or 7 hour battery life.


Hell knows – existing PC laptops get – as my Vaio experience demonstrates, about 2-3, 4 hours tops.

Why would an Apple-built, Intel based laptop somehow defy the laws of physics, common sense and exceed the capabilities of PC laptops that have been made by manufacturers using the technology for years before Apple got to it, somehow exceed by a factor 75% or more the battery life of existing Intel based laptops?

There’s a finite amount of power you can squeeze into a battery, and there’s a limit to how much you can reduce the power requirements of a laptop.

From a first generation – and more importantly, at the moment, pre-production Apple Intel notebook I think a time of 4 hours is pretty good. That actually equals, or beats, my Vaio.

While I’d love to see Apple produce a laptop that has a longer battery life, we need to be realistic. It’s going to take Apple a while to get the best out of the hardware, and even if they do improve the battery life, they wont be the first to do so – other PC notebook manufacturers will probably get there first. Apple were one of the first 10 companies to announce a dualcore Yonah laptop, so we’re already at the bleeding edge.

Meanwhile, give Apple a break – they enough on their plate right now without people criticising them for matching or beating the battery life of their old laptops and their current competitors.