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What is the "White and Black" MacBook battery life in "real-world" tests? How does the battery life of different MacBook models compare to one another?
Please note that this Q&A covers the "White & Black" MacBook models. For the Aluminum "Unibody" MacBook models, please refer to the answer to "What is the 'Unibody' MacBook battery life in 'real-world' tests?" For the White "Unibody" MacBook models, see "What is the White 'Unibody" MacBook battery life in 'real-world' tests?"
Apple's official estimate of the battery life of all "non-Pro" MacBook models prior to the "Early 2008/Penryn" systems was an impressive six hours. However, the company estimated 3.5 hours while using wi-fi and 2.5 hours of DVD playback.
For the "Early 2008/Penryn" models -- the MacBook "Core 2 Duo" 2.1 13" (White), "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 13" (White), and "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 13" (Black) -- Apple changed how it reported battery life and replaced the three sets of numbers with one -- "4.5 hours of wireless productivity". For the MacBook "Core 2 Duo" 2.0 13-Inch (White - Early 2009) Apple likewise quoted the same "4.5 hours" metric, but for the current MacBook "Core 2 Duo" 2.13 13" (White-09), Apple increased the official rating to 5 hours.
Apple further explains that the "wireless productivity test measures battery life by wirelessly browsing various websites and editing text in a word processing document with display brightness set to 50%."
However, regardless of the numbers provided by the manufacturer, it is important to see how the systems perform in impartial "real-world" battery life tests.
In a fantastic ArsTechnica review for the original MacBook that should be read in its entirety, the author reported that while using the "best performance" setting, he managed three hours and thirteen minutes while playing a DVD with brightness set to half. He got four hours and five minutes while playing an iTunes stream, wi-fi and bluetooth enabled, and brightness set to half. Finally, with no applications running, wi-fi and bluetooth disabled and the screen set to very dim, he was able to squeeze out five hours and forty minutes.
Regarding these results, he concluded that:
I'm quite pleased with these battery testing results. While it's painfully obvious where Apple gets its six hours of battery life claim, a running time of approximately 3 hours while watching a DVD is a good one, especially for jetsetting Mac users. Four hours of usage under what I consider to be "normal" conditions is also acceptable to me.
The "Late 2006" and "Mid-2007" MacBook systems use the same motherboard and have effectively identical battery life as the original models.
With the introduction of the "Late 2007/Santa Rosa" models on November 1, 2007 -- which use a more advanced motherboard -- one might have thought that battery life would have changed, despite Apple maintaining the same official battery life estimate. However, in a MacWorld review, the author found that:
Battery life was excellent and almost identical to the previous model. I watched a complete movie running off a DVD and it took 3 hours and 23 minutes for a fully charged battery to die (you can watch Doctor Zhivago in its entirety on your cross-country flight without having to recharge the MacBook’s battery).
For the "Early 2008/Penryn" models, introduced February 26, 2008, the usually comprehensive MacWorld did not run battery life tests. However, in an excellent review from Electronista (from the same publisher as the long-running MacNN), the author discovered:
Using Apple's recommended settings of normal power usage, wireless turned on, and half screen brightness, I netted better than expected battery life in the exact same conditions. The test system lasted for 4 hours and 54 minutes, or about 4.9 hours, of average web browsing.
This is not only longer than Apple's official claims but leaps ahead of the previous model; most users of the 2 GHz and 2.2 GHz MacBooks from the fall [the "Late 2007/Santa Rosa" systems] often net between 4 and 4.5 hours of similar use, sometimes netting less.
In our worse-case scenario testing -- watching a movie from the hard drive at full screen and full brightness -- we got 2 hours and 42 minutes of battery life, about 10 minutes more than with the last generation white MacBook, and about 6 minutes more than the 2 GHz aluminum MacBook.
In terms of battery life, we found that the white MacBook could play a QuickTime movie at full brightness for three hours and 22 minutes, 38 minutes longer than the aluminum MacBook and 28 minutes longer than the MacBook Pro, when the pro system was set to use its battery-saving lower powered graphics.
Ultimately, it appears that Apple's latest battery life numbers for the MacBook are quite realistic. However, as Apple notes as well, battery life may vary depending on "configuration and use".
Apple also has a Knowledge Base article entitled "Calibrating Your Computer's Battery for Best Performance" that you may wish to read.