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MacBook Pro Q&A - Updated November 15, 2008

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How long is the battery life of the MacBook Pro in "real-world" tests?

Please note that this Q&A covers the "pre-Unibody" MacBook Pro models -- those released prior to October 14, 2008. For the newer "Unibody" MacBook Pro models, please refer to the "Unibody" MacBook Pro Q&A.

With the original introduction of of the MacBook Pro "Core Duo" 15-Inch models on January 10, 2006, Apple caused a great deal of controversy by simply stating that battery life "depends on configuration and use." speculated that Apple was glossing over the fact that the battery life of the MacBook Pro "Core Duo" was likely less than the 5.5 hour estimate provided, and heavily promoted, for the PowerBook G4/1.67 15-Inch (DLSD/HR) and PowerBook G4/1.67 17-Inch (DLSD/HR) that it replaced.

With the introduction of the MacBook Pro "Core Duo" 2.16 17-Inch on April 26, 2006, Apple reported that the battery life of the 17-Inch model was 5.5 hours, and that the 15-Inch models provide 4.5 hours of battery life, officially confirming the earlier speculation.

In real-world tests, a review in MacWorld noted for the MacBook Pro "Core Duo" models "in regular use over several days with normal power settings, we found that we could get more than three-and-a-half hours' worth of work done". A review from ArsTechnica says that the author got "an average time of 3 hours and 17 minutes" and was able to "eke out 4 hours and 53 minutes" by selecting the "Better Battery Life" setting and performing "extremely light usage".

Based on this information, originally recorded the battery life as approximately "3.5 - 4.5 hours" on the specifications pages for the MacBook Pro "Core Duo" 1.83 15-Inch, MacBook Pro "Core Duo" 2.0 15-Inch, and MacBook Pro "Core Duo" 2.16 15-Inch. This information is provided along with the official manufacturers estimate.

For the MacBook Pro "Core 2 Duo" models -- the MacBook Pro "Core 2 Duo" 2.16 15-Inch, MacBook Pro "Core 2 Duo" 2.33 15-Inch, and MacBook Pro "Core 2 Duo" 2.33 17-Inch -- Apple reported that the 15-Inch models provide an estimated 5 hours of battery life (half an hour more than the "Core Duo" models) and the 17-Inch model provides 5.5 hours of battery life (the same as the previous model).

However, in real-world tests, a MacWorld review noted that the battery life of the MacBook Pro "Core 2 Duo" models remained unchanged and the author got "2 hours and 35 minutes" of DVD playback and "3 hours and 9 minutes of wireless productivity".

For the "Mid-2007/Santa Rosa" Core 2 Duo MacBook Pro models, Apple heralded that the LED-based backlit display in the MacBook Pro "Core 2 Duo" 2.2 15" (Santa Rosa) and "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 15" (Santa Rosa) systems provides an extra hour of battery life compared to their predecessors -- 6 hours instead of 5 -- and that the "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 17" (Santa Rosa) provides an extra 15 minutes of battery life -- 5.75 hours instead of 5.5.

However, real-world results were more modest. MacWorld discovered:

Both the 15- and 17-inch models delivered an impressive 3 hours, approximately, of DVD playback. This represents a gain of 11 percent for the 15-inch models and 14 percent for the 17-inch model over the previous generations. Surprisingly, we didn't do as well -- about 2.5 hours -- in our wireless productivity test (writing in Microsoft Word while listening to streaming audio and checking e-mail via AirPort) on the 15-inch unit. Without the streaming audio, however, the batteries lasted just over 3 hours.

In an in-depth review of the MacBook Pro "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 17" (Santa Rosa) from the always excellent ArsTechnica, the author found:

Battery life was better on the Santa Rosa MacBook Pro, clocking in at 3:34 versus the older laptop's 3:17. The improvement on the Better Battery life setting was in line with Apple's claims.
Needless to say, it was nowhere near the 5:45 suggested by Apple, and I suspect the only way to approach that figure would be to run the laptop with WiFi off and the display dimmed to the lowest setting above pitch black -- not an optimal use case scenario.

For the "Early 2008/Penryn" models -- the MacBook Pro "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 15" (2008), "Core 2 Duo" 2.5 15" (2008), and "Core 2 Duo" 2.5 17" (2008) -- Apple changed how the company provides battery life to report "wireless productivity".

The company further clarifies 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%." Under these conditions, Apple formally reports that the 15-inch models provide 5 hours of use and the 17-inch model provides 4.5 hours of use. This caused a great deal of confusion, as many were unsure whether battery life had dropped or improved compared to the previous revision.

Whether or not battery life is better or worse for the "Early 2008/Penryn" models can only be resolved through "real-world" use.

In an excellent review, MacWorld battery testing indicated that:

The 15-inch 2.5 GHz MacBook Pro's battery life improved significantly, about 21 percent over the previous model, lasting 2 hours and 55 minutes, compared with 2 hours and 25 minutes for the 2.2 GHz model. The battery boost for the new 17-inch model is a less-impressive 5 percent: 2 hours and 53 minutes for the 2.5 GHz model as opposed to 2 hours and 45 minutes for the previous 2.4 GHz model.

In a likely less stressful "battery drain" test, C|Net reported that:

We got an impressive 4 hours and 23 minutes with our battery drain test -- that's 47 minutes more than the older version of the MacBook Pro, and 20 minutes more than the MacBook Air.

As is typical, realistic real-world battery performance generally is not as good as the maximum reported by manufacturers, but as Apple also notes, battery life may vary depending on "configuration and use".

Can I "swap" batteries with the MacBook Pro?

Yes. To swap batteries, it is extremely important to first put the MacBook Pro to "Sleep", then wait for the computer to save the contents of RAM to the hard drive. While the computer is saving the contents of RAM to the hard drive the sleep light will be lit constantly and when it begins pulsating the data has been saved and it is safe to swap the batteries.

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