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What is the 17-Inch "Early 2009/Unibody" MacBook Pro battery life in "real-world" tests? What is the difference in battery life when using the NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT and the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M?
Please note that all Macs mentioned in this Q&A have been discontinued. The "Early 2009/Unibody" 17-Inch MacBook Pro was replaced by the "Mid-2009" 17-Inch MacBook Pro on June 8, 2009.
Apple reports that the 17-Inch "Unibody" MacBook Pro models provide "8 hours of wireless productivity" with a "Better Battery Life setting" (using the slower NVIDIA GeForce 9400M). The company further defines "wireless productivity" as "wirelessly browsing various websites and editing text in a word processing document with display brightness set to 50%".
By comparison, for the previous 17-Inch MacBook Pro model -- the MacBook Pro "Core 2 Duo" 2.5 17" (Early 2008) -- Apple estimated a mere "4.5 hours of wireless productivity" performing the same test. The "Early 2008/Penryn" MacBook Pro models have a 68 W/Hr Li-Poly battery, but the 17-Inch "Unibody" model has a larger 95 W/Hr Li-Poly battery, so one would expect the "Unibody" model to have a longer battery life.
Whether or not the 17-Inch "Unibody" MacBook Pro really provides 8 hours of battery life -- a full 3.5 hours more run time than than its predecessor -- can only be determined by "real-world" testing.
Real-World Battery Life Test Results
With integrated graphics enabled, the notebook lasted 6 hours and 53 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi). While that’s short of Apple’s claim, this runtime is still more than 4 hours longer than the typical desktop replacement. With power-hungry discrete graphics enabled, the MacBook Pro lasted an equally impressive time of 6 hours and 4 minutes.
In our tests, under normal use (image editing, heavy web surfing, blogging all over the internet, YouTube / Viddler video watching, really serious AIM sessions), the laptop nabbed an average of 4:40 on a single charge with the low-power GPU, and, surprisingly, just under four hours (about 3:50) with the discrete chip.
When the system was using the Nvidia 9400M GT chipset and running a DVD movie (Titanic, in this case), the battery drained in 4 hours 14 minutes. By comparison, the previous version managed only 2 hours 25 minutes.
Battery Life Summary
Ultimately, it appears that Apple's battery life numbers for the 17-Inch "Unibody" MacBook Pro -- which is equipped with a non-swappable battery -- are fairly realistic for light usage making an effort to conserve the battery, but even when it fell short of these "aggressive" estimates in "real-world" testing, reviewers were nevertheless impressed with its battery life compared to other notebooks.