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What is the "real-world" battery life of the "Early 2011" and "Late 2011" 13-Inch, 15-Inch, and 17-Inch MacBook Pro models? How does the battery life of each compare to the model each replaced?
Please note all models mentioned in this Q&A have been discontinued. The "Late 2011" MacBook Pro models were replaced by the "Mid-2012" MacBook Pro line on June 11, 2012.
Apple estimates the battery life of all "Early 2011" and "Late 2011" MacBook Pro models -- regardless of display size -- as "up to seven hours" in "wireless web" use.
Official Battery Life Testing Criteria
Apple specifically notes that the company battery life estimate was calculated using a preproduction MacBook Pro "Core i7" 2.2 15-Inch and the wireless web test "measures battery life by wirelessly browsing 25 popular websites with display brightness set to 50%."
Interestingly, the official battery life estimate for the "Early 2011" MacBook Pro models is actually lower than it is for its predecessors. Apple estimated that the "Mid-2010" MacBook Pro line provided 10 hours, 8-9 hours, and 8-9 hours, for the 13-Inch, 15-Inch, and 17-Inch models, respectively, while performing a "wireless productivity" test.
Apple defined its wireless productivity test as "wirelessly browsing various websites and editing text in a word processing document with display brightness set to 50%."
As the batteries in both lines are rated for the same number of watt hours -- 63.5 W h, 77.5 W h, and 95 W h for the 13-Inch, 15-Inch and 17-Inch models, respectively, it is a safe assumption that the "drop" in battery life is due to a more realistic test rather than a drop in efficiency.
Third-Party Battery Life Test Results
Although Apple's battery life estimates in recent years have been reasonable, and perhaps are more reasonable now than they ever have been, a variety of objective third-party tests can be worthwhile as well. These tests specifically refer to the "Early 2011" models although the battery life for the "Late 2011" effectively is identical.
In our tests, the new MacBook Pros all lasted between 5 hours, 39 minutes (the 17-inch 2.2 GHz Core i7 model) and 5 hours, 53 minutes (the 13-Inch 2.3 GHz Core i5 model). Those results are [between 18 minutes and 54 minutes] better than the results for last year's line.
We ran the battery down in Windows 7 (via Bootcamp) with a test called MobileMark 2007, which the 13-inch (Thunderbolt) finished in 3 hours, 58 minutes. That's about an hour less than the previous 13-inch (5:05). Now, the battery is under extreme duress because the parts are running at full throttle in Windows 7. Power consumption is better managed in Mac OS 10, and a video rundown test bears that out. The 13-inch lasted 4 hours, 53 minutes, though it's still about 30 minutes less than its predecessor (5:18).
The MacBook 15-inch (Thunderbolt) improved its battery score on MobileMark 2007 (run in Windows via Bootcamp) to 4 hours 40 minutes (from 3 hours, 21 minutes in the previous version). It goes without saying that power management and battery optimizations are better tuned in the Mac OS 10 environment than in Windows7, which is why I also looped a MP4 movie file in OS 10 until the battery died. The 15-inch lasted 6 hours 43 minutes in this test.
Overall I'd say the battery life story of the new MacBook Pros is a mixed bag. Under light to moderate workloads the 15-inch will likely do better than the 2010 15-inch MBP, while the 13-inch is roughly the same as its predecessor. It's only under heavy use that the new 15-inch will actually do worse than last year's model. You will have to keep an eye on what you're doing with the machine because the new 15-inch MBP has the ability to use a lot more power than last year's model. The bigger issue actually has to do with the dGPU. If you use Chrome or any of the other applications that will trigger the dGPU to turn on, kiss your battery life goodbye. Even light usage suffers if your discrete GPU is active.
The new 13 is a bit less finicky. It's either going to offer you similar or better battery life than last year's model.
Battery Life Summary
Ultimately, it appears that Apple's battery life numbers for the "Early 2011" and "Late 2011" MacBook Pro models are a realistic estimate of what one can expect in the "real-world" for wireless web surfing. However, battery life may nevertheless vary depending on use and operating system as the different scenarios demonstrate.