Apple's 8 hour battery: breakthrough or bungle?

Apple's 8 hour battery: breakthrough or bungle?

Summary: The new 17" MacBook Pro has a non-removable, 8 hour battery that Apple claims can recharge 3x more times than standard batteries and has a 5 year life. Are they nuts?

TOPICS: Hardware, Apple

The new 17" MacBook Pro has a non-removable, 8 hour battery that Apple claims can recharge 3x more times than standard batteries and has a 5 year life. Are they nuts?

The "removable" battery mistake Removable batteries are a kludge, not a feature. The only reason you want a removable battery is that a single battery's life is too short.

Apple says that they were able to expand battery size by 40% by making it non-removable. Battery size translates directly into battery life.

Update from ZDnet's own Jason D. O'Grady:

  • There are three tri-wing screws holding the battery to the Unibody case. Apple did this to intimidate people out of swapping the battery, but a small flathead screwdriver works fine to remove the screws.
  • You can replace the battery by removing 13 screws and a replaceable sticker.
  • The battery is HUGE. It weighs 20.1 ounces (1.25 pounds). That’s 20% of the computer’s weight!

End update.

As Apple's excellent battery video (click on "Watch the battery video") points out, removable batteries require a lot of space for connectors, latches and support. Lose the support bits - build a bigger battery.

So? An 8 hour battery life totally changes the user experience: instead of counting minutes and looking for outlets, your notebook is always ready when you are. A few hours doesn't seem like much, but in practice the difference is huge.

How do I know? For 5 years I carried a notebook with a 9 hour battery life and a reliable sleep mode. I'd walk into a meeting, open the book, and be right where I'd been hours before - and I never had to jockey for power.

No notebook since - with 3-5 hour battery lives - has given me the same sense of freedom. The reliable Mac OS X sleep mode and an 8 hour battery life will be all most professionals need to get them through the day without rebooting or plugging in.

The 5 year/1,000 recharge battery life? Apple further claims that the battery can be recharged 1,000 times, while maintaining 80% - 6.5 hours - of battery charge. Part of the magic is "advanced chemistry" in the lithium batteries.

The other piece is "adaptive recharging" which ". . . reduces the wear and tear on the battery . . . ." Really?

Really! According to a 2000 patent (6,204,634) issued to The Aerospace Corporation, a manufacturer of low-earth orbit satellites federally funded research and development corporation in support of DOD and intelligence community national security space programs:

Existing charge control systems . . . typically utilize voltage-limited constant current charging of individual cells to maintain an adequate battery charge while also limiting cell degradation rates. . . . Ultimate cycle life has a strong inverse correlation with the cumulative amount of overcharge put into the cells by the charge control system. The optimum cycle life is achieved when unnecessary overcharge is exactly zero.

In addition, degradation rates can change significantly as the electrodes transition among several charge states. Also, the recharge voltage limit shifts as the cell temperature changes and as the cells degrade over life.

Translation: yes Virginia, l-ion battery charging can be optimized if you spend money for the sensors, algorithms and local intelligence to do it.

You won't see that on your $500 Wintel notebook any time soon.

The Storage Bits take Good products serve; great products surprise. For a generation that has never known more than 4 hours battery life, the new 17" MacBook Pro will be a revelation.

Assuming, of course, that it lives up to its billing.

Comments welcome, of course.

Topics: Hardware, Apple

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • i think i'm going to get one of these

    i have owned laptops before and never bought a 2nd battery... honestly, my laptops have been plugged in 80% of the time anyway. but with an 8 hour battery I may change my habits.
  • RE: Apple's 8 hour battery: breakthrough or bungle?

    So, if the battery cannot be replace and do you have to send your laptop off somewhere like the IPOD to have the battery replaced ? If that is the case I'd rather have a four hour battery life then be without my laptop for a week.
    • First, you should try to find out information...

      about this computer and it's battery [b]before[/b] you post.

      Here's the link:

      I find it interesting that you'd rather inconvenience yourself
      every day rather than inconveniencing yourself once every
      couple of years. But, hey, to each his own.
  • RE: Apple's 8 hour battery: breakthrough or bungle?

    I like the part... you wont see this on a wintel netbook... well duh.... apple will charge 800 dollars for the battery.... another 500 for the company logo... 15 for the updates....
    • Actually....

      .... its $179 (USD) for the battery. Apple logo, and labour is
      included. You make an appointment at the Apple store or
      Apple authorized service centre, walk in, browse for a bit,
      walk out with a new battery.
      • Apple's 8 hour battery: breakthrough or bungle?

        An 8 hour battery is not a stretch. Maybe for Apple. But having it not removable, that may be the mistake due to the fact that electronics get smaller every year and the smaller the electronics get, the less power they require. So in time, theoretically, you will see notebooks with 12 - 24 hour holding times. If Apple incorporated SSD HD subsystems, the battery life would automatically increase. Each time you have a motor in a machine such as the fan, current SATA and PATA HD's, along with a CD/DVD, that would consume a lot of power out of the box. Changing the HD from SATA to SSD would show an increase in battery life right off the bat. But you will always have a fan in the system for cooling. Can't get around that yet.
        • Umm..SATA is a connection type HDD and SSD use it. (NT)

  • You won???t see that on your $500 Wintel notebook any time soon.

    Yup, true statement. But neither will I see a $500 Macbook any time soon either. So if $500 is what you have to spend then hmmm...what to do?

    And, since adaptive recharging seems to be at least part of the reason for the long battery life and sounds like its done through software or firmware? If so, it would seem to me that the same idea could be just as easily applied to a removable battery.
    • good points

      I wondered if they won't implement the adaptive recharging in their smaller notebooks WITH a removable battery? Or is this the precedent Apple buyers will have to get used to?

      Personally, I find an average of 4-5hrs (depending on how hard I'm pushing it, WiFi, etc) is plenty for a day's work anyway, especially if I'm just taking it into meetings etc and putting it to sleep in between.
  • Will you see it on your $500 MacBook any time soon?

    Oh, sorry, Apple doesn't sell a $500 MacBook. Right, a $500 WinTel laptop is equivalent to a $1000 MacBook which, to completely destroy your "dig", also doesn't have an 8 hour battery life. So what, other than to bump the number of replies you get, does a $500 WinTel laptop have to do with a $2,800 MacBook? Nothing? Gotcha!

    I do have to add that I find it quite humorous that the only way you can make the $2,800 MacBook look good is to compare it to a $500 laptop from the competition. This tells us a [b]lot[/b] about the confidence you have in Apple's superiority. :)
    • + you can easily buy 8hrs worth of spare replaceble battery for $500... nt

      • Which will destroy or hamper the whole concept

        of a mobile device. Lugging "extras" around... yeah thats
        cool. BONUSE those extra batteries will find their way into
        landfils... SWEET!!!

        Pagan jim
        James Quinn
        • You're absolutely right. I finaly get it now.

          Why lug all that heavy cash around when you can get a Mac and lighten your wallet? I finally know how Mac fans thinks.
          • LOL

            That's it. Just LOL. :-D
        • Nonsense...

          you don't carry a laptop around in your coat pocket. You carry it around in a laptop bag. That bag probably already includes power leads, external hard drives, mouse, etc., etc. Compared to the cost of the new Mac I think I'd rather get a spare battery and pop that into the laptop bag. It's not that much extra weight to carry around.
    • Will you see it on any PC laptop at price point? [nt]

    • A better comparison...

      While the netbook comparison is a bit of a stretch, how much of a price difference do you find if you spec a Windows based laptop with the same hardware feature set?

      Configuring a Dell XPS M1730 with similar specs (Slower CPU since an apples to apples comparison would put the Dell with the Core 2 Duo Extreme) puts the Dell at $2,968 before the $474 discount. This is without the additional battery. And an older nVidia graphics chip set. Same size HD, 4 GB of RAM, and a CD/DVD burner.

      So - for $2800 you get more hardware than the Dell running Apple's OS and a claimed better battery. Seems the Apple premium isn't as much of a premium as people would like it to be if you stick with other name brand laptop vendors when lining up hardware specs to be as close as possible or direct matches.
      • Misleading and frivoulous

        Youve partaken too much koolaid.
        • No it's not

          and the comparison has been borne out over and over.
          Brand name Windows PCs with <i>equivalent
          hardware</i> are often very close to (or slightly above) the
          price of a Mac. Additionally most are larger and heavier
          than the equivalent Mac. Size and weight are features that
          people will pay for. Remember the first Sony Vaios?
          Expensive for performance compared to other Windows
          PCs but they sold quite well because of portability and
          If you don't want that much machine, then buy a lower
          specced/thicker/heavier (whatever) Dell. Computers are
          compromises. I think the Macs I own are worth it as do
          most of the "living in both worlds" computer users like
          myself whom I know. My Macs are easier to work on,
          faster (run any version of Windows natively on the Mac and
          on a comparable Dell - you'll be surprised), more reliable,
          require less maintenance, and - for me anyway - more
          It ain't the KoolAid, it's the perceived value.
  • RE: Apple's 8 hour battery: breakthrough or bungle?

    Honestly, I think the wireless charging system idea is much better. Non-Replacable batteries = mailing my laptop away... and risking the theft of said laptop which may have information on it I can't afford to be stolen and can't get off it before sending it away because.... the battery is ummm dead. Hopefully, it would work with a dead battery while plugged in... but not all laptops do.

    Apple is truly awful in this regard...