AMITIAE - Friday 27 December 2013

Cassandra: Indications of a Potential Battery Problem with the new 13" MacBook Pro

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By Graham K. Rogers


It may be good to be up to date with technology and the latest releases, but being a guinea-pig sometimes has drawbacks. My 13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display had been faultless for the month it has been in my hands, but now there is an indication that there may be a battery problem. However, one swallow does not make a summer. Hopefully.

A few days ago, I installed an app that complemented the system information that Apple provides on the battery and its state: Battery Health. I downloaded and installed this app on my new 13" MacBook Pro. At that time, the section in the display panel of the utility showed that the health was 90.4% after 1.9 months of use.

I kept this utility running for the last couple of days, but noticed when I woke the computer from its Sleep state on Thursday (26th) that the battery level in the menubar was showing 100% but did not change, but the utility panel showed 77% battery health. I was, however, able to bring this back up to 78.6% later.

The menubar icon also had a yellow triangle beside the percentage figure with the words, "Service Battery." I was not overjoyed to see this on a new machine. System preferences, Energy Saver panel also showed the yellow triangle and a warning.

I connected the power supply a couple of times, but there was no noticeable change, either in Battery Health or the menubar icon. I also restarted the Mac. After another couple of connect/disconnect tries with the power supply, the menubar icon showed 99% and began to fall gradually.

The warnings in the menubar and in System Preferences also disappeared, although the Battery Health figure was still depressingly low at 78.8%. System Information showed "Normal" for battery condition, but I was not totally convinced, especially as a comparison shows that in two days the full charge capacity had dropped to from 5714 mAh to 4991 mAh (milliAmp hours).

Battery Battery

I intended to let the Mac go into a sleep state itself as happens when the battery is dangerously low. The red indicator appeared at 7% remaining. An onscreen warning appeared when the battery level reached 3% shortly before the sleep state was to occur. The battery ran down to an indicated 0% and, as per design, went into sleep mode.

I connected the power supply and waited for a few minutes until pressing the power button on the Mac. It came back to life right away and the menubar indicated a charge of 11%. All well and good. The Battery Health app now showed a health reading of 79.3% while System Information had also improved to 5020 mAh (up from 4991). These figures are still far too low for a new Mac.

I also installed the app on my older MacBook Pro which had had a new battery earlier in the year. The Battery Health utility showed that there was still 98% life, which made the comparison with the 13" MacBook Pro look even worse (78.6% after a month). A user in Phuket had also installed the app just after seeing my review on Tuesday and he told me that the battery life on his year-old MacBook Pro was still 83%.

Battery Battery Battery

Battery States: 13" MacBook Pro, Older 13" MacBook Pro (Phuket) and Older 15" MacBook Pro

The manufacturer of the battery in the new 13" MacBook Pro is shown as SMP, which appears to be Smart Power Technology. The same manufacturer is shown for the replacement battery in my 2010 15" MacBook Pro and for the battery in the MacBook Pro owned by the Phuket user. The 13" Mac uses a different version of course. The serial numbers of batteries in the two older Macs begin with W, while the battery in the 13" MacBook Pro, begins with D.

I could come to no solid conclusion immediately. I still wanted to calibrate the battery for a second time, but such a sudden drop in (apparent) health, along with warnings from OS X - albeit now gone - give me some concern. Like an earlier MacBook Pro I had (with a Sony battery), there may be an ongoing problem that has begun to manifest itself.

The only other factor in this is the Battery Health utility, which was (after all) downloaded from the Mac App Store, which I presume is a reliable source. Others have installed this and there are no reports of anything other than satisfied users.

Macs in the past (including a couple that I have owned) have experienced a variety of battery problems, although the battery in the older (2010) 15" computer I still have, kept going for more than a couple of years before I replaced it. With that health indication, it seemed as if the new MacBook Pro might need a new one by the time it is 6 months old. If that is the case, it may be that I have a problem battery. I may not be alone.

After calibration as the battery charge fell in the app, the reading in the menubar stayed at 100% and while the battery health was shown initially at 97.2% (6399 mAh) it increased to 103%, then dropped back again to 100.4% (6374 mAh). By the morning it had settled at 101% with a health reading of 6393 mAh, slightly above the reading in System Information: both higher than the original maximum of 6330 mAh.

As power dropped, the menubar was also showing a different reading from the Battery Health app and dropping much slower than the indication in the app. The same was shown on the older MacBook pro that I also installed the Battery Health app on, but that settled back to showing the same figures in the app and the menubar.

Battery Battery Battery

Later, after a day or so of charging and discharging, the 13" Mac Book Pro menubar icon began to agree with the app and the battery health level dropped back to a more-expected 98.2%, although there was some fluctuation later. After another calibration, the figures were changed again.

Needless to say, with that earlier warning from OS X (and having experienced battery problems in the past), I will be monitoring this closely in case there is any weakness.

And I really should buy that AppleCare

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.



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