50 Comments

Summary:

There’s been a lot of discussion on the battery life of the new MacBook Pro, but really, we’re already getting a good deal from what is a first generation laptop from Apple.

As regular readers will know, I own two notebooks, an original 1GHz 17″ Powerbook and a top of the Sony Vaio Z1. As we all know, the 1GHz 17″ Powerbook is based around a G4.

The PowerBook gets about 2-3 hours of battery life out of my typical use. That’s with the screen turned down to an acceptable level, now DVD drive use and most of the other power saving features switched on. I’ve had better than before now, but only when I’ve gone really offline and only the machine for writing or browsing content, rather than my more usual process of browsing the Internet (which implies wireless connectivity, and more power) and recompiling lots of code.

That’s why I specified the battery time in terms of my, so as not to confuse those readers who will chime in with comments that all timings are wrong…

The Sony Z1 is based around the Centrino set and the Pentium-M mobile CPU, both these components are predecessors to the components built into the new MacBook Pro. This has far more complex power saving systems, such as the ability to switch off (rather than simply not use) the DVD drive, and even to power off the PC Cards, built-in memory stick reader and of course reduce the CPU MHz and power requirements to a very low level.

With the standard battery on the Sony I get about the same period of battery powered usage as the Powerbook. It can be as high as 4 hours, but in the majority of cases a more realistic figure is about 3 hours of my more typical use.

I can slap in a larger battery (exactly twice the size and capacity) and that I can get about 6.5 hours mobile use. It does however ruin the look of the laptop, and raise the back by about 3/4 of an inch.

Now just to summarize:

Powerbook G4, 17″, standard battery: 2-3 hours
Sony Vaio Z1, standard battery: 2-3 hours

To get 2-3 hours (and more) out of a Powerbook is quite an achievement when you think about the Z1, which is Centrino/Pentium-M based and has a heap of power saving technology. Both are using the battery that came with the machine.

Standard battery, standard machines, more or less equal battery life.

Just in case the point I’m making still isn’t clear, using the Vaio, a notebook using the previous version of ‘low power’ technology that is in the new MacBooks I get the SAME battery life as my G4.

What could I expect out of the new MacBook Pro?

I’d expect about the same as I get from the Vaio, perhaps a modest 10-15% increase based on the newer technology, but that has to be tempered by a combination of other factors, like the fact that this is a first generation item from Apple, and that we’re using newer Dual-Core CPU.

For some reason however we have a bunch of Apple commentators (I refuse to call them fans, since they seem to be doing nothing more than slagging Apple off at the moment) who seem to think that the new PowerBooks should have 5, 6 or 7 hour battery life.

Why?

Hell knows – existing PC laptops get – as my Vaio experience demonstrates, about 2-3, 4 hours tops.

Why would an Apple-built, Intel based laptop somehow defy the laws of physics, common sense and exceed the capabilities of PC laptops that have been made by manufacturers using the technology for years before Apple got to it, somehow exceed by a factor 75% or more the battery life of existing Intel based laptops?

There’s a finite amount of power you can squeeze into a battery, and there’s a limit to how much you can reduce the power requirements of a laptop.

From a first generation – and more importantly, at the moment, pre-production Apple Intel notebook I think a time of 4 hours is pretty good. That actually equals, or beats, my Vaio.

While I’d love to see Apple produce a laptop that has a longer battery life, we need to be realistic. It’s going to take Apple a while to get the best out of the hardware, and even if they do improve the battery life, they wont be the first to do so – other PC notebook manufacturers will probably get there first. Apple were one of the first 10 companies to announce a dualcore Yonah laptop, so we’re already at the bleeding edge.

Meanwhile, give Apple a break – they enough on their plate right now without people criticising them for matching or beating the battery life of their old laptops and their current competitors.

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  1. The Architect Monday, January 16, 2006

    Your article about battery life is disingenuous and comes across as a distraction from the crux of the matter.

    I think the main complaint is Apple putting an expensive notebook machine on the market and selling it to customers without providing the customers with any battery life information.

    The main complaint is not 240min vs. 180min vs. 120min. There are no published battery life figures, so no official comparison can be made by the customer.

    Not publishing battery life information for the MBP is shameful on Apple’s part (or at least pathetic) and just another class action lawsuit waiting to happen.

    From what I read on another site, a fully charged MBP has a battery life of just about 3 hours with standard power saving features enabled. Whatever the numbers are, Apple should have included this information, perhaps with a caveat that the numbers may change between now and the ship date. Would that be too much to ask if I’m plunking down $2K – $3K for a notebook computer? I think not.

    1. Agree. Apple really misleads the customers. On its website, it claims to be 7 hours long. I upgraded to MacBook Pro for this reason . Its battery not too impressive, only 3 to 3.5 hours long.

  2. Martin MC Brown Monday, January 16, 2006

    That doesn’t match the commentary and examples given digg, the story it links to at MacDevCenter or at Ars Technica where the criticism is aimed solely at the battery life duration, as 3-4 hours is a bad thing.

    The fact that Apple hasn’t confirmed or denied any figures on a laptop that officially is not available yet (although you can order it) on a machine that is not even a week old is meaningless. Many companies (Apple included) announce machines and part specs long before they become available.

    Apple don’t exactly have a brilliant track record on releasing all specs on their hardware – why should this case be any different?

    Yet, for some reason, we have people panning Apple about capabilities of a machine that isn’t even available yet, as if the specs and capabilities are already set in stone.

    Apple isn’t forcing you to buy the laptop right now, without seeing it – if you want to wait until the machine is released and some real figures start coming out, that is your choice.

  3. The Architect Monday, January 16, 2006

    I think the simple point is still that people would like to know what they are buying. Battery life is an important aspect of a notebook computer. And the MacBook Pro is not merely “announced”, it is FOR SALE.

    Pushing all the responsibility for the quality of a product vs. making the vendor responsible is wrong. The courts of shown that time and time again. Maybe for the company it is cheaper to pay the settlements, but it builds ill will that over time comes back to haunt…

    You’re right about the poor record that Apple has regarding machine specifications. Now that Apple is on Intel hardware, that record will have to improve.

    Apple would only help themselves if they understood that all their games regarding specifications (well, the lack thereof) only end up hurting the company. If Apple wants to grow the company, they have to begin acting like a grown up company.

  4. Martin MC Brown Monday, January 16, 2006

    Yes, it is for sale, but if you ordered it today, you wouldn’t get it for months.

    Why, quite frankly, would you even consider ordering a notebook weeks or months before you get it when the only reports and information you have available are show reports and, if you were lucky enough, a brief view at the show itself?

    I don’t buy a car without test driving it, and yet I know that there are people who will put tens of thousands of pounds down before any specs on a car are released, just because they want to be at the bleeding edge. OFten they’ll do so months or even years before the car is actually physically available to drive.

    Putting money down on an Apple laptop in the same situation right now would put you at the bleeding edge, but if you are that vain then you are not buying the laptop for it’s specs and functionality anyway. You are buying it because you want everybody else to know that you have the latest laptop.

    If battery life is important to you, then you would wait for the specs and real details to be made available.

    As for Apple growing up, it is doing nothing more than other companies have been doing for years. Some companies don’t even quote battery life at all.

    I still think criticizing Apple at such an early stage for what is a completely new environment for them based on hardware which isn’t AVAILABLE, no matter that it is for sale, is an insult to what Apple *has* achieved.

  5. » MacBook Pro battery life : Pensieri di un lunatico minore Monday, January 16, 2006

    [...] bout the new MacBook Pro when it comes to battery life. Today in The Apple Blog there is a nice article about real-world battery life that compares it to a Sony Z1: T [...]

  6. The release of the Macbook seemed to me somwhat empty. It felt as thought Apple expects me to buy it for two reasons. 1) Its a new Apple product. 2) Its got Intel inside. For anyone with a brain thats not a very good reason to purchase anything.

  7. Newsweek has an interview with Jobs, where he states that MBPro battery life will be the same/comparable as present models. (Note: gotta come up with a better acronym. Maybe a better name to begin with?)
    Bottom line: don’t be an early adopter, unless you have a high tolerance for disappointments, or even bugs. Also, please don’t assume that Apple is only producing models to meet YOUR (and only your) personal requirements. When you realize that Apple targets their products at the largest market segment so as to maximize their sales and profits, then you won’t be so mortally offended. It’s a laptop and you can still buy the Powerbook.

  8. Daniel Ortego Monday, January 16, 2006

    Laptop or notebook equals compromise. There has never been a laptop computer that would satisfy my expectations. Having said that I will say that I’ve already ordered the MacBook Pro but now I may cancel the darn thing because I don’t want to wait just to get another under powered Mac. The iMac 2.0 appears to be the better bet.

  9. I am currently on a nearly 4 year old powerbook- I have been ready to upgrade for six months now but was waiting for the intel update before ordering cause I find the current G4 pb less than compelling. Personally, I am excited for my macbook pro to show up- because while I prefer my dual G5 for my heavy lifting, I spend 75% of my time on my pb on the internet, ichat, email, etc. I think this is a smart move by apple cause it is putting the first generation equipment into the more technically sophisticated users (as opposed to the ibook mob).

  10. Consider this possibility: Apple may simply not know the battery life yet. Intel has announced LV versions of its 1.66 and 1.83 GHz Core Duo processors, exactly the ones used in the Powerbook. They are supposed to ship in February.

    LV stands for low voltage – the LV versions are supposed to use much less battery than the standard versions. But the timing of the LV introduction would make this pretty tough to meet.
    Anyway, it would explain two things: 1) That there’s no mention of the battery life and 2) That Apple uses 1.66 and 1.83 chips but no 2.0 GHz versions – LV versions are available only for 1.66 and 1.83.
    Worst case Intel can’t deliver the LV chips in time and Apple slaps in standard (non-LV) version which would reduce battery life but presumably still work well enough.

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