The importance of your Mac’s battery condition and how to check it

By , Mar 13, 2016

Macbook Pro Battery Level

Apple’s portable Mac notebooks like the MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro are all powered by Lithium-Ion batteries, and these batteries don’t last forever. They go through cycles as they’re charged up and used over and over. After a number of cycles, batteries tend to lose their effectiveness at storing power, and will eventually need to be replaced.

If you have ever wondered just how close you are to needing a battery replacement in your Mac, then you’ll be happy to know that OS X is actively monitoring your Mac’s battery and can tell you with a quick keyboard shortcut, which we’ll be discussing in this short information piece.

Why you should check the battery condition of your Mac

Heavy battery use will wear down the battery’s lifespan, and it’s important for you to know the health of your battery so you’ll always have power when you need it while you’re on the go. The last thing you want is to end up with a dead battery at the last minute when you’ve decided to take your MacBook with you on the go.

If you suspect that your battery is misbehaving, either because it doesn’t seem to last as long as it should anymore, or because you often get the annoying ‘not charging’ indicator when you plug your MacBook in to a power source, it may be time to check your battery condition.

How to check the battery condition of your Mac

OS X includes a feature in the Mac’s Menu Bar that will allow you to see the battery condition of your Mac. By simply pressing the Option (alt) key on your Mac’s keyboard while you click on the battery icon on your Menu bar, you’ll open a more detailed battery menu with additional information on your battery, including your current battery health:

OS X battery status menu

As you can see, our Mac is reporting “Condition: Normal,” which is what you want to see. This means the battery is in good health and isn’t suffering from any abnormalities. It also means that either the battery is still relatively new, or that you take insanely good care of it if the computer is older.

As you check your Mac’s battery status, you may see any of the following conditions, as Apple notes in an online support document:

  • Normal: This means your battery is either new, or well taken care of. Your battery is acting just how it should and you have nothing to worry about.
  • Replace soon: This means your battery is older and may be showing minor signs of wear and tear, such as holding slightly less of a charge than it did when it was new. This is an alert to tell you that your battery is still working alright, but you should prepare to replace the battery in the future.
  • Replace now: This means your battery is old and wearing out and may be showing moderate signs of wear and tear. It also suggests that your battery holds significantly less of a charge than it did when it was new. You should replace the battery as soon as you can to continue to enjoy the portability your Mac notebook.
  • Service battery: This means your battery is skating on thin ice. It may not hold a charge, may be damaged, or may be overheating. You will want to replace this battery immediately to prevent harm to the rest of your computer’s hardware. Although built-in fail-safes prevent damage to your computer, there’s nothing worse than a swelling or exploding battery.

What about battery charge cycles?

The amount of times that you drain and charge a battery to full capacity are referred to as charge cycles. Your Mac keeps track of how many times you do this, and every Mac model has a different charge cycle limit that it will reach before Apple estimates the battery has reached its final moments.

Many modern MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro batteries can handle 1,000 charge cycles, but depending on the year, they can have as low as 300 charge cycles before they might have to be replaced. You can follow our guide on how to find out how many charge cycles you’ve put on your battery, and this might help you get an understanding of how close your Mac’s battery is to going kaput.

Wrapping up

Now that you’re armed with additional information on keeping track of your Mac’s battery health, you can better manage the life expectancy of it.

Battery replacements are typically free while the computer is under warranty, but after the warranty expires, battery replacements can get quite pricey unless you do them yourself. Since Apple has moved away from self-serviceable batteries, and more towards gluing them to the aluminum computer case, self-servicing batteries has become significantly more difficult and less people are inclined to tackle it themselves.

Also read:

What is the status of your Mac’s battery? Share in the comments below!

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  • Jaime Lopez Gutierrez

    What about leaving the MagSafe still connected even though the battery is charged all the way already?

    • Ricky

      Dont do that. Your mac will still be charged but with less current. But still, its still being charged and not good for your baatteries

      • Trickle charging won’t really hurt the battery. The wear and tear will be far less than a full charge cycle.

      • Agneev Mukherjee

        Absolutely, within a month of me buying a RMBP, I noticed the cycle count go upto 43, then I never detached the MagSafe until necessary, found out using coconutBattery that my Mac’s battery capacity is better than before.

      • Agneev Mukherjee

        These are my results

    • I’ve owned MacBooks for years and when I am not out and about, I leave it plugged in. The Mac regulates its charging to reduce wear and tear, and by not leaving it plugged in, you’ll just increase your charge cycle count.

      In the last 6 years, the only ever MacBook I’ve ever owned always reported as “Normal” despite leaving it plugged in.

    • Oscar

      Leaving it plugged in is totally fine. In fact, when your computer is fully charged and you’re using it while it’s plugged in you’ll notice that if you hover the mouse over the battery icon on the top right, it will say “Power Source: Power Adapter” as opposed to battery meaning it is bypassing your battery and getting power directly from the power adapter. I leave mine plugged in all the time. As Anthony mentioned, unplugging it will only increase your cycle count.

      • teris

        I totally agree with you. There is not a problem with that. I have heard this from people with good electic knowledge too.

  • Gary le

    First paragraph made it sound like cycling the battery is worse than leaving it plugged in the whole time but it is just the opposite right?

    • Because of the regulation Apple builds into its MacBooks, leaving it plugged in will not have as much of a negative impact as competing several battery cycles.

      • Gary le

        Thanks for the quick reply. I actually have a question about charging my MacBook Pro 2015 13 inch retina. When the battery is around 2% I plugged in the 85w charger into the charging port sometimes the orange light does not light up (no lights).

        The 85w charger was bought new. Any ideas?

      • Mine does this all the time – it seems to be just a glitch and when I remove it and put it back it will light up as expected.

      • Oscar

        Ditch the 85 Watt and get the 65W. You are doing long term harm by charging it faster than what it’s supposed to be charged at. Same goes for any lithium battery. Even iPhones shouldn’t be using iPad charges (12 watt). It’ll be ok for now but overtime you’re battery’s health will deteriorate faster.

      • Agneev Mukherjee

        MagSafe does not charge a MacBook without it requesting for power, the MacBook draws power according to it’s need, e.g. if you leave your Mac plugged in (charged 100%), you are using only Safari, your MacBook will most probably draw less than 0.7 Amps of power.

      • Gary le

        Also is it good for the lithium ion battery or any in general to go down to 1 to 3% before recharging?

      • It’s good in theory to cycle the battery every so often, but only the older Nickel batteries only really suffered from ‘battery memory’ issues and would be ruined by not fully cycling them. Modern Li-Ion batteries are pretty resistant to this.

  • Nathan

    CoconutBattery for Mac is a nice app that shows you battery status.

  • iPhoneWINS

    Selling my 2013 BMP as soon as the new models are out this year

  • Starfall88

    Did not know this feature. Thanks!