Unfortunately problems with MacBook batteries do arrise, including the MacBook not lasting as long as it once did on a full charge, or the MacBook switching itself off seemingly randomly even if the battery appears to indicate a useful charge. Here we examine how you can give some older Mac laptops a new lease of life by examining and replacing their batteries.

Diagnosing problems with a Mac battery

Battery Status menu

Your MacBook constantly monitors the health of its battery and a quick way to view the current status is to hold down the Alt/Option key and click the battery charge icon at the top right of the desktop near the clock. After the Condition heading at the top of the menu you’ll see one of four battery status messages: Normal, Replace Soon, Replace Now, and Service Battery.

It should be obvious that Normal indicates a healthy battery. Perhaps surprisingly, Replace Soon is a mere warning rather than a demand and your MacBook should still function correctly on battery power, albeit with noticeably shorter battery life than when it was new.

However, the last two statuses – Replace Now and Service Battery – are indications that the battery is near dead.  

Read: How to get more battery life from your Mac

CoconutBattery allows you to dig-down into technical details for more information

In addition, you can download third-party battery monitoring apps, like Battery Squeezer, Coconut Battery and Battery Health, to monitor and auto-throttle energy-sapping apps running in the background. Coconut Battery measures the maximum charge of a battery versus original capacity when new, and can even compare your battery’s performance to similar models.

Apps like the free CoconutBattery let you dig-down into technical details to get more detailed information. Apple doesn’t explain how it generates the battery life status reading but it’s probably divined by measuring the maximum charge the battery can currently hold against its original capacity when new. CoconutBattery will display both these figures, measured in milliamp hours (mAh). A MacBook Pro that had an original design capacity of 5,400mAh and now stores only 3,700mAh has lost just over 30% of its capacity, for example. However, the MacBook will still report the battery is charged 100%. It just won’t last as long as it once did, and a Replace Soon status message will almost certainly appear.

Another figure worth noting within CoconutBattery is the Loadcycles figure, which is also known as the charge cycles figure. This measures how many times 100% of the battery charge has been used-up. This is important because during each charge cycle the battery loses a small fraction of its ability to hold charge, which is what causes the capacity to drop over time. It should be noted that a charge cycle doesn’t necessarily mean entirely running out of juice from a full charge. Using 50% of the battery life one day before recharging and using 50% the next day will mean one charge cycle has been notched-up. Thus, you will consume charge cycles even if your MacBook is mostly plugged in, with only the occasional hour or two on battery power. 

Read: Which Mac laptop? MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro comparative review

How to avoid poor battery performance

A lot of poor battery performance – on Mac, iOS and all other major desktop and mobile operating systems – is down to a battery that is being asked to do too much and by a user who is not looking after it properly.

Some of these steps are basic, such as dimming the display, turning off Bluetooth connections, installing software updates, removing connected hardware and quitting unused applications. You may even want to turn off the device’s keyboard backlighting (this is usually F5 to turn off, F6 to turn back on again), and keep it away from hot temperatures (the MacBook has a thermal sensor that shuts the battery off for safety reasons if the device is overheating.)

Others are quite simple but less obvious. Do you know, for example, that Apple recommends charging to only 50% on a regular basis, as storing it at maximum capacity for an extended period can result in a shorter battery life? Or that running the battery consistently into the single-digit percentages can damage the lithium-ion battery in the long run?

Calibrate the battery

Having done the basics, and maybe seen little to no difference, your next go-to should be calibrating your battery.

This process involves charging the battery, draining it completely and then charging it again. This might sound rudimentary but it’s worthwhile, especially if your battery only ever holds around 50% of its charge.

However, it is worth noting that Apple says newer models are pre-calibrated and so this approach won’t work for them. It also might  not work for batteries that rarely go above 25% but you can always try and see for yourself.

Apple says on its website: “The battery needs to be recalibrated from time to time to keep the onscreen battery time and percent display accurate and to keep the battery operating at maximum efficiency.”

Check for common faults

Doing the above may have fixed your problems, but they may not have too – perhaps your MacBook has a bug of some description.

In the last year alone, there have been issues such MagSafe not charging the MacBook, an erroneous ‘Service Battery’ message on OS X Mavericks, poor battery retention on the 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina model and the ‘No batteries available’ warning message on older, pre-unibody MacBooks.

You can visit Apple’s official forums and check out YouTube tutorials for fixes to other common flaws.

If all else fails, reset the System Manager Controller (SMC) which returns hardware settings to default values, and basically sees the MacBook re-evaluate the battery from scratch, removing the chance that the device has an incorrect status likes the ones mentioned above.

Another mistake many make is leaving their MacBook plugged in on their desk all the time. If you leave the laptop plugged in all the time will kill the battery. There are a few reasons for this, but the biggest one to avoid is that the extra heat caused by being plugged in all the time will damage the battery.

What Apple says about MacBook battery life

Apple says its MacBook range retain 80% of their charge capacity after 1000 charge cycles, and that’s been the case with most models since 2009. After this Apple considers a battery to be “consumed”, and this is the point at which you may start to notice problems, if not battery status warnings.

If your MacBook is still within warranty (or covered by AppleCare) and you’re experiencing problems while the cycle count is significantly below 1000 then you should book an appointment with an Apple genius because the battery may have a manufacturing defect. Note that the charge indicator seemingly getting stuck at anywhere between 93-99% charge isn’t a fault. This is just how MacBook batteries work.

Storing a MacBook fully charged for a prolonged length of time without use can permanently reduce the overall charging capacity. Storing a MacBook fully discharged can lead to what Apple calls a deep discharge state, which might make it impossible to charge the battery in future. To avoid either situation try to store your MacBook 50% charged, and shutdown before storing it, rather than letting it go into sleep mode.

Read: How to upgrade an old Mac - Create a FrankenMac!

When to replace a MacBook battery

Before purchasing a replacement battery you might want to reset the System Manager Controller (SMC). This returns hardware settings to default values and causes your MacBook to re-evaluate the battery from scratch. This removes the risk of an incorrect status.

Apple offers a battery replacement service for most recent models of MacBook, and prices are reasonable, but replacement batteries are available from a number of third-parties if you fancy saving money by doing it yourself. Be sure to buy only a genuine Apple part because faulty batteries can explode or catch fire. Sadly, the most faithful indicator of quality is price and genuine parts are usually the most expensive.

Whether the battery is user-replaceable depends on when it was manufactured, and you’ll have better luck if your MacBook is older. For example the early Intel MacBooks, such as the white or black range, featured batteries that could be replaced by simply turning a clearly-marked screw on the bottom of the unit (usually a coin can be used for this purpose), or by releasing catches.

Unfortunately, with most of the aluminium “unibody” MacBook range, including the MacBook Pro, Apple dropped the ability for users to be able to replace the battery. Doing so is still possible although involves removing the bottom panel of the MacBook, then unscrewing the battery fixings and detaching a cable from the motherboard. For anybody who’s ever delved inside a PC this isn’t difficult but it’s not a task for beginners, and will probably require a specialist pentalobe or twi-wing screwdriver, depending on the model of MacBook. The popular iFixIt site not only provides free battery replacement guides for most models of MacBook but also sells the necessary tools and parts.

With all MacBook Air models the batteries are difficult to handle once removed because the cells aren’t enclosed in hard plastic, as with earlier MacBook models. Therefore, user replacement isn’t advised. Additionally, with the 13 and 15in Retina-based MacBook Pro range as of 2012 Apple began gluing batteries into place, making it both difficult and dangerous to remove them because of the risk of puncturing or tearing, in which case the battery may explode or release noxious fumes.

Read: Can I get a new battery for my MacBook?

Should you fix or replace your MacBook battery yourself?

If, having run calibration and other tests, there is no improvement, there are in reality two to three options. Pay someone, most likely Apple or an authorised service provider, to replace the battery with prices going up from £110. Alternatively, you could try and fix the battery in your MacBook yourself.

This is possible even on the newer (post-2009) MacBook Airs which have the unibody design where the battery is soldered on. And even better still it is arguably cheaper and faster than taking it to Apple.

It is worth remembering that this option is only truly worth considering on older models that are out of warranty. The one-year Apple warranty includes replacement coverage for a defective battery and the company also runs a battery replacement service. You can extend the cover given to defective batteries by taking out AppleCare Protection when you buy your machine.

However, if you still want to go the DIY route, you’ll first need to source the battery from Amazon, eBay or somewhere else – and this will also require you knowing precisely what model you have, so to ensure you buy a compatible battery.

To identify your MacBook, you should be able to find the MacBook’s serial number in the ‘About This Mac’ window.

On the technical front, you’ll need a standard Philips screwdriver, the plastic Spudger tool (£3 on Amazon), the Y1 Tr-wing screwdriver (around £1) and access to web browser to go to iFixit or EveryMac web tutorials. You can find a ‘Battery Replacement Kit for MacBook Unibody’ online for around £10.

Most unibody MacBooks are fairly similar with up to nineteen screws that need to be removed (some of these will require the Y1 Tri-wing screwdriver). You should take the lower case off the MacBook, then use the flat end of the spudger to remove the battery from the logic board, before replacing the old battery with the new model. Ensure the computer is switched off and MagSafe is disconnected.

Second-hand batteries for the 13-inch MacBook Pro start from £50 on eBay but do watch out for fakes.

Note, an new Retina MacBook Air may launch soon, read more here: 12in Retina MacBook Air release date rumours

Can I replace my MacBook battery?

The table below indicates the feasibility of replacing a MacBook’s battery. Note that Unibody models are those famously created from a single piece of aluminium, as opposed to those made from plastic or individual aluminium components. To find out the model of your MacBook, click the Apple menu, then About This Mac. In the window that appears, click the More Information button.



MacBook (white/black)

User replaceable via coin screw on underside of MacBook

MacBook Unibody (A1278)

User replaceable by depressing a catch on underside of unit

MacBook Unibody later model (A1342)

Not user replaceable without removing bottom panel of MacBook, removing battery connector, and unscrewing battery fixing

MacBook Pro Unibody 13in (all)

Not user replaceable without removing bottom panel, removing battery connector, and unscrewing battery fixing

MacBook Pro 15in non-Unibody Core Duo/Core 2 Duo

User replaceable by releasing catches on underside of unit

MacBook Pro Unibody 15in (late 2008/early 2009)

User replaceable by depressing a catch on underside of unit

MacBook Pro Unibody 15in

Not user replaceable without removing bottom panel, removing battery connector, and unscrewing battery fixing

MacBook Pro Non-Unibody 17in

User replaceable by releasing catches on underside of unit

MacBook Pro Unibody 17in

Not user replaceable without removing bottom panel, removing battery connector, and unscrewing battery fixing

MacBook Pro Retina (13 and 15in)

Not user replaceable

MacBook Air (11 and 13in)

Not user replaceable without removing bottom panel, removing battery connector, and unscrewing battery fixings. Note MacBook Air batteries are dangerous to handle because of largely unprotected battery cells that should not be compressed or bent