One of the most dreaded warnings a MacBook user may ever see is the “Service Battery” notification.
As with all laptops, the battery is one of the most critical components, and it’s also an essentially non-serviceable component. When a lithium-ion battery is ready, it’s ready – you need to replace the battery.
What exactly are your options when your MacBook returns the ‘Service Battery’ warning?
In this article, I’ll explain how lithium-ion batteries work, get the best performance and longest life out of your battery, and give you some suggestions to resolve the “Service Battery” warning.
How lithium-ion batteries work
All chemical batteries operate on the same basic principle: a positive electrode (cathode) is separated from a negative electrode (anode) by an electrolyte.
When the battery is connected to an electrical circuit that draws current, electrons flow from the anode to the cathode, creating a current.
If a battery is rechargeable, this current can be reversed. When a current is sent to the battery, electrons flow from the positive to the negative electrode, charging the battery and adding current to it.
You have no doubt heard news reports of lithium batteries exploding or catching fire. Those stories are true; this type of battery is subject to overheating and explosion if not carefully monitored. As battery technology has evolved, this problem has been more or less eliminated with the addition of electronic monitoring circuitry added to a battery. Of course it is important to know the dangers of a swollen battery for your safety and electronic devices.
The most important factor we are looking at today is the charge life cycle of the battery. How many times can the battery be discharged and recharged before it no longer functions at full capacity?
For lithium-ion batteries, the number of cycles before this happens varies greatly depending on the quality of the battery build and the level of discharge the battery supports.
MacBook battery life
A typical MacBook or MacBook Pro can run for about 10 hours when using the Internet and performing normal computing tasks, such as word processing or playing music. The battery life will be shorter if you do intensive work, such as video or audio editing.
How long can you expect that level of performance from your battery?
Apple states the new batteries are designed to support 1,000 full charge-discharge cyclesafter which the battery should have 80% or more of its original capacity.
Note that even after this long life cycle (a full discharge and recharging every day for three years), your battery will still work – it just won’t have the same ability to hold a charge as it did at its peak. It will continue to deteriorate slowly over time and eventually stop working at all, but that could take years.
Note that the macOS is quite intelligent at calculating cycles. Part loads do not count as a full cycle; if you discharge your battery a little and then recharge it, it only counts as a fraction of a cycle for the internal monitoring.
What does “service battery” mean on Mac?
Your MacBook monitors the health of the battery. Hovering over your battery icon in the status bar at the top of your screen will bring up a popup with battery status, remaining power, and a list of apps that are consuming a lot of power.
There are four battery status messages:
- normal: Your battery is operating within normal parameters.
- Replaced soon: The battery holds less charge than when it was new, but still works fine.
- Replace now: The battery still works, but has deteriorated significantly. It’s time to look for a new battery.
- Service battery: There is something wrong with your battery and it needs to be replaced as soon as possible.
The first thing to do when you receive a ‘Service Battery’ notification is to check the ‘System Report’. This tells you the cycle count and overall condition of your MacBook battery.
You can check the battery status of your Macbook using the System Information feature. To access the details about your battery, do the following:
- Click on the Apple icon while holding the Choice key
- Click System information
- Select Current on the left and view your battery status
Another way to view the system report is to do this:
- Select the Apple menu
- Make sure you’re on the Overview tab
- Click About this Mac
- Click on the System Report
- Click in the left menu Current.
- below Battery Information on the right, look for the Cycle count below health information.
- Look at the Prerequisite of your battery (indicated directly below) Cycle count), which should be normal if your battery is working properly.
Modern Macs get at least 1,000 cycles before there is a problem, but if you have a Macbook older than 2010, you may only have 500 cycles available before your battery runs out.
How do I change the low battery warning on my MacBook?
If you get the Service battery warning, the cycles are above about 1,000, then your battery is probably running out.
But if your cycles are relatively low, there may be other issues at play and you should use the methods I’m going to describe. I’ll show you how to fix the problem yourself before replacing the battery.
The first thing to try is to reset your System Management Controller (SMC). This is a hardware chip that controls certain hardware settings, including the power system.
While very reliable, it can occasionally have issues that require a reset. The process is simple, but any adjustments to your power plans or hardware settings can also be reset.
To reset the SMC, do the following:
- Shut down your MacBook.
- Press Shift+Ctrl+Option+Power at the same time and hold.
- Release all keys at once.
- Turn on the laptop.
SMC controls the computer’s fans, backlighting, and indicator lights, as well as some aspects of the screen, ports, and battery, so resetting it should return your MacBook to its default settings for all of these things.
If a temporary problem in the SMC caused the service battery warning, this should fix it.
Recalibrate your MacBook battery
The next thing to try is to recalibrate the battery. Recalibrating the battery basically means fully discharging it and then fully charging it.
Recalibrating the battery takes about a day, so if possible, do it on a weekend when you don’t need your MacBook for work.
Here’s how to recalibrate your MacBook’s battery:
- Fully charge your MacBook to 100%.
- Let the laptop run for a few hours while connected to the power supply.
- Unplug the MacBook and let the battery drain completely.
- Leave your MacBook overnight without the power cord plugged in.
- The next morning, plug in your Macbook and charge it back to 100%.
Your MacBook should now be able to measure battery health more accurately. If this fixes the problem, the ‘Service battery’ warning should disappear.
If none of the above works, it’s time to take your Mac to an Apple Store for service. If it’s been less than a year since you bought your MacBook, you should still be covered under warranty. After that point, however, a battery replacement will cost $129 or more.
How to extend your Mac’s battery life
If you plan on keeping your MacBook in service for a long time, keeping your battery in top condition should be a priority.
Here are some suggestions to keep your battery healthy.
Keep your MacBook plugged in
If you have access to an outlet at home or elsewhere, use it. When using your Macbook while it is not plugged in, try not to let your battery drop below 50% before plugging it back in.
This reduces the number of times your MacBook needs to be charged and extends its life. By not letting your Macbook run out of power before plugging it back in, you’re essentially reducing the strain on your battery.
Don’t expose your Mac to extreme temperatures
MacBooks operate in a wide range of outdoor temperatures, but 62°F to 72°F (16.5°C to 22°C) is the ideal temperature range. Your machine will work fine at low temperatures, but will not last that long.
However, charging your battery in sub-zero temperatures is very dangerous – never charge a lithium battery in the cold.
Heat is a different story. Temperatures above 95°F / 35°C can permanently damage the battery and reduce its capacity. Charging at high temperatures will cause additional damage.
Your MacBook’s software should avoid charging in these extreme environmental conditions, but it’s still a good idea for Mac owners to be aware of the temperature parameters.
Keep your MacBook 50% charged
During storage, your MacBook battery discharges, but very slowly. If you plan to store your MacBook for a long period of time (more than a month), charge it to about 50% of its capacity before doing so.
Leaving it fully charged can cause it to lose capacity while you store it without a charge, rendering it unable to charge at all.
Apple has an incredibly strict policy on third-party changes. If your Macbook is still under warranty and the battery is dead, contact Apple Support for replacement options. You can always start by running Apple Diagnostics from home. Assuming you overuse a battery that is ‘Normal’, you can always optimize your battery life.
The company does not allow many stores to work on their products. If you take your Macbook to a third-party repair shop, you will receive a battery that is not original to your device.
Having someone work on your Macbook without Apple parts or the proper certifications means that Apple will no longer cover your warranty and they will never work on your device again.
If you have any battery issues that the SMC reset does not resolve, please contact Apple before doing anything else. The cost of a repair through the manufacturer can be equal to the cost of an outside shop, or even free.