Service Battery Warning on Mac – Do You Need to Replace the Battery?
One of the most dreaded alerts a MacBook user can ever see is the one that says ‘Service Battery.’
As with all laptop computers, the battery is one of the most critical components, and it is also a component that essentially cannot be serviced. When a lithium-ion battery is done, it’s done — you need to replace the battery.
What exactly are your options when your MacBook returns the ‘Service Battery’ warning?
In this article, I will explain how lithium-ion batteries work, how to get the best performance and longest life out of your battery, and I will give you some suggestions on ways to resolve the ‘Service Battery’ alert.
How Lithium-Ion Batteries Work
All chemical batteries work 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 power, electrons flow from the anode to the cathode, creating a current.
If a battery is rechargeable, then this flow can be reversed. When a current is sent into the battery, electrons flow from the positive to the negative electrode, recharging the battery and adding power to it.
You have undoubtedly heard news stories about lithium batteries exploding or catching fire. Those stories are true; this type of battery is subject to overheating and exploding if they are not carefully monitored. As battery technology has developed, this problem has been more or less eliminated by the addition of electronic monitoring circuitry added to a battery. Of course, knowing the dangers of a swollen battery are important to your safety and electronic devices.
The main factor we are looking at today is the charging life cycle of the battery. How many times can the battery be discharged and then recharged before it no longer functions at full capacity?
For lithium-ion batteries, the number of cycles before this happens varies widely depending on the quality of the battery build and the level of discharge that the battery supports.
MacBook Battery Life
A typical MacBook or MacBook Pro can run for about 10 hours when using the Internet and doing normal computing tasks like word processing or playing music. The battery life will be shorter if you are doing intensive work like video or audio editing.
How long can you expect that level of performance from your battery?
Apple states that its new batteries are designed to support 1,000 full charge-discharge cycles, after which the battery should still have 80% or more of its original capacity.
Note that even after this long life-cycle (a complete discharge and recharge 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 degrade slowly over time and will eventually stop working altogether, but that can take years.
Note that the macOS is quite intelligent when calculating cycles. Partial charges do not count as a complete cycle; if you discharge your battery a bit and then charge it back up, that will only count as a fraction of a cycle for its internal monitoring.
What Does ‘Service Battery’ on Mac Mean?
Your MacBook monitors the health of its battery. If you mouse over your battery icon on the status bar at the top of your screen, a popup will display the battery status, the amount of power remaining, and a list of apps that are using a lot of power.
There are four battery status messages:
- Normal: Your battery is operating within normal parameters.
- Replace Soon: The battery is holding less of a charge than it did when it was new but is still working fine.
- Replace Now: The battery still works but has degraded significantly. It’s time to start looking 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 you should do when you get a ‘Service Battery’ notification is check the ‘System Report.’ This will tell you the cycle count and overall condition of your MacBook battery.
You can check the health of your Macbook’s battery by using the System Information function. To access the details about your battery do this:
- Click the Apple icon while holding the Option key
- Click System Information
- Select Power on the left side and review your battery health
Another way to view the System Report is by doing this:
- Select the Apple Menu
- Make sure you are on the Overview tab
- Click About This Mac
- Click on the System Report
- In the left-hand menu, click Power.
- Under Battery Information on the right-hand side, look for the Cycle Count under Health Information.
- Look at the Condition of your battery (indicated directly below Cycle Count), which should be Normal if your battery’s operating properly.
Modern Macs get at least 1,000 cycles before there’s a problem, though if you have a Macbook that’s older than 2010 then you may only have 500 cycles available before your battery’s worn out.
How Do I Change Low Battery Warning on My MacBook?
If you get the Service Battery warning, the cycles are above about 1,000, then your battery’s likely pretty close to worn out.
But if your cycles are relatively low, then there may be other issues at play and you should use the methods I’m about to describe. I’ll show you how you can attempt to resolve the issue yourself before replacing the battery outright.
The first thing to try is resetting your System Management Controller (SMC), which is a hardware chip that controls some hardware settings, including the power system.
While very reliable, it can occasionally have issues that require a reset. The process is straightforward, but any customizations to your power plans or hardware settings may also be reset.
Here’s how to reset the SMC:
- Shut down your MacBook.
- Press Shift+Ctrl+Option+Power at the same time and hold.
- Release all keys at the same time.
- Turn on the laptop.
SMC controls the computer fans, backlights, and indicator lights, as well as some aspects of the display, ports, and battery, so resetting it will force your MacBook to revert back to its default settings for all these things.
If a transient issue in the SMC was causing the Service Battery warning, this should address it.
Recalibrate Your MacBook Battery
The next thing to try is recalibrating the battery. Recalibrating the battery basically means discharging it completely and then recharging it completely.
Battery recalibration takes a day or so, so if possible, do it over a weekend when you don’t have to have your MacBook for work.
Here’s how to recalibrate your MacBook’s battery:
- Fully charge your MacBook to 100%.
- Keep the laptop running while connected to the power supply for a couple of hours.
- Unplug the MacBook from the power supply and let the battery drain completely.
- Leave your MacBook overnight without the power cord connected.
- The next morning, plug your Macbook in and charge it to 100% power again.
Your MacBook should now be able to more accurately gauge the battery status. If this clears up whatever the problem was, your ‘Service Battery’ warning should go away.
If none of the above work, it’s time to take your Mac into an Apple store for service. If it’s been less than a year since you bought your MacBook, you should still be under the warranty. However, after that point, a battery replacement will cost $129 or more.
How to Extend Your Mac’s Battery Life
If you plan to keep your MacBook in service for a long time, then keeping your battery in top condition ought to be a priority.
Here are some suggestions for keeping your battery healthy.
Keep Your MacBook Plugged In
When you have access to an AC outlet available at home or elsewhere, use it. When using your Macbook while not plugged into a power outlet, try not to let your battery get below 50% before plugging it in again.
This reduces the number of times your MacBook will have to charge and extends its life. By not letting your Macbook get low on power before plugging in again, you’re essentially reducing strain on your battery.
Avoid Exposing Your Mac to Extreme Temperatures
MacBooks work in a wide range of outside temperatures, but 62° F to 72° F (16.5° C to 22° C) is the ideal temperature range. Your machine will work just fine in cold temperatures, but it won’t last as long.
However, charging your battery in sub-freezing temperatures is very dangerous — never charge a lithium battery in the cold.
Heat is another story. Temperatures higher than 95° F/35° C can permanently damage the battery and reduce its capacity. Charging in high temperatures will cause additional damage.
Your MacBook’s software should prevent charging in these extreme environmental conditions, but it’s still a good idea for Mac owners to be aware of the temperature parameters.
Store Your MacBook at 50% Charge
In storage, your MacBook battery will discharge, but very slowly. If you’re planning to keep your MacBook stored over a long period of time (more than a month), charge it to about 50% of capacity before doing so.
Leaving it stored at full charge can cause it to lose capacity while leaving it stored with no charge can cause it to lose the ability to charge at all.
Apple has incredibly strict policies on third-party modifications. If your Macbook is still under warranty and the battery is done, contact Apple Support for replacement options. You can always start by running Apple Diagnostics from home. Assuming you’re overusing a battery that is ‘Normal’ you can always optimize your battery life.
The company does not authorize many shops to work on their products, taking your Macbook to a third-party repair shop means you’re getting a battery that isn’t original to your device.
Having someone work on your Macbook without Apple parts or the right certifications means that Apple will no longer uphold your warranty, nor will they ever work on your device again.
If you’re having battery issues that aren’t resolved by the SMC reset, contact Apple before doing anything else. The cost of a repair through the manufacturer may be equivalent to the cost of a third-party shop, or even free.