A few weeks ago, I purchased an old 11-inch MacBook Air. While it's handy to have a small and light computer to carry around when I travel, I ahem to admit I have a soft spot for good tech that gets superseded or dumped. And while that MacBook passes the "good enough" test for most jobs, I have found the battery life to be less than I need. So, I embarked on the process of replacing the MacBook Air's battery.
In my recent retro review, I did note battery life was an issue but that the cost of a replacement was a tad on the high side. When I first started looking I began with Ebay, hoping to find something. But, the prices seemed a little too good to be true. My experience is that when it comes to batteries if you pay peanuts you get monkeys. So, I looked for resellers that I knew wouldn't send me an exploding battery.
There are times when you need a piece of tech but the prices of new gear make it prohibitive. That was the situation I faced recently. I needed a portable computer to use while travelling. For quite some time I'd made do with a tablet but there are a few things I need to do that, while possible on a tablet, were costing me a lot of time. So, I started looking around at used and refurbished gear and picked up a used 11-inch MacBook Air for $400. So, how does this almost seven year old portable cope with today's world?
Choosing the right battery
I started with macsales.com. I've dealt with them in the past, buying memory and SSDs for previous devices I've owned. Their prices used to be very competitive when the the Australian dollar was stronger against the Greenback. After a really helpful online chart with one of their sales guys, I identified the battery I needed. This was a little tricky as there were two variants of the 11-inch MacBook Air sold by Apple. So I had to make sure I was buying the right battery.
Once that was done, I was hit with the sting in the tail. Shipping a Li-Ion battery from the US meant I'd be up for a US$60 shipping charge. However, the MacSales guy directed me to a local reseller, MacFixIt who stocked exactly the same battery. Even better, they were having a two-day sale to celebrate the start of Autumn so what looked like a US$150 deal turned into a $125 purchase in local pesos including delivery.
And the battery came with the tools I needed to do the job.
For the last few years Apple and many other computer makers have chosen to not include removable batteries. The main reason for this is that Li-Ion batteries can be moulded into all sorts of shapes which means computers can be thinner. The cost is that the battery is now an integrated part of the computer.
However, swapping the battery in the MacBook Air was very easy. If you can handle a screwdriver and have a fairly steady hand you can do one of these battery swaps. And, if you're not sure, MacSales provides a bunch of instructional videos on YouTube so you can check the process out before laying out your cash.
For the battery replacement on the MacBook Air, all I needed to was:
- Shut the Mac down fully and disconnect the power supply
- Unscrew the ten small screws on the base using the supplied screw driver and remove the base (two of the screws are longer than the others so I had to make sure I kept those aside)
- Lift off the battery connector - this required a little bit of effort as it was tighter than I expected
- Undo the five screws holding the battery in place, taking note that three were longer than the others so i could put the right screws back in the right holes
- Lift the old battery out
- Place the new battery where the old one was, screw it in, plug in the connector, and replace the base - basically follow the removal steps in reverse
While I had the base removed, I took the opportunity to gently blow and lift away dust and other debris that had been sucked into the MacBook Air's body over the last few years.
All up, this part of the process took about 15 minutes.
The final step, and easily the most time consuming, was calibrating the new battery. While the process was easy, it did take a long time.
- Fully charge the new battery
- Change the power management settings in System Preferences | Energy Saver so that all power management is disabled
- Unplug the MacBook Air and let the battery fully drain. it's suggested that you can use the computer but don't do anything wild - stead draining is the best (I just left it sitting there)
- Once the system turns off, leave it alone, unplugged, for several hours to ensure the battery is completely depleted (I went away for the weekend so it was "dead" for a couple of days)
- Fully recharge the battery and then set the power preferences back to where you like them
As I expected, battery life is back to what I expected. The NewerTech battery is rated at 39 watt hours, slightly more than the 35 watt hour battery the machine shipped with.
Surprisingly, the machine also feels a little zippier. I didn't take any before and after benchmarks as I didn't expect this but given Apple's recent battery life issues with the iPhone, I'm looking into this a little further.
Was it worth it?
The MacBook Air cost me $400. Adding the $125 the new battery cost me bumps that up to the same cost as an entry level Windows 10 sub-notebook. And that's likely to come with a touchscreen.
So, it then becomes a question of what I want the MacBook Air for. In my case, it's a mixture of portability and nostalgia. And $500 for a reasonable computer that can get through most of a day on a single battery charge isn't a bad deal in my view.