It’s now accomplished reality that laptop battery charge life that can tide you through an entire workday or a transcontinental or trans-Atlantic flight — and then some is available in the mid-2013 MacBook Airs, which is remarkable enough based on historical precedent. However, it’s also beginning to be apparent that literal all-day, as in a 24-hour day, laptop battery life is a near-certainty, and likely to come sooner rather than later.
While the impressive gains that have been made so far are largely attributable to the substantially lower power demand profile of Intel’s latest generation Haswell family Core processors combined with the inherent and still improving efficiency of Apple’s OS X operating system as compared to for example, Windows 8. The latter factor mainly explains why Haswell based Windows UltraBooks can’t match the MacBook Air for battery life, although another is the relatively low resolution by current standards of the two MacBook Air models’ displays.
That’s presumably also why Apple elected to debut Haswell on the Mac in the MacBook Air rather than the flagship MacBook Pro with Retina display. It’s going to be interesting to see how much difference in battery life there will be when the rMBPs get their Haswell upgrade later this year, one imagines at or before the one year anniversary of the 13-inch model’s introduction in late October, 2012.
Of course, it won’t be a direct comparison on the basis of display resolution, since quad-core Haswells should be offered on the 15-inch model while the MacBook Airs are limited to dual-core CPUs. The 15-inch rMBP also currently has an Nvidia GeForce discrete GPU in addition to the Haswell chipset’s Intel HD Graphics 5000 integrated GPU, although there has been a rumor that the top-of-the-line rMBP may get only the IGPU. I’m somewhat skeptical about that, but Apple will be doing its best to stretch rMBP battery life higher than its nominal 7-hour rating for all MacBook Pros – Retina and non-Retina and the Haswell chipsets and larger physical battery size these larger machines can accommodate should make 10-hours or greater battery runtime a realistic target even with the Retina display.
Meanwhile, the 13-inch mid-2013 MacBook Air has proved able to exceed Apple’s nominal 12-hour battery life rating in various independent lab tests. Anandtech’s Anand Lal Shimpi in his thoroughgoing report comparing the two 2013 MacBook Air Haswell Core i CPU configurations with the mid-2012 Ivy Bridge MacBook Air models they superseded, logged with the mid-2013 13-inch Air LIght, Medium, and Heavy workload runtimes of 11.25, 8.93, and 5.53 hours respectively, compared with 7.52, 5.35, and 3.57 hours also respectively for the Ivy Bridge 13-inch Air. Those are massive performance improvements, and the runtime metrics are expected to improve even more with OS X Mavericks when it arrives, months, likely at the same time as Haswell MaxBook Pros or sooner. He notes that Apple’s nominal 12 hour maximum runtime estimate derives from a slightly lighter workload than what they run at Anandtech, so should be easily attainable.
CNET did even better in its test of the mid-2013 13-inch Air, noting that while previous-generation 13-inch Air ran for 7 hours and 27 minutes in their video playback battery drain test, the 2013 version lasted an astonishing 14 hours and 25 minutes on the same test — much better than Apple’s 12-hour estimate. CNET says it is one of a very few times their tests have indicated longer battery life than a manufacturer’s claims. They caution that using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth heavily or playing 3D games would cause that duration metric to drop. But still, it seems amazing performance, especially for Mac veterans who cut their laptop teeth on early PowerBooks with which it was a challenge to squeeze out two hours of real world battery runtime between charges.
Speaking of charging, Tech.Pinions’ Ben Bajarin says that his fully loaded mid-2013 13-inch MacBook Air with the optional dual-core 1.7 GHz Intel Haswell Core CPU, a 512GB solid state drive, and 8GB of 1600 MHz DDR3 RAM is not only getting better than double the battery runtime that his older MBA did, but it also charges faster than the older, Air, taking only roughly two hours to go from nearly empty to fully charged. My iPad 2 can’t even come close to matching that.
Macworld UK’s Karen Haslem reports that sister publication PC Advisor’s battery tests also found that the new MacBook Air models’ battery life that is potentially even better than that claimed by Apple. According to PCA’s MobileMark 2007 Productivity Test, the 13-inch Haswell MacBook Air ran for 13 hours and 57 minutes.
However, it’s being speculated that a display technology known by the not terribly euphonious sounding acronym “IGZO” (which stands for Indium gallium zinc oxide)could make significantly better battery runtime metrics possible than those impressive benchmarks possible, even with Retina resolutions displays.
According to Wikipedia, IGZO thin-film transistor (TFT) is used in the TFT backplane of flat-panel displays, a technology that was developed by Professor Hideo Hosono’s group at Tokyo Institute of Technology and Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) in 2003 – 2004. IGZO-TFT has 20-50 times higher mobilities than that of amorphous silicon, which is used in conventional liquid-crystal displays (LCDs) and electronic papers; and can improve operation speed, resolution and size of flat panel displays. IGZO-TFT and applications are patented by JST, and were licensed to Samsung Electronics in 2011, and to Sharp in 2012. Sharp started the world’s first production of LCD panels Incorporating IGZO-TFT in 2012. IGZO panels are also very power-efficient, their power consumption diminished by LCD idling stop technology owing to the high electron mobility (20-50 times faster than that of amorphous silicon Sharp claims) and low off current of IGZO-TFT.
Sharp describes IGZO as a high-performance technology that makes transistors smaller than ever before, with its power most apparent in the crystal clarity of its display, achieving about twice the resolution of conventional LCDs, and says it is also an essential component in realizing next-generation OLED which delivers a life-like picture in super high definition.
They also note that IGZO contributes to a dramatic leap in the energy efficiency of digital devices, resulting in substantially longer battery life for mobile users, explaining that when displaying still images, IGZO achieves power savings of a staggering eighty to ninety percent lower LCD panel power consumption by pausing the driving signals to maintain the same image.
Cult of Mac’s John Brownlee says that according to new Korean reports, Sharp, which developed IGZO technology, is looking to supply both MacBook and iPad-sized IGZO panels to Apple in 2014, with LG Display joining the supply chain to help out and upgrading its existing AMOLED and LCD lines to be compatible with IGZO manufacturing. Brownlee says that if IGZO can cut the Retina display power draw in half, that’s potentially 24 hours of battery life in a Retina laptop.
I say the longer battery life and quicker charging the better. I typically charge my iPad every two days or so, but the ability to go substantially longer between charges, and with a laptop as well as a tablet, would be very welcome, IMHO.