2016-10-29

Extending Battery Life

So you have a smartphone or laptop that you've owned for a year or two and the battery seems to lose charge very quickly.  However, some batteries in a friend's identical device seems to have lasted for years longer!  So what's the deal?

The deal is that modern devices use lithium-ion batteries, and it is very easy to mistakenly misuse a lithium-ion battery. 

What?  A misuse a battery?  How does THAT happen?

The common killer of lithium-ion batteries is heat.  Heat just sucks the life out of a lithium-ion battery, and they never, ever recover.  My goal for battery care is to always avoid unreasonable heat.  So here's the short list of the rules I follow for long battery life:
  • Never leave a device in a car.  Cars interiors can get very hot.  If I leave my device in the car even once for 15 minutes, where the temperature can get over 120 °F, I have forever stolen some life out of my battery's soul.
  • Never leave a device in the hot sun.  This is really a variation of the above statement.
  • Never use cheap, generic chargers.  A cheap charger can send poor quality power to a device, and then the device needs to smooth out and reduce that voltage to something it can safely use.  All that voltage smoothing results in substantial heat - which, as we now know, kills batteries. 
  • Never use "fast chargers".  Fast chargers inject more energy into a device over less time, resulting in more heat and more stress on the battery.  It's best to use a normal charger, and avoid speed-charging.
  • If a device feels hot, restart it.   Bad software can spin out of control, resulting in a lot of internal heat production.  A restart terminates all software and gives it a chance to behave normally.  And make sure the device's software is up-to-date.  Up-to-date software is less likely spin out of control and heat up a device.
  • Never let a battery completely discharge.  Once a lithium battery is allowed to sit for months without a charge, it might not be recharge-able.  I never store a device with very low charge, and I never let a device sit for several months without charging it up.
Other myths to debunk:

I think the following silly ideas come from the age of the NiCad batteries of the 1970s.
  • Do not purposefully "drain" or "calibrate" a battery.  Doing so simply weakens the battery.
  • Do not worry about "overcharging" a battery.  All modern devices have a managed charging system.  These systems are necessary to protect the battery and to prevent event leaks, fires, and explosions. Attempting to trick the charging system will only reduce battery life.
Buying a replacement battery

It can be hard to buy a replacement battery.  First-party manufacturers (like Samsung, Apple, Dell, etc) all charge quite a lot for a battery.  But the battery they sell you has a real warranty and will certainly be of higher quality.

Third party suppliers generally sell batteries without a warranty.  Some might claim they offer a warranty, but most don't provide any mechanism to make a warranty claim.   That's no warranty.  Furthermore,  some of these 3rd party batteries can be ill-fitting, low-powered, and can have very short useful lives.  But they are very inexpensive, often one quarter of the price of a manufacturer's battery.

I almost always buy 3rd party batteries on Amazon.  Here are the 3rd party battery purchases that I have been happy with.  Of course, double-check your model number before buying anything!

2016-10-25

Powerful Utilities for Mac Performance and Optimization

A lot of people as me about the best utilities to install to improve Mac performance and reliability.   This is a great question, and I'm going to answer that here.

I use just about the oldest supported Mac, and it works great.  But it has taken some work to make it great.  If you have a slow Mac, it is likely easily fixable!

Here is my step-wise procedure for trying to address a slow Mac:

Common Mac Performance Issues

There are a few common things that greatly slow down your Mac:
  1. Out of Date software
  2. Lack of Disk Storage
  3. Sick Hard Disk Drive
  4. Slow Hard Drive
  5. Lack of Memory
  6. Bad "repair" software
 My Speed-up-that-Mac procedure
  1. Restart.  There's nothing like a restart to clear out memory.
  2. Empty Trash, which frees up some disk space.
  3. Software Update.  OS updates and core applications should be kept up to date.
  4. App Update.  Applications and  Plug-ins should be kept up to date.
  5. Disk Utility First Aid/Repair.
  6. Networking: Restart all networking equipment (wifi router, modem)
  7. Restart again (restart at least once per week) 
From here, check to see if performance is improved.

Diagnosis
  1. Perform network speed/reliability test (speedtest.net)
  2. Using Activity Monitor, see what (if any) apps are consuming significant CPU or Memory.  Update them, or remove them if reasonable.
  3. Inspect free disk space.  More than 20% free is good, otherwise bad.
  4. Inspect RAM.  4 GB or more is good, otherwise bad.
Upgrades
  1. If less than 4 GB of RAM, update to 4 GB or 8 GB.
  2. If a traditional hard drive is in use, upgrade to an SSD.
  3. If storage is reported to not be healthy, upgrade SSD.
  4. Upgrade to the most recent version of MacOS.
  5. If network is bad, consider upgrading WIFI router to a newer model (anything newer than 2014 should be fine). 
 Conclusion

Well that's the short list I use, generally from the top down, to address any Mac performance issue.  There are some weirder things that can happen that aren't addressed by the above procedure, but I find that to be very rare.

Note that I never install or use any 3rd party utility software - as the vast majority of it does more damage than good.






2016-10-13

Update on MacOS Sierra

At this time we have installed Sierra on about 50% of the Macs we maintain, and so far it is going well.  Performance and reliability seems on-par with El Capitan:
  • No kernel panics
  • No significant bugs/failures or "first party" app crashes
  • No app compatibility issues
  • No performance issues
  • No data migration issues (we use Migration Assistant)
 Here is our hardware minimum:

4 GB of RAM.  We have Sierra running well on machines with 4 GB of RAM.   Although the majority of our Macs have 8 GB, 4 GB is totally acceptable.  We haven't had a machine with less than 4 GB of memory for several years.

As we've said earlier, if you're upgrading from less than 4 GB of RAM and need to buy new RAM, we suggest buying 8 GB.


Amount Today Advice Rough Price
Less than 4 GB Go to 8 GB $40
4GB + Do nothing $0


Non-Traditional Drive.  As of earlier this year, we no longer have any traditional hard drives in our Macs.  All of them have been upgraded to either a hybrid drive ("SSHD"), or a straight-up SSD.

Hybrids are much less expensive per GB, so they're a good option for those with a lot of storage needs on a budget.  SSHDs are not as speedy as a good, low-cost "full" SSD, but they're less than half the price.  And an SSHD is a tremendous boost over a traditional quality hard drive... and only about $25 more expensive.

Here's a matrix summing up my thoughts on storage:


Storage Type Rough Price Storage Performance Reliability Battery Use
Traditional HD $55 1 TB Too Slow!!! Very Good Higher
SSHD $80 1 TB Very Good Very Good Medium
SSD (low-cost) $240 1 TB Excellent Excellent Lower

Age.   We have no concerns about running Sierra on any Sierra-capable Mac.   Even our oldest eligible Macs - models over 5 years old - run Sierra well.

Bugs and Stuff: Broken Keyboard Driver with Bootable Sierra Installer

The only bug we've seen is when performing a clean install from USB boot media.  The keyboard driver of the bootable installer seems to be broken on particular Macs.  A keyboard is required to use Terminal, or to perform some Disk Utility actions.

Our work-around is to use an older bootable OS X installer (from El Capitan, Yosemite, or whatever) to prepare the machine, and then boot with the Sierra Installer to do the actual OS installation - no keyboard required.

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