Improving Battery Life With A New MacBook Pro (15″, MacBookPro8,2)

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The Short Version: Using gfxCardStatus to manage the graphics mode made a notable difference. Uninstalling McAfee Security made the most difference.

This week I started using a new 15″ MacBook Pro (MacBookPro8,2) with OS X 10.7 (Lion). It wasn’t long before I noticed a dramatic difference between the battery life of the new MacBook Pro and that of my previous 17″ MacBook Pro, which was about two years old.

In the System Preferences I had noticed that I couldn’t configure the system to only use the integrated, low-power graphics card. Rather, I had to choose to enable “Automatic graphics switching” (in “Energy Saver”) or disable it. If it’s disabled then the computer automatically uses the high-performance, battery-draining graphics card.

Last night I began to suspect that the system wasn’t properly switching to the low-powered card. It turns out that I was almost correct.

This gave me a lead so I started searching for posts dealing with new MacBook Pro systems not switching properly and sure enough I found one. Actually, I found more than one but that link is what made me realize I was on the right path.

In general, the system was sticking with the low-power graphics when running on the battery. However, I also learned that certain applications can force the use of the high-power graphics mode.

I usually browse the Web using Firefox. As it happens, Firefox is an application that causes the switch to the high-power graphics mode regardless of the “Energy Saver” settings. I’ve also read that versions of Chrome may also cause the same problem.

That post referenced gfxCardStatus, a free OS X tool that shows the current graphics mode in use and also provides the ability to override the system settings. Several minutes ago I downloaded the program, installed it, and set it to “Integrated only”. As I write this post I’m using Firefox and the graphics mode is still set to integrated. The battery life is noticeably better and the notebook itself isn’t running as hot as it was.

You may still need to keep an eye on the graphics status. One time I closed Firefox, reopened it, and noticed that the status has changed from “i” (integrated) back to “d” (discrete). I had to close Firefox, set it back, and then reopen it. I’m not sure if that’s a common issue – just now I was able to switch from integrated to discrete and then back to integrated without needing to relaunch Firefox.

Updated 09/14/2012: This change has made a noticeable difference. I’m still disappointed in the apparent battery life, but it’s not terrible.

Updated 04/11/2012: I spoke with some friends recently that have the same model MacBook Pro. Most of happen to be using McAfee Security (1.0) for our anti-virus software and we all realized we were experiencing similar problems since moving to Lion. The software no longer updated its virus definitions and sometimes our system fans kicked into high gear for no apparent reason.

I discovered that version 1.0 of McAfee Security is not supported under Lion (and I also confirmed that it’s running fine on a Snow Leopard system I use). I uninstalled McAfee Security and instead installed Sophos Free AntiVirus for Mac, which I’ll give a try (I’m somewhat familiar with the company but not with this product).

An interesting thing I’ve noticed since removing McAfee is that my battery life appears to have improved slightly. This system itself doesn’t seem to be running as hot as it usually did.

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