Simple Tips to Improve Battery Life for Macs with OS X El Capitan & Yosemite

Feb 27, 2015 - 29 Comments

boost-battery-life-os-x-yosemite

Some Mac users have noted that MacBook Air and MacBook Pro battery life has taken a downturn with their Macs running OS X El Capitan and OS X Yosemite. While this doesn’t impact all users, and much of the perception of diminished battery is likely due to usage and various features, there are some easy settings changes that users can make to potentially increase how long their portable Macs battery lasts with the latest versions of OS X.


First and foremost, if the battery life is bad every once in a while, particularly right after a system reboot or connecting an external hard drive, the solution is probably as simple as letting Spotlight run its course. There’s nothing to do with that other than wait, though if you want to you can watch the Spotlight processes in Activity Monitor. Also, simply enabling the battery indicator in OS X is a good way to keep an eye on how much remaining battery life is on your Mac, and if it’s actually being impacted or not.

Finally, you’ll find that some of these tips may also speed up Yosemite a bit, which can make these simple adjustments particularly helpful for Mac users on older portable hardware.

Turn Off the Eye Candy

The various transparent visual effects in OS X El Capitan and Yosemite require system resources to render, and increased resource usage can impact battery life. This will be less notable on some Macs, but it can make a difference and it’s an easy settings adjustment one way or another:

  1. From the  Apple menu, go to “System Preferences” and choose “Accessibility”
  2. In the “Display” section, check “Reduce transparency” (or Increase contrast)

Increase Contrast in OS X Yosemite

You can either opt to only “Reduce transparency” (which effectively disables the transparent effects of the Mac UI) to just turn off the translucencies, or for an experience that’s generally easier on the eyes, use “Increase contrast”, which notably increases visual distinction between on screen elemnts while also disable the transparent effects seen in menus, windows, and sidebars.

Stop Automatic Updates

While most users should keep Automatic Updates turned on (unless you’re really good at remembering to manually update OS X and your apps), disabling these features can lead to an increase in battery life by reducing background activity.

There are multiple parts of Automatic Updates, but the two you should focus on for battery purposes are automatic OS X System Updates and automatic App Updates – it is strongly not recommended to disable the automatic data and security updates feature, which can push critical security fixes to a Mac.

  1. In System Preferences, go to “App Store”
  2. Uncheck “Download newly available updates in the background”
  3. Uncheck “Install app updates”
  4. Uncheck “Install OS X updates”

Adjusting automatic OS X update behavior

Remember, by doing this you will need to manually check the App Store for new versions of OS X and for updates to your apps.

Disable Unused Location Features

Many apps want to use your location for convenience (and other reasons), but if you don’t use or care about those location driven features, disabling the ones you don’t need can help to prolong battery life.

  1. From System Preferences, go to “Security & Privacy” and choose the “Privacy” tab
  2. From the left side, select “Location Services”
  3. Disable location abilities for apps you don’t need the function for (alternatively, you can disable them all by unchecking the primary “Enable Location Services” checkbox)
  4. Click on “Details” next to ‘System Services’ and review location options there as well

Disable unnecessary Location Services in OS X

The effect here is not as strong as it would be for disabling Location Services in iOS on an iPhone, but it does still make a difference.

Lower the Screen Brightness

The UI of OS X El Capitan and OS X Yosemite is really quite bright as-is, and lowering screen brightness on any device, Mac, PC, Android, iPhone, is one of the single most significant things you can do to boost the length of battery life. OS X Yosemite is no different in this regard, so if you can handle a dimmer screen, turn it down using your keyboard (usually the F1 and F2 buttons).

Screen brightness buttons on MacBook Pro Retina laptop

View the Energy Impact Usage Meter of Activity Monitor

Activity Monitor will now tell you exactly what applications and processes are using a ton of energy in the form of CPU, disk activity, RAM use, etc. This is a more advanced method of using the menubar to quickly see what apps are using battery on a Mac, as it lists all processes and tasks which can be energy hungry:

  1. Hit Command+Spacebar to open Spotlight and type “Activity Monitor” followed by Return key to launch that app
  2. Click the “Energy” tab
  3. Sort by “Energy Impact” to see the apps and processes responsible for consuming battery on the Mac

See what is using battery in Mac OS X

The apps at the top of this Energy Impact use are the ones most responsible for battery draining the Mac. Sometimes this will be apps you’re using, sometimes not. Quit the apps you don’t need open, or manage their resources by closing unnecessary windows and tasks as appropriate. You can find more details about targeting battery hogging processes in OS X here. This can be advanced, so average users may want to quit their open applications, reboot the Mac, and then launch individual apps as needed, that can often resolve battery issues in a similar but less complex manner.

If you want to go further, you can read more battery tips for Mac laptops for some more general solutions. Also, keep in mind that many Mac laptop users have reported an increase in battery life with OS X El Capitan and OS X Yosemite, which is perhaps suggestive that any change in battery longevity is related to individual use and system preferences.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

29 Comments

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  1. Wharf Xanadu says:

    Turning on Contrast speeds up OS X and helps performance all around, looks a bit silly though but maybe apple will work on the UI

  2. Doug says:

    I’ll add two tips for battery life in all OS X (and all computers):

    * Quit apps that you aren’t using

    * Don’t let web pages linger open in many tabs or windows, each uses CPU and memory

  3. bzb says:

    “has took”? “has took a downturn”?

    Really?

    Oy vay.

  4. ProTip says:

    Dim your screen until you cannot see anything. Then click it up one notch. Sure, you will squint like a MoFo, and need glasses in a year, but you will get incredible battery life.

    • Bangino says:

      Dim your screen all the way down in OS X Yosemite and you can finally read the screen, I think you mean. I wear ski goggles when I use this Mac with OS X Yosemite now it’s so white it’s like looking at the surface of a glacier without any glasses on.

      • Icebox says:

        …”looking at the surface of a glacier without any glasses on”…Ha ha. Good one! Safari is especially blinding in Yosemite and don’t get me started on that awful light grey menu bar. What a joke. One can only hope we get more UI settings soon. Oh wait, that’s a joke too.

      • Fnordmeister says:

        Dim your screen all the way down and wear night-vision goggles.

      • Avenged110 says:

        Hahaha thank you, someone else knows what’s up.

      • ClassyPandaBear says:

        If Apple properly implemented dark mode instead of something that seems like an afterthought then I could actually look at the screen at night without sunglasses or squinting at a dim screen.

        • coffee oui says:

          Agreed, dark mode should be all-encompassing and turn all bright white items into dark or black. Apple has the graphics already made to accomplish this, you can see it in the new Photos app:

          https://www.apple.com/osx/photos-preview/images/powerful_editing_tools_large.jpg

          Why can’t we get that everywhere in OS X? Someone, probably Jony Ive, really likes all that bright white. So I’m with you, put your screen so dim that you can’t read the gray on gray fonts, or wear sunglasses

          • Cole Gotcher says:

            this is just a guess (and a guess that is almost certainly wrong) but maybe the reason why you have to deal with a really bright screens is because apple is thinking “hey how about we get our sh*t together and fix all the bugs in our OS X, to make all the MoFos who bought a computer from us not want to put a tasers in our toilets and electrocute us while were taking a sh*t.”

  5. Iris says:

    I chose not to update to the last OS system and stayed with maverick. Is that bad or may harm to my comp vunerability? I had so many problems in mail app after updating to maverick I don’t want to have all these issues again… Tnx! 😊

    • Avenged110 says:

      At this point, there were no major security enhancements in Yosemite (at least documented by Apple) because they were too busy ruining everything else. So you shouldn’t have anything to worry about. I’m staying on Mavericks as well and we still get security updates so there’s that.

    • Chris says:

      I wish I had refrained from updating to Yosemite. The desktop and browser graphics have a strange amateur appearance and my battery life seems to have taken a hit.

  6. Snow kid says:

    These tips are very basic and well known. They really don’t solve the issue that plages Yosemite. Its more like software engineering flaws at the kernal and such. As a result these tips won’t do much, expect take away most of the built in features.

  7. choiceweb says:

    turn off keyboard lighting, too, unless you really need it.

  8. Floyd Tolar says:

    I tried Dark Mode right after installing Yosemite, and most of the menu bar icons were no longer visible. Nice job Apple.
    And even on computers that have never had Dark Mode turned on will have the menu bar turn totally black if they use more than one desktop and switch from one to another. Thankfully it goes back to normal by clicking Mission Control or pressing the Mission Control key. Hope they fix that in the next update.

  9. fishiefishies says:

    “While … much of the perception of diminished battery is likely due to usage and various features”

    My battery has gone from lasting 8+ hours to about 3–it’s not a “*perception* of diminished battery [life]”; it’s a **very factual and frustrating reduction of battery life** that happened after I upgraded to Yosemite five days ago. I’ve been using the same programs in the same ways for a year and a half, with excellent battery life until I upgraded. Now my Mac’s battery life is comparable to that of my giant HP Windows machine.

    Seriously, don’t insult your readers – who are already frustrated by this problem or they wouldn’t be reading the article in the first place – by implying that the reduction in battery life is a merely matter of faulty perception. Sheesh.

    • FFS says:

      Did you stop reading there and did you miss the tips to actually improve battery life in OS X Yosemite on a MacBook? Because a lot of the Yosemite battery issues are indeed due to usage and various features, that is not speculation that is legitimate. How you use your Mac impacts your battery. What features are on, or what features are going nuts, impacts your battery life. Resources usage is directly correlated to battery charge lasting a while or too short. Check your Activity Monitor, something is using your resources and leading to battery drain. Maybe it’s OS X Yosemite, maybe it’s your apps. Look at “Energy”, you will find the answer.

      • FFS, FFS says:

        Did you stop reading before the end of my comment? I’m using the **same programs** in the **same ways** I’ve used them for a year and a half. Before Sunday these applications and features didn’t drain my battery. I wouldn’t expect the same applications and features to afford me 8+ hours of battery life on Saturday and then afford only 3 hours on Sunday. That’s a reduction of over half. Many users have had this same problem.

        And yes, for the record, I did try these tips. I’m not turning off automatic updates or changing my screen brightness much because I want to be able to, like, see my screen. I couldn’t turn off location services in the three applications that were using them (Flux, Maps, and Safari). The application using the most battery is Chrome (20%), which I have to use for work (with a lot of tabs open) and which has never caused battery drain before. So we’re left with “eye candy”. I *seriously* doubt changing the opacity of a few UI elements is going to cause my battery life to jump from 3 hours to the original 8+, but I’m trying it.

        So feel free to continue trivializing other people’s real and very frustrating problems if you want to, but don’t condescendingly accuse them of laziness or stupidity. Again, I’m not the only one with this issue, and the problem is not one of “perception”.

  10. Paul Robinson says:

    This is so sad… we’re used to tweaking settings and turning off things such as Wi-fi, etc. on our iPads, but now the Mac, too?!!

    Our battery life on our MacBook Air went from well over 10 hours to about 5!

    Now, it could be that Spotlight is still fooling around (though why it wouldn’t make use of a prior OS’s index is beyond me).

    One BIG thing I’ve noticed, though, is that we’re having to ramp up the brightness level in Yosemite!

    No doubt that’s one of the biggest hits on battery life. It’s so frustrating; we used to be able to use the laptop with the brightness about half way (and sometimes even less). Now, we’re having to put it near 80-90% to get it to the same level.

    As they say, “There’s something rotten in the state of Denmark!”

    (No offense to Denmark meant– one of the most wonderful nations on the planet, with one of the best social and educational systems going. Blame my remark on that soldier in Hamlet!)

    Hope Apple fixes this!

  11. Bill says:

    Same here. Used to go about 2 days without charging, now I need to charge every day. Same usage, only change is adding Yosemite.

  12. kate says:

    If you came to this page and are still not satisfied with the answer try this one. (It’s all about the P RAM!)

    Shut down your Mac.
    Locate the following keys on the keyboard: Option, Command (⌘), P, and R. You will need to hold these keys down simultaneously in step 4.
    Turn on your Mac.
    Immediately press and hold the Option-Command-P-R keys. You must press this key combination before the gray screen appears.
    Continue holding the keys down until your Mac restarts, and you hear the startup sound for the second time.

    Release the keys.
    Resetting PRAM may change some system settings and preferences. Use System Preferences to restore your settings.

    https://discussions.apple.com/thread/6623697

  13. Meagan says:

    These are all great. I have been wondering why my battery has been draining so quickly. I am going to take a look at these and see if they help for sure. Thank you for sharing!

  14. grunchitog says:

    You could also disable Turbo Boost so you can get a 25% more battery life, like reported on https://marco.org/2015/06/07/disabling-turbo-boost.

    This is the app page: http://www.rugarciap.com/turbo-boost-switcher-for-os-x/

    There is a pro and a free version.

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