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Making AppleCare Worthwhile: MacBook Pro Battery Replacement

Every time I buy a new Mac laptop, I question whether I should purchase AppleCare to extend the warranty from one year to three years. My MacBook Pro cost $2,800 (with tax and shipping) in November 2006, so laying out another $300 for AppleCare - well, frankly, it hurt. (For more on the purchase, and how it stacked up to previous PowerBooks I've owned, see "More Bang, Less Bucks for my MacBook Pro" 2006-11-20.) However, I've found that almost every laptop I've owned has needed some sort of after-warranty work done, so I've ordered AppleCare for every one.

True to my history, AppleCare has come through on this laptop, too. Recently I'd noticed that the battery (the original one that came with the computer) was delivering only about an hour of performance per charge. That seemed low even under constant use, and after reading a post on MacUser about a similar issue I resolved to call Apple.

First, of course, I prepared for the call. I jotted down the battery's serial number (so I wouldn't have to extricate the battery from the computer while I was on the call). I had previously reset the laptop's System Management Controller (SMC) while troubleshooting the low charge, and run the latest version of coconutBattery, a freeware (donations encouraged) application that pulls status information from your battery; it informed me that the battery's current capacity was less than half of the original capacity. I also do my best to discharge the battery at least once a month to keep it conditioned. (See an older article I wrote about the topic for Macworld: "Laptop Battery Smarts, 2004-10-04.)

With that information in hand, I contacted Apple. Right away, the support representative directed me to Apple's support page for the 15-inch MacBook Pro Battery Exchange Program to check if the battery's serial number fell in the affected range (it didn't). I told him about the diminished capacity figure from coconutBattery, and he also directed me to System Profiler, which provides the same information under the Power subheading. Lastly, he asked for the battery's cycle count, the measure of how many times it had been discharged and recharged.

He quickly noted that the battery did seem to be defective, and because the laptop was under AppleCare the company would send me a new one, free of charge. He needed authorization from a manager, and at one point asked me to "restart the computer with four keys held down..."

"Zap the PRAM?" I asked (Command-Option-P-R). "I've tried that, too."

Satisfied, he confirmed my shipping address and took my credit card number. The price of a new battery is charged while the replacement is in transit.

When I received the battery two days later, I packed the defective one into the same box, called DHL to arrange a pick up, and started using my new battery.

It's worth noting that I could have also taken the laptop and battery to a retail Apple Store and probably received the same service at the Genius Bar, but in my case it was more convenient to just call.

I haven't made up for the $300 cost of AppleCare with a new $130 battery, but the computer is also protected until November 2009. At some point when it's more convenient to part with the laptop for a while, I need to have a spot on the screen checked out, and who knows what else will happen? So far, that's still $300 well spent.


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