20 Years Ago, The MacBook Air’s Battery Would Have Only Lasted 2.5 Seconds

20 Years Ago, The MacBook Air’s Battery Would Have Only Lasted 2.5 Seconds

Over at the Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal puts the enormous gains in the electric efficiency of computation (or how much power a computer draws) in perspective using the example of Apple’s new MacBook Air.

Imagine you’ve got a shiny computer that is identical to a Macbook Air, except that it has the energy efficiency of a machine from 20 years ago. That computer would use so much power that you’d get a mere 2.5 seconds of battery life out of the Air’s 50 watt-hour battery instead of the seven hours that the Air actually gets. That is to say, you’d need 10,000 Air batteries to run our hypothetical machine for seven hours. There’s no way you’d fit a beast like that into a slim mailing envelope.

When Steve Jobs called the MacBook Air magical, this isn’t what he meant, but after reading this article, it’ll be hard to look at the wafer-thin ultrabook on my desk the same way ever again.

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  • Dickusmagnus

    Mine lasts about two to three hours under normal use. This seems short. Any other experiences?

  • Connor Mulcahey

    My question is will this rapid advancement begin to plateau in the coming years?

  • Barton Lynch

    I hope that batteries will be able to get more capacity in a smaller space soon, it seems like batteries themselves have been the thing that has stayed relatively in the past

  • ElVox

    Mine (the smallest 2010 13″) lasts up to 6hr, as long as I keep the screen brightness at 50%, no USB crap hanging off it (I some times forget to unplug my iDevices :) and not play games (guild wars is my current vice :) But I think the most important thing for good battery life is the screen brightness…it’s dramatic how much longer the battery lasts with a few percentage points lowering of it.

  • Doug

    10,000 air batteries needed to run a PowerBook 100 for 6 hours 20 years ago? This makes no sense. That’s like saying the old PowerBook 100 battery would run your MacBook Air today for 6 years! Has battery technology decreased that much in 20 years?

    Something is amiss with your calculations :-)

  • Nudsui

    he means a 1.8 ghz computer 20 years ago would take so much power that it would drain. Not a comparable computer 20 years ago. It just shows how thinner processing architecture is really help both make computers smaller, and make them more energy efficient per watt

  • Pucken

    Most…. useless… information…..

    …EVER

  • likethepear

    I hear some people complaining about MacBook Air battery life, but my 2011 13incher consistently gets 6-7 hours life before I get the “you’re now running on reserve power, computer will sleep, blah blah blah” message or whatever it says. I guess it must be the older models that aren’t doing so well in the battery dept.

  • Hoser Man

    My MBAir does not get 7 hours, I’m lucky if its 3.5 and that is with everything shut off except for the screen.

  • Bizarrefoodie

    Most unnecessary comment ever!

  • doro86

    Nice information.

  • RameezRafeeq

    Most Necessary reply EVER

  • Kris Santos

    I can use that everyday (at school, at home and party). Those gadgets are useful and innovative. I’ll get one soon.

    I will come back here to check more apple news.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his girlfriend and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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