Upgrade & Replace an SSD on MacBook Air

Check tutorial of How to Upgrade & Replace an SSD in MacBook Air

So after a lot of requests from our users here is a guide about How to Upgrade & Replace an SSD in MacBook Air.

The MacBook Air isn’t really seen as expandable or upgradeable, but it turns out that with a little effort and patience, you can replace the SSD on the MacBook Air itself. Changing the SSD on a MacBook Air can dramatically increase the storage capacity of the Mac and often improve performance as well, and while these are optional reasons to upgrade the device’s SSD hard drive is another common reason to replace the SSD drive, due to total drive failure. That last scenario led me to replace the SSD on this particular MacBook Air model for a friend, but regardless of the reason for upgrading or changing the SSD, it’s really not that hard to do and the process is the same.

If, for whatever reason, you’re going to replace the SSD on a MacBook Air, you need a few things; the new replacement SSD drive that’s compatible with the Mac, a range of dedicated screwdrivers, at least two or three separate trays for temporary storage of screws, and a little patience. Other than that, it’s really not particularly complicated, even when it comes to taking the Mac apart and putting it back together. There are many great details tutorials that go through the entire process from sites like iFixIt, and we’ll link to a few below.

Keep in mind that this really only applies to Macs that are out of warranty service, and those who are comfortable with their hardware. Swapping hardware can void a warranty on a newer Mac, so if the Mac is under warranty, take it to an Apple Support provider or Apple Store and they can handle it all.

Step 1: Check compatibility of replacement SSD with MacBook Air

The first step is to make sure that the replacement SSD is compatible with the MacBook Air model. This usually depends on the model year of the MacBook Air itself, so knowing which model year the computer is is critical. You can find the model and model year of any Mac by going to the  Apple menu and choosing “About This Mac”, where in the summary screen you will see something like “MacBook Air (13-inch, Early 2012)” or something like that.

Get the model year of the Mac

Once you know the exact model and model year of the computer, you can find a compatible solid-state drive at a reseller site such as Amazon.

For the sake of this article, let’s say the MacBook Air is a 2012 model year.

Step 2: Choosing the replacement SSD upgrade / kit

There are many brands and types of replacement SSD drives to choose from, you can research this if you wish, or if you have a preferred brand then go with that. My particular pick for this project was this Transcend 240GB SSD Upgrade Kit. I like the Transcend option for several reasons; it is well priced, it is very fast, it has a high rating, it offers a good warranty, and it comes with a complete upgrade kit that includes an enclosure for the old SSD and the necessary screwdrivers to get the job done. The Transcend SSD Upgrade Kit is basically an all-in-one solution, which means you don’t have to search for the screwdrivers on your own (and yes, other brands offer some similar package solutions, Transcend just happened to be the best deal when I was on shopping for this MacBook replacement drive)

  • Transcend JetDrive 480 GB for MacBook Air (models from late 2010 – mid 2011) upgrade kit
  • Transcend JetDrive 480 GB for MacBook Air (Mid 2012 model) Upgrade Kit
  • Transcend JetDrive 480 GB for MacBook Pro Retina 13 ″ (models from late 2012 – early 2013) upgrade kit
  • See other Transcend SSD mac upgrade kits here on Amazon

Transcend SSD replacement for MacBook Air

And yes, you can definitely buy another compatible SSD that doesn’t come in a kit either, just make sure you get the right pentalobe screwdrivers and ensure compatibility with the drive and the Mac. It totally is up to you.

Step 3: Back Up the Mac

You must backup the Mac before changing or attempting to replace the SSD drive. I recommend to post up Time Machine backups on the Mac are minimal, and some more advanced users like to do this in addition to using SuperDuper or Carbon Copy Cloner tools to clone the drive directly.

The only exception to this is if the disk is completely blank or missing, and there is clearly nothing to roll back up.

Time Machine in Mac OS X

Don’t back upup over, if you don’tup you don’t have anything to restore your Mac to, and the replacement drive doesn’t have your data. That’s not what you want. Using Time Machine also has the advantage of allowing you to perform a clean install (of El Capitan or whatever) on the replacement SSD and then restore the Mac from the Time Machine backup.up after installation.

Don’t skip support up the Mac. Serious.

Step 4: Upgrade and replace the MacBook Air SSD

Now comes the fun part; open the Mac and replace the old SSD with the new replacement SSD. Buy some type of container or a cupcake container so that you can store the screws somewhere, keeping in mind that there are multiple sizes, lengths and types of screws that you will find. I like to arrange mine by size and general location they come from the Mac.

This part of the process is the most technical. Users with a strong background in electronics tinkering will likely feel comfortable, but almost everyone else will have some sort of guide that describes the process well. Rather than reinventing the wheel, we recommend following the detailed iFixIt guides as they are well explained, detailed and thorough.

  • iFixIt.com: MacBook Air Repair Manuals – Find the Right Model and Year, and Choose the Right “Solid State Drive Replacement” guide for the Mac
  • MacBook Air 13 ″ (Mid 2012) SSD replacement walkthrough guide

Basically what you do is unplug the Mac from a power source, unscrew and lift the bottom panel, unplug the internal battery, then replace the SSD. If you have the iFixIt guide they rate the difficulty of a MacBook Air SSD replacement as “mediocre”, but I am convinced that anyone with patience and the ability to follow instructions can get the job done quite easily, even if they are a relative novice.

I highly recommend following the thoroughly detailed iFixIt mentioned above guide, but here are the basic steps if you’re curious about what you’re getting into:

1 – Removed the screws on the bottom of the MacBook Air (the screws are temporarily stored in the small bins above the Mac)

remove the bottom panel of macbook air to replace ssd

2 – Disconnect the internal battery – don’t forget (and don’t forget to reconnect when done)

disconnect the internal macbook air battery

3 – Remove the standard SSD drive (it is held by another screw)

Remove the standard SSD from MacBook Air to replace it

4 – Replace with the new SSD drive, screw it on and reconnect the internal battery

Replaced SSD installed on MacBook Air

5 – Put the bottom lid back on and screw it back in, done!

MacBook Air is closed up with new SSD installed

Once everything is sealed up again, you are good to go. Now it’s up to the software part.

Step 5: Reinstall Mac OS X and recover data

Granted, I do stuff in this tutorial a little different from some other tech people; mainly that I put a blank SSD drive into the Mac, which then required an installation and restore of the operating system, rather than cloning the drives first. Precloning the drive is often the best approach, but in this particular case it was not possible because the internal SSD had completely failed (question mark on boot, confirmed with Apple Hardware Test), meaning there was nothing to clone. Fortunately, however, there was a recent Time Machine backupup, that’s why I went for the install and restore approach.

If you want to go the cloning route, Carbon Copy Cloner and SuperDuper are both excellent and will get the job done.

Anyway, what I did in this scenario was two steps; run a clean Mac OS X software installation using a bootable USB flash key, then restore from Time Machine during installation. It worked perfectly. We’ve covered these topics before, so if you want to go this particular route (usually needed if the original SSD failed), check out the following detailed walkthroughs:

  • Clean OS X Mavericks (you can also clean OS X El Capitan, macOS Sierra or any other Mac OS X release
  • Restore a Mac from a Time Machine backup

Keep in mind that if you restore a Mac from a Time Machine backup, you can start that process immediately after you cleanly install Mac OS X during the installation process.

Reinstall Mac OS X on clean new updated SSD

(Quick side note: You can also try to recover Mac SSD directly from Time Machine, but doing this usually requires you to manually recreate the recovery partition and you may run into EFI partition errors, both of which can be avoided if you only run a direct clean install of Mac OS X system software in advance).

Once Mac OS X and the data on the drive are restored, the Mac is ready to go as normal with a nice new shiny SSD! To enjoy!

MacBook Air with improved SSD

Do you have experience with replacing or upgrading a Mac SSD? Share your experiences or ideas in the comments below.

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