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How To Exchange Your MacBook Air SSD – jj

How To Exchange Your MacBook Air SSD


Apple’s MacBook Air has always been a solid and reliable little laptop — even more so when the company ditched the hard drive that was in the original for solid state storage. SSDs are far faster and tend to be longer lasting than traditional hard disk drives, but they are not infallible. Apple has always said the MacBook Air contains no user serviceable parts, so what do you do if the SSD in your laptop fails? What if you need more storage capacity? You can take it to an Apple Store for service, but that can be expensive and leave you without the machine for a few days. In addition, if it’s a mid-2012 model or earlier, the MacBook Air is on Apple’s “Vintage” list, meaning the company has discontinued support.

What Apple doesn’t mention is that the SSD in a MacBook Air can actually be replaced by the user, and it’s a relatively easy procedure. Unless you have a new, 2018 MacBook Air, in which case Apple permanently soldered the storage. Nice machine, love the display, but the complete lack of upgradability is one of a few concerns raised about that model. 

Here’s how to replace a MacBook Air SSD. There are variations between models but the basics are the same. The good news is it takes minimal technical know-how, few tools and the actual installation — taking the laptop apart, replacing the component, then putting everything back together again — takes just five or 10 minutes. Disclaimer: if your MacBook Air is under warranty, opening it up is likely going to void your coverage.

I bought a compatible SSD and pentalobe screwdriver for around $80.

Brad Moon

1. Back Up Your Data (If Possible)

This goes without saying but back up your data before doing anything.

2. Confirm the SSD is Unrepairable

Try repairing the existing SSD with Disk Utilities.

Brad Moon

Before doing something as drastic as replacing a MacBook Air’s SSD, it pays to confirm the drive is actually damaged and unrepairable. Run Apple’s Disk Utility for a start. If that fails, try booting using macOS Recovery. If you are still unable to repair the drive or install a fresh version of macOS, there are lots of test and repair methods out there, depending on how adventurous you are. If you reach the point where that SSD seems well and truly dead — or you simply want to swap it out for a larger capacity drive — it’s time for a replacement.

3. Buy a Compatible SSD

You can’t just stick any SSD off the shelf of your local big box store into a MacBook Air. There are reputable websites that specialize in Apple laptop components and they offer replacement SSDs in various capacities. Just make sure you know the model of your MacBook Air, as there were variations from year to year. I bought a 256GB SSD for an 11-inch MacBook Air (mid-2012), and it was $75.

If you’re swapping a working SSD for a higher capacity model, you might want to opt for a kit that includes an external drive enclosure so you can use the old SSD as external storage.

4. Make Sure You Have the Tools

There are really only two tools you’ll need for this job. A flat prier tool to help lift components out of their socket, and a most importantly, a screwdriver with pentalobe bits. Apple’s primary method to keep people from opening up the MacBook Air is the use of five-point pentalobe security screws — standard screwdrivers are incompatible. My model used pentalobe TS4 screws on the case and a single pentalobe TS5 screw to secure the SSD. Many MacBook Air SSD kits include the needed screwdriver, otherwise you can find inexpensive multi-bit versions online (I paid $7 for mine). 

5. Remove the MacBook Air Case Bottom

Unplug the MacBook Air from power, lay down a soft and static-free cloth and flip the laptop over. Remove the eight pentalobe screws from the bottom of the case, keeping track of where each goes (not all screws are the same length so that is important). Apple doesn’t hide any of these screws beneath feet or pads, so at least they are all obvious and easy to find.

When the case is open, it’s an excellent opportunity to do some cleaning.

Brad Moon

Lift the bottom of the case off. At this point, you might want to carefully clean the laptop with some compressed air. As you can see in the photo, there was a lot of dust inside mine, especially around the air vents.

6. Disconnect the Battery, Remove the SSD

The majority of the interior of the MacBook Air is battery, but immediately above it is the SSD and to the left of that is the battery connector (in later models that battery connector is a bit further to the left than in this photo but other wise looks the same). You first pop off the battery connector. Remove the single screw securing the SSD, then gently pull the drive out of its slot.

Battery connector is circled on left, SSD slot is circled on right.

Brad Moon

7. Install the New SSD

With the old drive removed, slide the new SSD into the socket. The two connectors on the drive are different widths, so you won’t be able to accidentally insert it upside down. When it’s firmly seated, replace the screw that held it in place. Then reconnect the battery. When finished, the inside of the MacBook Air should look like this.

The replacement SSD is installed and the battery has been reconnected.

Brad Moon

8. Reassemble the Laptop 

At this point, you can replace the bottom case. Get it centered, then push lightly in the middle of the case (that ensures a clip engages) and replace the eight screws you removed.

9. Set Up the MacBook Air

Success, macOS is being installed on the replacement SSD.

Brad Moon

Where you go from here depends on how you started. The new SSD has nothing on it, so if you power up the laptop it’s not going to find an operating system. Assuming you don’t have a working boot drive, the easiest approach is to boot using macOS Recovery and use Disk Utilities to either Restore From Time Machine Backup or Reinstall Mac OS. Once that operation is done, the new SSD will have a valid operating system and you’ll be back in business. Depending on variables like internet connection speed and how much data you may have to restore, this process may take a few hours…

Need to replace the battery in your MacBook Air? That’s another job that can be done on your own — relatively easily and inexpensively. Here’s my how-to on battery replacement.

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