How To Upgrade Your Macbook Air with an SSD (2020 updated)
The definitive guide
Does a Macbook Air SSD upgrade sounds scary or hard?
It's not really, we know you don't believe us, so we created this guide! It has everything you need to know, to upgrade to a bigger SSD. Read it now, save it for later or just work out how much it will cost compared to a new Macbook Air.
Keep scrolling, everything you need is contained here, provided free, no catches. If you think that is worth a like or a share, that would be awesome...buying one of our SSDs would be even better :-)
If your Macbook Air has slowed down or you have run out of storage, we have the solution. You need a bigger, faster SSD.
Why would a Macbook Air slow down?
It is the speed and size of data getting processed! Files, such as videos, are getting bigger to processor, the SSD in your Macbook Air is finding it hard to keep up. The good news is the latest SSD upgrades can make your Mac like new. The speed of the Aura Pro 6G is twice as fast as your original SSD. If your Macbook Air (2013-2017) can use the new Aura Pro X2 then the new SSD reads data at 3.2GB per second, making it as fast as the current Macbook Air! You can get x16 more data than your original drive, it is blisteringly fast, which means there is no better time than now to upgrade and not buy a new Macbook Air.
Can you do the upgrade yourself? This is why we created the mighty guide you are reading. Everything you need to know, but it does not stop there. It is an example of our customer service. When you buy from Upgradeable, local tech support is just a phone call away. We have helped thousands of people with Apple computers upgrade their Macs. All that experience is distilled in this guide and much more on our website. We have tried to show exactly what you need to do in simple steps. We call this our "Four R method", because each step starts with the letter R. REPLACE, RESTART, READY and RESTORE. Choose the method that suits you best, and we'll show you how to do it, tell you the hardware you need and back you up with awesome customer technical support.
Don't want to do it yourself? That is fine, we have installation services or we can refer you to a local technician.
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Four R method: Time Machine
The easiest way to upgrade to a new SSD is to use Time Machine. All you need are tools and the SSD! You can either restore a whole back up, which includes macOS or you can migrate using the Time Machine after installing a new macOS.
Our Four R method is a proven easy way to upgrade to a bigger and faster SSD.
Remove the old drive, and install the new SSD. We provide detailed printed instructions when you order an SSD, if you type your Macbook Air model into the customer notes at checkout.
Plug Time Machine into the USB port. If you have a wifi time capsule make sure it is turned on. Restart your Mac holding down the Command and R keys (this is Recovery Mode). The Mac will use the Time Machine to build the OS Utilities page.
As the drive is shipped to you unformatted, you need to initialise the SSD to get it ready for the transfer of data. On the OS Utilities page open Disk Utility. You need to choose format type (must use APFS for Big Sur, Catalina, Mojave or High Sierra, earlier versions use Mac Extended Journaled) and a name, you can use Macintosh SSD or get creative and give it a person's name like Oscar. Click apply and this will format the SSD.
After formatting the drive your Time Machine back ups should be onscreen. Choose the latest, and the Mac will ask if you want to restore back up? Yes. Done. Time Machine will now start restoring onto the new SSD.
Software and tools you need
The great thing about a Time Machine restore is you only need the SSD and tools to open the Macbook Air.
From 2010 the Macbook Air used a M.2 (card) shaped SSD that was non standard.
These cloning instructions are for the 2010 Macbook Air to the 2017 Macbook Air.
It is important to note the OWC Envoy case is for the Apple SSD only. The Transcend clone case can be used with Apple,OWC or Transcend SSDs
This cloning method uses Disk Utilities to clone using the Restore function.
Power off your Mac and replace the original Apple SSD with the new SSD. We ship detailed printed instructions with your SSD. Install the Apple SSD into the OWC Envoy or Transcend external case.
Restart your Mac holding down the Command and R keys (this is Recovery Mode). The Mac will build the OS Utilities page. If you have an OS Installer USB you can boot off this USB instead of using Recovery Mode.
Go to Disk Utilities, either from onscreen menu or top drop down menu, and initialise the SSD. Must be initialised as APFS format.
In the left hand window pane of Disk Utilities select the new SSD. Click on Restore button on top menu. A pop up window will ask for “Restore from:” Select your original SSD that is in the Envoy case. Disk Utilities will now clone your old SSD onto the new SSD.
The fastest and easiest upgrade is cloning with the Jetdrive 855 SSD and Thunderbolt 2 external case.
The upside is you can reuse the Apple SSD in the Thunderbolt 2 case or any compatible SSD from Apple, OWC or Transcend! These cases are awesome: fast, portable, sleek. If you were James Bond, this is the device you would need to transfer data from the bad dude's computer and casually rejoin the party in your tuxedo like nothing happened.
This cloning method we recommend using Carbon Copy Cloner software. It is not free but there is a fully functional 30 day trial software available.
Connect the Jetdrive 855 case into the Thunderbolt 2 port (straight out of the box).
Restart your Mac.
Do not allow macOS to turn it into a Time Machine drive.
Download and Install Carbon Copy Cloner software (30 day free trial software link is below in the green box). As the drive is shipped to you unformatted, you need to initialise the SSD to get it ready for the cloning by initialising the SSD. Clone your hard drive using Carbon Copy Cloner.
When cloning is complete, power off your Mac and replace the SSD with the newly cloned Jetdrive SSD. We ship detailed printed instructions with your SSD order
Software and tools you need
Cloning is an excellent way to quickly copy your current drive onto a new SSD. Everything you need is in the Jetdrive kit, even the Jetdrive SSD without the Thunderbolt 2 case ships with tools.
This is our previously recommended cloning method, and the one OWC (Macsales) recommends. The problem is it does not work 100% of the time. The reason is the chipset on the Envoy enclosure will not boot externally with all Apple SSDs. That is a crucial part of the process. If you can't boot externally, there is no way to complete the clone.
We still have a lot of customers still use this method. It is a good back up plan if the clone does not work via Disk Utilities. This clone method relies on third party cloning software. We recommend SuperDuper! because it is free. The most popular software is Carbon Copy Cloner. The advantage of this method is third party cloning software has more features, and are better to use if the original drive is corrupted or giving you a lot of errors.
Download and Install on your current drive SuperDuper! software (free software link is below in the green box).
Power off your Mac and replace the original Apple SSD with the new Aura SSD. We ship detailed printed instructions with your SSD. All the tools you need are included. Install the Apple SSD into the OWC Envoy external case.
Plug external Envoy into Macbook Air and restart your Mac holding down the Option key. Your original drive should appear on screen, click on it to boot off that drive. The Mac might ask to turn the new SSD into a Time Machine, say no. Go to Disk Utilities and initialise the SSD.
Clone your original SSD using SuperDuper!. When it has finished, unplug the external Envoy and boot your Macbook Air from the new SSD.
Software and tools you need
Our SSD KITS include everything you need to clone.
This method takes a little bit of planning. OSX or macOS (as it is now called) can be installed on an empty SSD via Recovery Mode or installing off media such as a USB. If you are installing from USB, you need to make that macOS USB before you start. Recovery Mode is installing the macOS from a Time Machine or a Mac drive recovery partition (such as your old hard drive).
Shut down your Mac.
Replace the current drive with the new SSD. The old drive can be used in the Envoy for super fast external storage.
If you are installing macOS from USB, then insert macOS USB, hold down option key and restart Mac. If you are using Recovery mode, plug in your Time Machine or Mac drive, restart the Mac holding down the option key. Select Time Machine or recovery disk. This will create the macOS Utilities page that has options such as Disk Utility and install a new macOS. Whichever method you choose, the new SSD first has to be initialised (erased) first via Disk Utility. Caution: If you use (Command + R) and a spinning globe of the world appears, the Mac has not used the Recovery partition but is using Internet Recovery. This is to be avoided, turn off power to abort, as the macOS it will install is the earlier version that originally shipped with your Mac. See How to install a macOS for detailed information
Software and tools you need
There are many options when starting fresh. You can install the current version of macOS or a later version that is more compatible with your apps and programs. You can put the latest macOS on your new SSD then use the Migration Assistant to copy over data and programs. You do not have to connect to another Mac, you can connect to a Time Machine or external startup disk to transfer files!
1. Find your model 2. Select the size size upgrade kit that suits you
Choose a SSD BLADE for your Macbook Air
Yes we sell SSD blades only. They do not include the clone kit. We can include a macOS installer USB for free with a blade purchase, just type which macOS version you would like in the customer notes at checkout.
Why buy just a blade? Customers who buy a blade are usually starting with a fresh macOS and not cloning any data from the original Apple SSD. A Time Machine restore also does not need a cloning kit, as long as you have all the tools you need (Pentalobe and Torx T5 screwdriver). Tools are available to be bought separately. If you are not sure, please contact us for an obligation free discussion.
1. Find your model 2. Select the size SSD that you need 3. Add any accessories required, like the right size screwdriver
How to install macOS
Note: It appears Apple has removed the feature to get a new macOS via Internet Recovery. All key commands now install the original macOS that came with your Mac. For example; if you have an older Macbook Air that shipped with Yosemite, then internet recovery will install that version on your Mac. The only way to get a newer version of macOS is via macOS Utilities on Time Machine or a recovery partition on a Mac drive (such as your old hard drive). Starting from and including the MacBook Air (11-inch and 13-inch, Late 2010), they shipped with part of the macOS embedded in the logic board. This allowed the Mac to do an Internet Recovery, go to the Apple website, download some software, and boot to the macOS Utilities page. From this page you could initialise a new drive and install the latest macOS. Changes from the release of High Sierra mean that the only macOS you can install via Internet Recovery is the version you have embedded on your logic board (the macOS that shipped with your Mac). If you have experienced something different, please let us know.
Why is this an issue? From Sierra and High Sierra, Apple has a new drive format structure. When you upgrade to High Sierra, Apple changes your drive format structure to APFS. High Sierra will only reliably work on a drive formatted as APFS. To control how the latest macOS is installed, Apple has locked down ways to install it. If you internet recover your macOS, you can not format your drive as APFS and you can not install the latest macOS. To get the latest macOS you need a recovery partition created with one of the latest macOS (like High Sierra).
With the dramatics out of the way, there are various ways to install macOS on your Mac, Apple provides many options. This quick guide is designed to answer questions you have and provide a bit of clarity on the different processes. This is based on our experience and is always being revised. If you can add to these guides, please contact us accordingly.
How to get the latest macOS on a new SSD? If you don't have a Time Machine or a working mac drive with the latest macOS then you only have one option. You have to create a macOS USB drive. If you have a Time Machine or a working Mac drive, you can boot off either device to start the macOS Utilities page which gives you the option of Disk Utility (to initialise the new SSD) and also install a new macOS. That macOS will be the version of macOS that is backed up on the Time Machine or the macOS that created the recovery partition. So if your drive or Time Machine was created with Sierra, then that is the macOS you can download and install. You can not install High Sierra. The latest macOS is only available via an upgrade path. So install Sierra, and then use App Store to upgrade to High Sierra. To use Time Machine restart your Mac while holding down the option key. If restart the Mac holding down Command + R it could use an old recovery partition or Internet Recovery. If you are using a recovery partition you can restart the Mac holing down the option key (recommended as you can see which drive it reboots from) or holding down Command + R.
Using your old drive to get a new macOS Your current SSD will most likely have a recovery partition. Install the new SSD into the Macbook Air, put the original Apple SSD into the Envoy enclosure that came with the SSD. Reboot the Mac holding down keys Command (⌘)-R. This should make the Mac boot from the recovery partition. If a spinning globe of the world appears, then it is going to Apple website to install an older version of MacOS, so cancel that operation or shut the Mac down via a hard power off (hold down power button). You need to restart holding down the option key, select the recovery partition on the drive that appear. What should happen is the Mac will build The "macOS Utilities" page giving you the option of installing a new macOS (there are also options to restore from Time Machine and Disk Utility).
Using your Time Machine to get a new macOS Plug the Time Machine directly into your Mac. Hold down the option key and reboot the Mac. Holding down the option key loads the boot manager and the Time Machine drive should appear onscreen. Select the Time Machine and the macOS Utilities page should come onscreen. You will have the option of installing a new macOS (there are also options to restore from Time Machine and Disk Utility). If a spinning globe of the world appears, then it is going to Apple website to install an older version of MacOS, so cancel that operation or shut the Mac down via a hard power off (hold down power button). Your Mac is not seeing the Time Machine. Make sure there is a physical connection not wifi. Is the Time Machine turned on? Try holding down keys Command (⌘)-R and restarting with the Time Machine plugged in.
Can not boot from Time Machine From OS X Lion v10.7.3 or later, you can start up from your Time Machine disk. Hold down the Option key as your Mac starts up. When you see the Startup Manager screen, choose “EFI Boot” as the startup disk. The system should create the macOS Utilities page. From here you can use disk utilities to format a new SSD, you can restore from Time Machine or install a new macOS from the Apple servers. If you can not boot from the Time Machine, it is certainly something to do with your EFI. We are still troubleshooting this, we will have a new section on EFI shortly. You can google macOS EFI update to see the issue some mac users are having. It appears Apple updates the EFI in the background during macOS updates. If it fails, there is no warning or notification. So there are a lot of Macs with outdated EFI. If your EFI is current, we have not seen any issues with High Sierra or booting from Time Machine. If you are having issues installing High Sierra, please check if your EFI is update.
USB Installer is corrupted The error message when installing OS X is "This copy of the install OS X El Capitan application can't be verified. It may have been corrupted or tampered with during downloading". This is a check Apple has introduced with system installation. They don't want old OS versions installed, better to move everyone to new OS, and new hardware (buy a new mac). There is a simple work around. Reset your system date to OS release date or close to OS release date and you can now install the OS. If you are in OS Utilities, the top menu should have a drop down that has Terminal. Run terminal and then type this in: For El Capitan install use: date 1001200015 [enter] You can check the date is now 2015 by typing: date [enter], it should now display: October 1st 20:00 (or 8pm) 2015. The date after El Capitan's release. You can now install El Capitan without an error. Dates for other systems are: Yosemite: date 1017200014 Mavericks: date 1023200013 High Sierra: date 1023200017
How to use Migration Assistant
Apple includes an awesome app called Migration Assistant that we have used to help customers start over with a fresh macOS but keep all their data and applications. Apple allows a lot of different installation and migration options. We will discuss the main ones here, but if this does not answer your migration question, please contact us for more specific information about the upgrade you are planning.
What is Migration Assistant...why should I use it? Migration Assistant allows you to transfer applications, settings and data from another Mac. macOS can see "another Mac" as your old hard drive or a Time Machine back up. A mac can boot from an external drive, for example, if you put your old hard drive into an external enclosure, you can boot from it, and run that hard drive and it would be exactly the same as your old mac...because it is!
If you just want a new macOS, start fresh with no legacy upgrade data, then you can use Migration Assistant to reinstall all your data and apps, and you will have the benefit of a new macOS with all the apps and data from your old drive.
How to use Migration Assistant After you have installed the new macOS, the system starts and asks for generic information: country, keyboard type etc. The next part of the installation setup is Migration Assistant.
If you have installed a new SSD, you can use either your old SSD in the Envoy enclosure or a Time Machine back up as a source for Migration Assistant. The example in the image below, a Time Machine disk is connected and to be used
Select the machine you want to restore from in Time Machine
Then select the type of data you want to migrate
That is it! You should have a new macOS with all your applications and data restored back on the system.
Limitations of Migration Assistant The new Mac can not be on Lion (v10.8) or earlier. If you are migrating to an old version of OSX such as Lion, then you need to use another method. This method is not recommended if the macOS are too far apart in release. It is ok if you are moving from Sierra to High Sierra. But if your computer is on Lion, your application and core system files will not be compatible with High Sierra.
Using Time Machine to upgrade
These are the undocumented or little known Time Machine features that can make your life easier when upgrading to a bigger and faster SSD.
First the most asked question we get: Does Time Machine back up the operating system or macOS? If your Time Machine is backing up your whole drive, yes the macOS is backed up. You have a complete back up of your Mac. You do not have to download macOS to use your Time Machine. In Sierra and High Sierra we have seen Time Machine go off to the Apple website to verify or update core files. It is not totally understood what is happening, but it is not uncommon for Time Machine to get additional files from the Apple website before restoring a Time Machine back up. Usually these files are to do with the recovery partition on the Time Machine or the Disk Utilities page.
Restore on a new macOS You can install a new macOS onto your Mac and then restore a Time Machine backup and not overwrite the new macOS. In our tests, we have found Apple has separated out the OS and the data. If Time Machine sees there is a macOS installed on the SSD, it will not overwrite these files, but just restore the data. You can enjoy a new macOS on your new SSD, and then restore your data without affecting the new macOS.
Rebooting off Time Machine Time Machine does not have a recovery partition, however you can use it to restore your Mac or install a new macOS. If you want to use Time Machine in this way, plug the Time Machine into the Mac, then restart the Mac holding down the Option key. This loads the boot manager and you can see all drives attached to the Mac. The Time Machine should display as an external drive. Select it and the Mac will build a macOS Utilities page that will have Disk Utility (to initialise a new drive or erase a current drive) and install a new macOS.
How to create a macOS USB
There are a lot of options to create bootable USB to install macOS. We have recommended Diskmaker X in the past but the method we outline here is the recommended method from Apple. This is our summary of how to make a Mojave macOS USB drive. With this drive you can install macOS on a blank SSD or boot from this USB and use the tools and utilities to check or format a Mac drive. If you don't want to make your own, you can buy one already done here
Go to the App Store, search for macOS Mojave and download. For High Sierra click here. After it has downloaded it should appear in your Applications as "Installer MacOS". If you have already downloaded and upgraded to Mojave or High Sierra you will need to download the MacOS you want again (Apple deletes installer once it has been used).
You need at least an 8GB USB drive. It does not have to be a super fast USB 3.0 version, and older one can be repurposed. It does not have to be a USB. You can use an external hard drive (note: any data on the drive will be lost as it gets formatted). Go into Disk Utilities and rename the USB to "upgradeable". You can erase and rename. The MacOS creation method will reformat the drive, so it does not need to be any specific format type like Fat32 or Mac Journaled. What is important is the name of the drive, as it is used in the code below.
We are going to use the command line app called Terminal to create the MacOS drive. Don't worry if you have never used it, it is very easy, not that scary. Open Terminal, it is found in the Utilities folder in Applications.
Copy this code
Copy this code: sudo /Applications/Install\ macOS\ Mojave.app/Contents/Resources/createinstallmedia --volume /Volumes/upgradeable
Paste the code
Paste the code you copied into Terminal and hit enter. It will ask for your system password (usually the one you log on with at start up). Type Y and return when it asks if you want to erase this drive. When it is finished creating it will display "Copy complete". You can close Terminal.
How to use the USB
When the USB or external drive is plugged in, restart the Mac holding down the Option key. The USB will appear on screen as Install MacOS. Select and hit return. You do not need to select a network. If you are installing the macOS on a new SSD it will need to be initialised. Go into Disk Utility, Erase and name. Proceed to install macOS. Please note Apple have added a new format type in High Sierra and Mojave. If you are starting with a new macOS, like Mojave, then Apple recommends you use APFS and not Mac Extended Journal. APFS is a new format specific designed for High Sierra and above macOS and optimised for SSD drives.
How to initialise a SSD
When you get your new SSD it is uninitialised. This means it can be used in a Mac or PC. It needs to be initialised before use. In the PC world they call this formatting the drive. In the Mac World it is called Erase and it is a function of Disk Utilities
Disk Utilities is a tool included in many places. It is found in the Utilities directory in Applications. It is included in any macOS install drive. It is found in the recovery partition on a drive when a Mac is restart holding down the keys Command + R. It is also a part of the Internet Recovery boot up. There are many reasons why you would want to erase a drive, this guide is focused on initialising a new SSD, however for readers who are looking at general information we have added the following warning... Warning: Erasing a disk will delete all data on the disk. Never initialise/erase a drive that has data on it that you want to keep. I know that sounds obvious but you would be surprised with the support calls we get :-). Four steps to initialise a new SSD.
New APFS format in High Sierra and Mojave Starting from macOS High Sierra, Apple have a new format called APFS. It is recommended to format your new SSD in APFS if you will be using High Sierra or Mojave. APFS is optimised for SSD drives. If you are using macOS Sierra or below, the recommended format is still Mac OS Extended (Journaled).
Open Disk Utility
When you start Disk Utility, in the sidebar are the drives attached to the Mac. Select the disk name, not the indented volume name.
Click on the Erase button. If there is no erase button select the drive again.
There are two to three fields that need to be selected. Name: Enter a name for your disk, such as "Macintosh SSD" Format: Choose APFS (for High Sierra or Mojave) or Mac OS Extended (Journaled) for earlier macOS like El Capitan Scheme (if available): Choose GUID Partition Map
Click the Erase button and the SSD will be ready to use.
How to clone with SuperSuper!
Please note: this process cannot be used to clone a Windows partition created by Boot Camp. We recommend WinClone by Twocanoes Software. It is commercial software requiring a license to use, however it is not affiliate with our company and that is not an affiliate link.
Before cloning, the SSD needs to be initialised, if that has not been done, please follow our instructions above.
The process is really only two steps...download and run. Superduper! is very simple but powerful piece of software.
When the download is complete, install in your Applications folder.
Double click on the SuperDuper! icon to run
Choose your source (Macintosh HDD) and destination (Macintosh SSD) drives. Click Copy Now to begin. You will be notified when it is complete.
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Simple Questions answered
Can I use any SSD to upgrade my Macbook Air? No. The Macbook Air use a special SSD blade that is specific to the Macbook Air. You can not use a standard 2.5" notebook SSD. There is an SSD compatible for the year of your Macbook Air, please check before ordering. You can find your specific model inour configurator.
Does the Macbook Air use a standard M.2 SSD blade? No. It is only standard in it's physical size. A standard M.2 drive will not work. Apple has made their drives proprietary.
Are the OWC SSD drives faster than the Apple original SSD? Yes, all the SSD we sell will increase the speed of your Macbook Air!
Do I need a bracket to install the SSD? No.
Can I do this install myself? Yes. We have had customers of every type of experience: students to pensioners do this upgrade. It is only slightly more complicated than a RAM upgrade.
Do I need any special tools? The SSD kits include all the tools you require: a Pentalobe and Torx T5 screwdriver. These are sold separately if you only need a blade and not a kit.
Does the original SSD and the new SSD have to be the same size to clone? No. As long as the source (current hard drive) has less data than size of the new SSD. So 300GB on a 1TB hard drive will clone onto a 480GB SSD.
What size SSD should I buy? We recommend you look at how much data is on your hard drive and then get a SSD at least 20% bigger than the data you have. We have found the optimal free space for a SSD to work with virtual and swap files is 20%. Aim for 30 to 40%. It all depends on your work flow and how much data you store and delete.
Can SuperDuper! clone a windows partition? No. We recommend Winclone for this type of clone.
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