Wing it: give your Macbook Air finally its wings! (Read: a new SSD by OWC)

The Problem: Macbook Air (late 2010) with only 64GB

When I bought my Macbook Air in late 2010, I thought I would use it as a portable typewriter, hence would not need a big hard drive (or rather, solid state drive). I went for the 64gb model, and with Dropbox and its select sync function (more on that soon in a separate post) the limited space seemed sufficient.

However, the more archival images I took, the more I wanted to have them at hand, and my Devonthink database for my dissertation grew, as well. Outsourcing the data heavy items to USB drives increasingly annoyed (and worried me), since they were not included in my timemachine backup for one, and made them generally easy to lose and slow to use. And despite my efforts to herd my gigabites, the message “your startup disk is almost full” kept popping up too often.

The Solution: OWC Aura Pro SSD 240gb

The genius people from The nifty mini drive found a solution for people with a 13″ MBA by popping an additional drive flush into the sd card slot – alas, the 11″ model does not have such a slot, so I was trodding the internet for different solutions, settling on replacing my built-in SSD with a new model.

The firm OWC seemed, after some research, to be the only one to offer post-purchase SSD upgrades for the macbooks… And, friendly enough, they offer a whole kit including all the tools and a case for the then-old SSD, covering the whole process. I settled for the 240gb, mostly due to pricing issues (the largest on offer is 480, but with paying about 1 Euro per gb I tried to be reasonable). They ship internationally, but after some trouble with German customs (yes, hey do check everything) I ordered from Olano GmBH (also the apfelklinik in Hamburg sells OWC parts in Germanay).

Make sure if you order from a different site than OWC directly that you are getting a) the right drive for your model and b) the kit and not just the drive (or vice versa). OWC offers a 3 year warranty on its drives, make sure you get that wherever you buy it.

You will also need (depending on your Mac OS version): for 10.6 your original installation drive for the OS X, and for everything after Lion a bootable partition or online backup.

The Process: screw it open (not up)

Needless to say, before you start any unscrewing, even unpacking, make sure you have made a safe backup from everything! If possible, I would advice to go double. Just in case. I made a time machine back up, plus I have most of my things on dropbox, and synced to a second Mac (on a different continent right now, but for the worst case scenario good enough).

After watching the video by OWC the prep work seems simple enough; I did a bit more research on the problem of static charge while working on the inside of my baby. I read some things about recommending manipulating a cable and working plugged in, but switched off… I would, however, advise NOT to tamper with any electronics and only work unplugged. Other pages said it is enough to touch the chassis of the mac before starting (to level static charge between you and the computer), and to try not to touch the connectors of the harddrive, or generally, as little as possible inside the computer. Oh, and not sit on a carpet, nervously shuffling your feet, or pet your cat while you unscrew your computer….

Don’t unpack all the new goodies just yet: the new SSD is getting its beauty rest in an anti-static pouch; don’t pull it out until you are ready.

The mechanics of the process are fairly straightforward: turn your mac on its back (use a dishcloth or so to buffer it) and with the pentalope screwdriver (provided by OWC) you unscrew all 12 screws that hold the backside of the laptop. Try to get your thumb under the now loose backside and lift it evenly. Mine was a bit stuck at first, but it is generally easy to get off with a bit of wiggling.

If the batteries (the black stuff) is now on the bottom, the SSD is a bit to your right, just above the batteries. Easy to find. It is fixed by one torx screw (screwdriver again provided by OWC), and after losening that (and not dropping it into the bowels of the laptop, as I did) you just pull the SSD out of its slot. It was very tight in my case, so try to touch it only at the sides (static charge and all), and get leverage by holding on to the chassis. But should be no problem. Put the old one aside.

Now: time to unpack the new drive. Just cut open the plastic pouch (don’t cut into the drive), and slide it out, Again, try to touch the sides rather than groping full on. The drive has stickers on it on both sides, leave them, otherwise you vd the warranty! When you look at the connector, there is a shorter and a longer part, which makes it also clear which direction the drive should be pushed into the slot. There is also a little patch on the side facing up, i guess that is as distance-holder to the chassis (I read somewhere that the OWC drive had a slightly different geometry or thickness than the Apple built-in one, hence used to be touching something and potentially overheating – maybe it is to prevent that).

Fasten the screw, and close the lid again. Fasten the 12 screws, and turn your baby around. Done! That was it with the actual mechanical work on your laptop!

Now take the included case for the old SSD, remove the top part, and slide in your SSD (same thing as you just did in your laptop, but now screws for fixing it required). Close the lid with the two screws: done! You now have a bootable USB 3 harddrive.

And now comes the nerve-wracking part:

The Installation: something old, something new, …

Plug in your laptop, and insert the thumb drive with the original Mac OSX. (The next steps are for Mac OS 10.6, so if you are ahead of me there, check your instructions here).

Power up your mac, and it will automatically start from the thumb drive and launch the installer. Do what it tells you, and then start Disk Utility to format your new drive. Choose in disk utility the tab “Erase”, select your new OWC drive on the left, give it a name and choose as format “Mac journaled (Extended)”. Then hit “erase”. This should only take a few seconds, and your new drive should be Mac OS ready. (I started up the laptop directly from my newly encased old SSD, and went to disk utility from there, and then installed from thumbdrive. Works just as well).

Now you’ll be taken back to the installer, and you can move on installing happily for now.

Once you are done with mac os, it will ask you if you want to migrate data, with several options where the data might come from: choose “from a time machine backup)”, plug your drive in, and wait until the migration assistant finds the drive and the right back up. Select the harddrive that you just formatted and named as installation destination in the next step, and pour yourself a glass of wine (do NOT put it next to your computer, just sayin’). This will take a while, depending on your data masses. I had 60gb to migrate, and it took 40 mins or so.

After time machine migrated everything to the new SSD (and I mean Everything: data, programs, settings etc) you will be asked to restart your computer. Everything should now look the same way that the old one did.

Applications, Clouds and other troubles

If some of the program symbols in the dock a crossed out, don’t fret. First, download the update package for the Mac OS (since you installed the original, it will most likely be outdated) and install it. That will fix some of the program symbols. With the ones still looking crossed out you can do two things: either just launch them, and see if they fix themselves, or, if not, move them out of the dock, and move them back in from the “Applications” folder.

Mail: I have a ton of mails, so it took Mail a while to import them all. And then, at first, ALL my princeton mails were missing. Some adrenalin got released, but upon closing and restarting the app, they reappeared.

Google Drive: whichever cloud services you use, you will be asked to reconnect to your account. with Google Drive there seems to be a MAJOR problem in that upon relinking, google will first ask you to search for your folder, and when you point it to it (by clicking n the error message under the drive symbol in your menu bar), will tell you that “this is not your original Google drive folder” EVEN THOUGH IT TOTALLY IS. In my case that was not so bad, because I don’t have much on the Drive, but this can make you seriously upset if you have to redownload several gigs of data.

Dropbox: I am, as you know, an avid fan of Dropbox and cannot imagine digital life without it. On my Air I had select sync set up in order to save disk space, hence, of course, time machine also only migrated those folders that had been previously synced onto the laptop. Now I was asked by Dropbox to re-link my account, and suddenly panicked: what if Dropbox now thought that the few folders on my laptop were the NEW folders and would sync AWAY all the other folders (read: delete)?! Though I do have backups of everything, that would be truly terrible, so I emailed support before linking anything. I am still waiting for a conclusive response, so am, at the moment, working locally (in my dropbox folder, but offline), and will update you once that is solved! [UPDATE: after some emails with their support, Dropbox convinced me that it is safe to log into my account on my new/old Air; I did, and was asked whether I would like to “keep my old settings (including select sync)” and I happily answered YES. So far all looks good – the indexing of the files takes a while with a fairly full Dropbox – but the settings under select sync do indeed look like my old ones, and as far as I can tell when logging into, none of my folders are gone. Fingers crossed!]

I will also add links to all the mentions in the text, and update as I go, but for now: have fun!

And: how AMAZING is the feeling of having TRIPLE DIGIT FREE SPACE on your Macbook Air?


More Links to this topic: (here they show a 13″ late 2010 model)

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  1. Posted January 17, 2014 at 12:07 am | Permalink

    Ana María, Molly, Evangelos and friends: here you go.

  2. Posted January 17, 2014 at 12:14 am | Permalink

    And they worked happily ever after!

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