MacBook Air 480 GB SSD Upgrade

What you need to know about Apple's MBA SSDs

The Apple MacBook Air is a seriously good laptop and is almost the perfect back up or travel computer for a photographer. In 2011 Apple finally refreshed their MacBook Air lineup with new SSDs using new form factor Called mSATA SSDs (also known as blade SSDs). Although Apple does offer two choices on the 13 inch MacBook Air, 128 and 256 GB (on the 11 inch you can choose 64 or 128 GB), this is one area where the MBA disappoints.

The OWC 480 GB 6G SSD upgrade installed on my 13 inch Macbook air with 1.8GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i7.

Apple uses both Toshiba SSDs and Samsung SSDs on the current 2011 MBA. This doesn't sound like anything to worry and really its not but you should know that the Samsung SSDs are much faster than the Toshiba units and there is no way of knowing which one you get before booting up the machine for the first time. This just takes a second. Go to the Apple menu > About this mac > more info > System Report.. > Serial - ATA.

You can tell what SSD type you have by looking at the model string in a System Report from your machine. The SM prefix indicates a Samsung drive while the TS indicates Toshiba. A Samsung 256 GB drive will show up as - Apple SSD SM256C.

The problem is that the performance difference between the two Apple 3G drives is pretty significant, the Samsung is about 2X or more faster than the Toshiba SSD, see the Anantech's MBA review -

Upgrading the MBA with the 480 GB SSD

The OWC 480 GB 6G SSD upgrade and 256 GB Apple Samsung 3G SSD side by side. The pink square is a foam thermal pad.

The OWC 6G SSDs are about 3x faster than the Apple Samsung factory SSDs. The 480 GB SSD upgrade costs right around $1000. The Apple 256 GB upgrade for the 13 inch MBA is $300 or $2.34 per GB, the OWC upgrade is $2.14 per GB and 3X faster and you get to keep the factory SSD for back up or other tasks. This is a great value for someone like me that needs the additional HDD space.

OWC's Mercury Aura Pro Express 6G SSD should guarantee a significant boost in speed and with the 480 GB model, almost twice the disk space as Apple's largest SSD. There are no other SSDs suitable for 2010-2011 MBAs, unless you find an original Apple unit on the used parts market.

Installation notes

Because OS X Lion is preinstalled on the removable Apple factory SSD, you cannot simply remove that drive and replace it with a new SSD. There are two methods to prepare using a new SSD, I used two USB HDDs to back up and restore the OS. Remember to format the new SSD with the disk utility before you restore the OS. For more details -

OWC Mercury Aura OS X Lion installation instructions

Installing the OWC SSD

The installation is quick and easy only taking about 15 minutes or so. All the necessary tools for the job such as Torx and Pentalobe drivers are supplied by OWC with the SSD purchase. Make sure you use a proper container or at least a strip of tape sticky side up to hold onto the tiny Pentalobe screws that secure the MBA bottom cover.

OWC Mercury Aura Pro Express installation videos

Important links

Information on OWC MacBook Air SSD upgrades -

OWC SSD review at -

All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2012 Robert OToole. All rights reserved.

MacBook Air Display Check

The MacBook Air display panel lottery

The Apple MacBook Air is seriously one of,  if not the best laptop I have ever owned. I think it makes the perfect back up or travel computer for a photographer. The top of the line MBA offers you a 1.8 GHz Intel Core i7 processor (2677M), 4 GB of DDR3 SDRAM, and a 256 GB SSD (that can be upgraded to 480GB), all packed in a razor thin 2.96 pound aluminum case with a 13.3" widescreen TFT LED backlit active-matrix "glossy" display with 1440x900 px resolution.

If you already own one or are looking at buying one you should be aware of a few issues. Over the next weeks I will be talking about display and SSD issues and upgrading a MBA with a new 480GB OWC Mercury Aura Pro Express 6G Solid State Drive to replace the puny factory 256GB SSD.

The first issue you need to look at is the display panel type Macs are supplied with. There is one to avoid and another that is preferred so this is important if you are looking into buying one in the future. Apple sources computer parts from different vendors with display panels (and SSD drives).  Every MBA model, 11 & 13-inch, ship with one of two available panels. One is made by LG and the other by Samsung.

How to ID a MacBook Air display panel

To find out what panel a certain MBA is equipped with you simply open terminal and run a string. Terminal is an Apple OS X operating system app that allows the user to  interact with the computer through a command line interface.

To run the Terminal application go to Applications/Utilities/Terminal

Type or better yet cut and past this string into Terminal:

ioreg -lw0 | grep IODisplayEDID | sed "/[^<]*</s///" | xxd -p -r | strings -6

This is a screen capture of what I see in terminal after I execute the string on my MBA.  The long code: LTH133BT01A03 is the panel model number.

There are two prefix possibilities, LP means that the panel is made by LG Philips or the LT prefix that tells you that it is a Samsung panel. My understanding is that the LG panels are not as good as the Samsung panels. The LG panel is dimmer, have a smaller gamut and more narrow viewing angle. You can read more on this including test results on the always superb Anandtech site and another link below.

For the record I have a Mid 2011 A1369 model 13 inch MBA with 1.8GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i7.

Important links

For more info and display testing see the links below.

Anandtech's original MBA review:

Anandtech's MBA update:

Notebook review on the display issue:

All content (including text, design, photos, layout, and graphics) are copyright © 2012 Robert OToole. All rights reserved.