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How do you replace or upgrade the hard drive in the original, "Late 2008" and "Mid-2009" MacBook Air models? Can you swap the hard drive for an SSD?
Officially, the hard drive or SSD in the original, "Late 2008" and "Mid-2009" MacBook Air models is not designed to be replaced or upgraded by the end user. Given the particularly tight tolerances in the MacBook Air, this is not the best system for a new user to attempt to upgrade.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc.
However, for those with some experience replacing the hard drive in similar notebooks, the upgrade is quite feasible.
Storage Type & Details
As first documented by AnandTech, the original MacBook Air models -- the MacBook Air "Core 2 Duo" 1.6 13" (Original) and 1.8 13" (Original) -- have a 1.8-inch wide, 5 mm tall hard drive or SSD and "instead of a standard PATA connector Apple uses a 40-pin ZIF (Zero Insertion Force) connector" due to space constraints.
The "Late 2008" MacBook Air models -- the MacBook Air "Core 2 Duo" 1.6 13" (Late 2008) and 1.86 13" (Late 2008) as well as the "Mid-2009" models -- the 1.86 13" (Mid-2009) and 2.13 13" (Mid-2009) -- use a hard drive or SSD with the same physical dimensions as the original models, but have a standard Serial ATA connector.
If you're not sure if you have a original, "Late 2008" or "Mid-2009" MacBook Air, these models can be differentiated externally by Model Number (which is visible on the bottom in tiny text toward the hinge). Accordingly, EveryMac.com has hand documented that the original MacBook Air models are Model Number A1237 and the "Late 2008 and "Mid-2009" models -- which support the same type of storage -- are Model Number A1304. More recent MacBook Air models have different Model Numbers.
Storage Upgrade Instructions & Advice
Naturally, whether or not it is easy or difficult to upgrade the hard drive in these MacBook Air models depends on the skill of the user performing the upgrade, but as noted in the introduction of this Q&A, this is a moderately difficult upgrade as it requires one to remove the bottom plate of the notebook as well as the battery before it is possible to access the hard drive or SSD.
Site sponsor OWC doesn't consider this upgrade to be extremely easy, but considers it to be "straightforward" and provides step-by-step video instructions:
Note that for those with one of these MacBook Air models with a hard drive, not only is swapping it for an SSD quite possible, the performance improvement can be dramatic.
This video, also from OWC, shows the performance of the MacBook Air "Core 2 Duo" 1.86 13" (Mid-2009) -- upgraded with an OWC Mercury Aura Pro SSD -- compared to the MacBook Air "Core 2 Duo" 2.13 13" (Mid-2009) with a 120 GB hard drive:
Since these MacBook Air models were introduced, the price of SSDs has become far more affordable. Consequently, for those interested in increasing the performance and/or capacity of an original, "Late 2008" or "Mid-2009" MacBook Air, an SSD upgrade may be well worth the price whether self-installed or installed professionally. Professional installation is recommended.
OWC sells hard drives and SSDs compatible with both the original MacBook Air and the "Late 2008" and "Mid-2009" MacBook Air models. Mission Repair offers a MacBook Air hard drive or SSD upgrade service by mail with a 24 hour turnaround.
Also see: How do you replace or upgrade the storage in the "Late 2010" and "Mid-2011" MacBook Air models? Is it even possible?