MacBook Air Storage
September 20, 2023 11:39 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking of purchasing an early 2014 MacBook Air for cheap, but want to be able to upgrade the hardware. Questions inside...

This Apple support page informs me that the processor, storage, and RAM are all configurable to bigger and better things. The storage aspect is kind of confusing to me. I see that it's configurable to 512GB PCIe-based flash storage. Does this mean that I am not able to drop in a brand new SSD 1TB drive in its place?

Additionally, how easy is it to find a 1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 3.3GHz) with 4MB shared L3 cache processor?

Lastly, I wonder if the RAM is swappable or if it's soldered in? Even if it's soldered in, I should be able to find new modules that I can solder in place of the old modules, but it would be much easier if I can just swap out the RAM like you can with everything else.
posted by NoMich to Computers & Internet (10 answers total)
That page is talking about things that were configurable at the time of ordering, not after the fact. You definitely can't upgrade the processor in that. The RAM is soldered. You might be able to upgrade the SSD. Check to see if they offer anything that would work.

Unless this is something you're doing just for fun, you'd be far better off spicing a little more money and buying one that's configured how you want. At ten years old, there's could be a huge difference in price.
posted by jonathanhughes at 11:53 AM on September 20, 2023 [4 favorites]

The SSD is indeed replaceable but MacBook Airs from that period use a proprietary connector.
posted by JoeZydeco at 12:01 PM on September 20, 2023

MacBook Airs are not really intended to be upgraded, Apple engineered every millimeter out of the laptop and did so by soldering everything together and having proprietary connectors. I think you will be disappointed if you try to do this.
posted by A Blue Moon at 12:16 PM on September 20, 2023 [2 favorites]

The SSD is fairly easily upgraded using an inexpensive adapter.

As for the processor or the memory? Those are surface-soldered parts, and unless you're Louis Rossmann, good luck with that. That's not at all an insubstantial job, even for those versed in soldering.

The M1 or later Macbook Airs are a massive leap from the pre-2020 Airs. If you're trying to get to modern performance by upgrading a 2014, it's not going to happen. An 8GB 2020 M1 Air (largely available for <$700 these days) will compute circles around even the highest-end 2014.
posted by eschatfische at 12:21 PM on September 20, 2023 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The reason for this possible purchase is that it is really cheap and I want to make it a Linux machine. Why? Because, again, it's dirt cheap (seller says that everything works great, nothing wrong with the screen, keyboard, and trackpad. He just isn't using it anymore and wants $50 in his pocket) and I like doing goofy shit like this.

The link to is great. I can at least give it more storage and then tackle the soldered-in RAM in the future. According to the Youtbe videos that I watched, it looks like a fun project to do.
posted by NoMich at 12:22 PM on September 20, 2023

FWIW, in similar era machines, I've gotten good results with TimeTec SSDs. They aren't the fastest things around compared to other normal SSDs but a '14 Air can't move data that quickly over their dumb proprietary connector anyway. (And they're a lot cheaper than the OWC drives - which are good drives, but it's sort of an unnecessary premium for a machine that old and especially for one you're not using as a daily driver.) You do need to make sure the drive is compatible with your specific machine - the linked one should work for a 2014 Air but double-check.

Also: you might be able to find a faster logic board for it (say, from another Air with a smashed screen or something). And the batteries aren't too hard to come by either. I did most of this with a 11" Air of similar vintage and it's now a pretty great machine for light use/tinkering/etc. (and the Timetec SSD in it is way faster than the one it shipped with).
posted by mrg at 12:35 PM on September 20, 2023 [1 favorite]

I second Macsales /OWC - I have had great results from them over the years. Sometimes I like getting the kits with tools to avoid the frustration of starting the project and then realizing that there is some Apple proprietary screwdriver tip that I don't have.

Fun fact - I'm typing this on a 2014 Mac Mini with an upgraded Macsales/OWC SSD stick drive. It's great.

My only caution is they push their faster drives on you - and like mrg said, they will happily sell you a drive that reads/writes 4x faster that your 2014 computer can process. Sure - if you abandon this project and put that drive in one of their fancy external cases, it will be really fast, but you are likely paying for speed you will never see.

As for the i7 vs i5 - I have used many 2014 era macs. I found the difference between the processors almost indistinguishable for most use. I was never frustrated by the processor speed. I did find the GPU's limiting - but you will not have any other options for the Air.

Soldered on RAM is not upgradable - at this point you would be looking for an all new logic board (unless you have a microscope and SMD soldering tools).

I think that opening the machine up will be a pain and frustrating and linux might not work and you'll end up with a fleet of semi-busted MacBooks that you are cannibalizing for parts - which honestly sounds awesome and a great way to spend $100 (OK $150, $250, just one more eBay purchase for this one with a busted screen but... probably $450 when done). The fit, finish and keyboard/screen quality of these computers is so good and can easily last 10 years, and how cool would it be to open one up and run Linux of your choice, free from warnings about MacOS being permanently out of date.
posted by sol at 1:08 PM on September 20, 2023

Response by poster: and how cool would it be to open one up and run Linux of your choice, free from warnings about MacOS being permanently out of date.

I blame this video.
posted by NoMich at 1:17 PM on September 20, 2023

I recently had success with the ifixit guide to replace the battery in my 2015 macbook air. Here's their guide for replacing the hard drive.
posted by no regrets, coyote at 3:03 PM on September 20, 2023

Good news! I am typing to you right now on a 2014 Macbook Air that I put a 1 TB SSD in.

If you can get that Macbook Air for $50, go for it. The SSD and adapter will cost you more. (That's the same link eschatfische used above. If you have a Micro Center nearby they'll have one, too.) It is trivially easy to physically replace the SSD.

Couple notes: The 2014 Macbook Air's screen is glaringly bright compared to retina screens in newer computers. And the new SSD may drain the laptop battery more quickly. (It certainly does with mine.)
posted by greenland at 10:59 PM on September 20, 2023

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