How to use NVMe drives to upgrade your Mac’s SSD

If you are not able to pay $ 1000 or more for a new machine, you can take a few more years off with a storage upgrade for some older MacBook Air or MacBook Pro models. Here’s how to do it.

This year, schools are offering in-person or virtual options. No matter what option your school is offering, the best new computer can be a computer that is new-to-you.

Last year, we bought the 2015 MacBook Air with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. The problem is that 128 GB is not enough to meet the requirements of the school. They want 256GB or more.

Upgrade macbook air

First of all, you need to assemble a computer and parts. We found the 2015 MacBook Air and the 2017 MacBook Air on Craigslist.

Both years are essentially the same computer, with a speed bump in CPU MHz. We could also find a MacBook Pro, but they cost more and weigh more.

  • 2015 or newer MacBook Air
  • Bootable macOS USB drive to restore MacOS
  • Sintech NVMe Adapter
  • Crucial P1 1TB Drive
  • P5 Pentobob Screwdriver
  • T5 Torex Screwdriver

Supported model

The Mac you upgrade does not have to be a MacBook Air. It can also be a MacBook Pro or Mac Mini.

In general, any 2013 to 2017 MacBook Air, 2013 to 2015 MacBook Pro, and 2014 Mac Mini can be upgraded with good results. How can you tell if your computer is compatible with the upgrade? When you click About this Mac, System Report, the Hardware Overview section contains a model identifier number that you can use to determine compatibility.

Macbook Pro

  • MacBook Pro (15 inch Retina Display Mid 2015) Model ID: MacBookPro 11,5,5
  • MacBook Pro (15 inch Retina Display Mid 2015) Model ID: MacBookPro 11,4
  • MacBook Pro (13 inch Retina Display Early 2015) Model ID: MacBookPro 12,1
  • MacBook Pro (15 inch Retina Display 2014) Model ID: MacBookPro 11,3,3
  • MacBook Pro (15 inch Retina Display 2014) Model ID: MacBookPro 11,2
  • MacBook Pro (13 inch Retina Display 2014) Model ID: MacBookPro 11,1
  • MacBook Pro (15 inch Retina Display 2013) Model ID: MacBookPro 11,3
  • MacBook Pro (15 inch Retina Display 2013) Model ID: MacBookPro 11,2
  • MacBook Pro (13-inch Retina Display 2013) Model ID: MacBookPro 11,1

Macbook Air

  • MacBook Air (13-inch Mid 2017) Model ID: MacBookAir 7,2
  • MacBook Air (13-inch early 2015) Model ID: MacBookAir 7,2
  • MacBook Air (11 inch early 2015) Model ID: MacBook Air 7,1
  • MacBook Air (13 inch early 2014) Model ID: MacBookAir 6,2
  • MacBook Air (11 inch early 2014) Model ID: MacBook Air 6,1
  • MacBook Air (13-inch Mid 2013) Model ID: MacBookAir 6,2
  • MacBook Air (11 inch Mid 2013) Model ID: MacBook Air 6,1

Mac mini

  • Mac Mini (late 2014) Model ID: Macmini7,1

Problem with standby

When we write, “with good results,” is a warning. 2013-2014 machines treat hibernation compared to 2015 and later machines.

Apple has different power management modes to increase battery life. One of them can cause a problem for users who upgrade to an NVMe drive in a 2013-2014 machine.

Some of these machines will cause the kernel to panic when attempting to go into standby mode. Standby is where the computer records a snapshot of the flash drive of the current state of your computer, usually after about 3 hours. The Mac can remain on charge for 30 days on standby without plugging in.

The solution is to prevent the computer from going into standby. Here’s how to do it.

  • Open terminal app
  • type Pudo pmset -a standby 0
  • Press return
  • Exit terminal

The computer will still hibernate or sleep, without saving the current state of the computer for the flash drive. You’ll still have battery-life, though probably not without 30-day-charge of battery life.

2015 and later machines do not require any such modification.

Supported os

You can run a series of macOS using these NVMe drives:

  • High sierra
  • Mojave
  • Catalina
  • Big note (maybe)

For our home students, we are going with Mojave. Each app they are going to use will work fine with Mojave, but your mileage may vary.

At some point in the future, we’ll probably upgrade the machines to Big Sur, but not until it’s out for some point release.

Supported drive

There is a range of drives available that will work, but unless the Mac has a controller that can take advantage of faster speeds, there is no benefit to spending more on a faster drive.

While the WD Black SN750 can transfer speeds at a rated 3400 MB / s, it is not useful if the Mac cannot support those speeds.

Samsung Drive has a history of working after a firmware update has been applied. The problem with firmware updates is that they require a Windows machine to be installed. If you are preparing a computer for a student, it may be outside your comfort level.

Crucial P1 drives are affordable (for 1TB $ 104) where every other terabyte drive had more money.

Our advice: buy a drive that is within budget and will meet the requirements of your Macintosh and your school recommendations.

What you can do for maximum things:

We considered what machines we had that were capable and maximized based on that.

For example, you can get 4TB drives. It will be expensive. In practice, we aimed for 1TB or less.

For the MacBook Air, the maximum speed of the controller is between 700 and 1500 MB / s. The Retina 15 “Mid 2015 MacBook Pro supports 4x lane PCIe 3.0 speeds, and can support 3000 MB / s.

Upgraded macbook air

For our MacBook Air, the Crucy P1 makes sense. If we were upgrading the Retina MacBook Pro 15 from 2015, then WD Black might make more sense.

Even though we opted for the slow crucial drive, it reached 1476 MB / s read and 1323 MB / s write speeds on the MacBook Air. On our stock 2015 MacBook Pro, we only get 529 MB / s read, 482 MB / s write speeds.

Original Drive in 2014 MacBook Pro

It is worth noting that just because a drive is rated at a high speed, it is possible to achieve less than that speed. For example, we tried a WD Black drive on a computer running Windows, and it reached 2900 MB / s. On macOS on the same computer, it reached 2400 MB / s.

There are a lot of variables, and while we are doing something that is not officially supported, it is still an impressive speed increase on the stock drive.

Okay, you convinced me. How did it happen?

Turn off the computer Use the Pentalobe P5 to remove the lower cover of the MacBook. Not all screws are the same length, and it is important to return each hole to the same hole that came out of it.

Put the screw in order

You can move the cardboard and press the screw into the cardboard to resemble the hole in the screw. Or you can put strips of double-sided tape and arrange them on it. Whatever you do, make sure the screws go into the holes they are in when you are done.

The cover will come off easily. On the MacBook Air, we are working in a corner or side area. There is a latch in the middle of the edges of the machine, where you will feel the cover pop free and can lift.

Delete original drive

Locate SSD In the center of the MacBook Air, is the Torx screw that holds it down. Remove it and remove the drive, install it on one side.

Take the Syntec NGFF to the MTech NVME adapter, and replace it with the original drive. Then, take a new NVMe drive and insert it into the adapter. When everything is aligned, the notch at the end of the NVMe drive will line up with the post that came out of the Torx screw. You can use it again or use the Phillips screw that comes with the adapter.

Insert adapter

Be sure to align the adapter and drive correctly to the standoff going into the toff screw. This may require some care to insert adapters and drive them fully into their slots.

Place the computer cover back, taking care to replace the screws in the holes they came out of. Typically on a Mac, the longest screws move near the hinge area, or near the center of that hinge edge.

Install new drives and adapters

Insert the USB macOS drive you created earlier. Power while holding down the Option key. When the list of drives appears, select the USB drive. The computer will boot for recovery.

Open the disk utility to format a new SSD drive as a GUID partition scheme with the MacOS Journal File System. Once done, leave the disk utility and install MacOS.

Uninstall macOS

The result will be a stock configuration, a faster computer than more storage, and the drive will appear in the system report under NVMExpress.

System report showing success

Squeeze some life out of those storage-constrained MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models

We bought the 2015 MacBook Air for $ 280 and the 2017 MacBook Air for $ 420. Craigslist is subject to availability and heggling, and the desire to meet strangers wearing a mask on your face.

Second-hand Macs have a lot of life left in them, and upgrading one from a few years ago is an inexpensive way to meet or exceed school-wide computing requirements. The computer will be faster, with more storage on budget.


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