Images of MacBooks Air and MacBooks Pro and external storage drive.

Upgrading My Laptop From A 2014 Macbook Air to…?

I share a 5-year-old MacBook Air with my partner. We need more storage than this laptop offered when we bought it. However, Apple no longer makes our 11-inch model. So we had to consider something else. In this post, I explain what we considered—from new drives to brand new computers—and why we chose to replace our SSD rather than upgrade to Apple’s latest and greatest laptop computer offerings.

1. 2014 Macbook Air, 11-inch

My partner and I worked for Apple during portions of our Master’s degree coursework. So we got great discounts on Apple products. In 2014, we bought a top specifications 11-inch Macbook Air for about $625 USD (full retail $1649 USD): Dual Core i7 1.7GHz, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD.

2. Options: 13-inch 2017 Pro or 2018 Air

I like almost everything about our current computer, but I need more storage (i.e., 1TB or larger) and I would benefit from the following.

  1. Larger display (i.e., smaller bezels)
  2. Higher speed (e.g., better CPU, graphics, storage read/write speeds)
  3. Similar or better battery life (i.e., 9+ hours)

And while I wanted to stick with an Apple product (for now), mechanical function keys serve my workflows better than Apple’s newfangled Touch Bar.

These criteria leave me with two options:

You can compare these laptops to our laptop at everymac.com or below.

3. 2017 Macbook Pro

Picture of a 2017 MacBook Pro

The 2017 MacBook Pro offered more of what I wanted for less money. I actually bought one, open-box, from BestBuy.com for $1519.99 (a discount of about $700). I’ll list the pros and cons of this laptop below.

Pros

  • Display. It offers better screen real estate larger, brightness, resolution, color accuracy, and viewing angles than the TN panel in my other computer.
  • Storage. Newer laptops like this offer more and faster storage. The capacity is 200% and the speeds are 300% of my prior laptop.
  • Speed. The storage is not the only part of the new computer that is faster. The RAM is 133% and the CPU is 150% the speed of my prior laptop..
  • Butterfly Keyboard. Contrary to popular coverage of complaints about Apple’s latest laptop keyboards, most users seem to be fans of Apple’s new butterfly keyboard (N = 25,000+). Admittedly, I use a thin, clear keyboard cover on all my keyboards to avoid common keyboard problems. What I like are its broader key-size and decreased key travel, which makes targeting and pressing intended keys less effortful.

Cons

  • Battery life. I could not get anywhere near Apple’s estimated 10 hours of battery life. I tended to get around 5 or 6 hours at most, even when using the device lightly and at low screen brightness (e.g., 25% or lower).
  • Display issues. The 2016, 2017, and 2018 Macbooks Pro seem to have a design flaw that causes the inner display cable to wear out—a $600 repair that can now be covered by Apple’s special display service program within 4 years of purchase. We use computers for more than 4 years. So until we need a new computer, we’d rather not buy a computer with a known issue that is not covered for the duration of our typical use.
  • Keyboard issues. Given how many people have had issues with Apple’s 1st, 2nd, and even 3rd generation butterfly keyboard design, Apple have offered another special service program covering laptops with these keyboards for 4 years after purchase. Again, we use computers for more than 4 years. So until we need a new computer, we’d rather not buy a new computer with a known hardware issue that will not be covered for the duration of our typical use.
  • USB Type C. Apple’s latest computers have one type of port: USB Type C (with Thunderbolt 3). I was excited to transition to USB Type C and Thunderbolt 3. However, trying it was not as enjoyable as I had hoped. While I liked the ability to—in principle—have one power adapter and/or one cord to charge all of my devices, few devices have USB Type C connections. E.g., even the latest cars, hotels, airports, iPhones, etc. use USB Type A or lightning connections. So by the time that I can truly adopt USB Type C for all of my devices, technology will also have advanced a great deal. And by then, USB-C only laptops, smartphones, etc. will be more affordable.
  • Cost. My partner and I often remind ourselves that, “the cheapest [X] is the [X] we already own.” This makes it difficult for us to justify replacing something that we already own—which saves us lots of money. In this case, we cannot justify the new laptop, even when we saved over 30%.

Decision: I returned the 2017 MacBook Pro. Even if there were no cons, I would struggle to justify the purchase. With the cons, the decision to return the laptop was a no-brainer.

4. Solution: New SSD from OWC

A picture of a MacBook Air with a new SSD and an external SSD case.

So what did I do about the need for more storage in my laptop? I simply bought an after-market 1TB SSD for our 2014 Macbook Air: the Aura Pro X2 from OWC. It was only about $350 when I purchased and it took about 5 minutes to install the hard-drive (and the normal time to install macOS onto the drive)—instruction video below.

The new SSD is great! Here’s what I like about the OWC kit:

  • It comes with all the tools to replace the old drive.
  • It comes with an external enclosure for the old drive—so I can still use it.
  • It’s 200% as fast as the original SSD from Apple.

Conclusion

My computer is 5 years old and I need more storage. I tried the most affordable laptop that would provide more storage and the latest technology. However, the latest technology was not worth the cost for my needs. So I just upgraded the storage on my existing laptop. I’m glad to have spent only $350 instead of $1500+.

As usual, you may have been following this journey via Twitter, where I post more often than I do on the blog. Same goes for my Facebook page.

Image credit: Wikipedia Commons and bfishadow, CC BY 2.0

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Nick Byrd

Nick is a cognitive scientist at Florida State University studying reasoning, wellbeing, and willpower. Check out his blog at byrdnick.com/blog