How To Make The Most Of Your New MacBook Air’s Solid State Drive… The Right Way



Now that Apple has released new MacBook Airs, you might be tempted to buy one of them (we recommend this one because of the blistering performance that an SSD provides. You should be: once you start computing on an SSD, you’ll never want to go back, and the MacBook Air is a wonderful introducing to the powers of solid state storage.

That said, if you’re used to have a 500GB or 1TB hard drive to play around with on your laptop, you might be worried that it’s hard to live in a small 64GB or even 128GB footprint.

Don’t sweat it. I’ve been using a 64GB MacBook Air as my main work machine for the last nine months, and I’ve found it very easy to live within that space, after having learned a few tricks. Here’s how to make the most of your MacBook Air’s SSD.

1. Start Fresh

When you first get your MacBook Air, you’ll be tempted to use Migration Assistant to migrate the data on your existing Mac to your new ultra-notebook. Don’t.

While with most new laptop purchases you usually get more hard drive space than you previously had, when you buy your Air, you’ll be taking a step back on storage space and trading up in performance.

If you start fresh on your MacBook Air, you won’t inherit all of your old systems’ space-hogging legacy cruft: apps you barely use, gigantic mailboxes, overflowing download folders and so on. Depending on how long you’ve been using OS X, you could have almost a decade worth of legacy files cluttering you your drive.

Do yourself a favor. Leave this stuff behind, and use a USB disk drive or external hard drive to transfer over only the stuff you really need.

2. Move Your Media Library / iTunes Library To An External USB Hard Drive

Music and video files take up the vast majority of most hard drives, and you simply don’t have a lot of room to play around with on your MacBook Air, so if you have a large media library of, say, greater than 10 gigabytes, the first step here is to make sure that you store these files on an external USB hard drive.

If you have a library of videos or music that isn’t attached to iTunes, just copy it to a USB hard drive. If you’re using iTunes, though, it’s a bit trickier: you’re going to have to tell iTunes to an external hard drive.

Here’s how you do it. On a fresh library of iTunes, make sure your USB hard drive is plugged in, and then do this:

1. In iTunes, go to File > Preferences.
2. Click on the Advanced tab.
3. Click ‘Change’ next to “iTunes Media Library” and select a new folder on your external hard drive where you want to save your iTunes Media Library.
4. Under Advanced again, make sure that “Copy files to your iTunes Media Library” is ticked.

Now, if you’ve got an existing iTunes library on another machine, copy your iTunes media folder to your external hard drive, plug that hard drive into your new MacBook Air, and drag it onto your MacBook Air’s iTunes icon. It should copy all of the media files you have to your external hard drive’s iTunes Media folder.

You’re all set. Now, whenever you want to listen to iTunes, just make sure your USB hard drive is plugged in before you open iTunes. If you forget when you buy new apps or download new songs, no problem: just make sure your USB hard drive is plugged in, relaunch iTunes and go to File > Library > Organize Library. Tick ‘Consolidate Library’ and click OK. Your iTunes database will be updated so all files are on the USB hard drive.

3. Turn Off Automatic iOS Device Backups

While we’re in iTunes, you should do something else to maximize storage space: turn off iOS Device Backups. These can choke up multiple gigabytes on your hard disk, and while it’s a useful feature, it’s not necessary: you can always backup manually as needed for right now, and when iOS 5 and iCloud land in September, backing your iPhone or iPad up locally will be moot.

Here’s how to turn off automatic backups.

1. Quit iTunes.
2. Open
3. Copy and paste this in, then hit return:

defaults write DeviceBackupsDisabled -bool true

4. Quit
5. Relaunch iTunes.

Now iTunes will stop automatically using your MacBook Air’s SSD to store old device backups. Just make sure that once a week or so, until iOS 5 is released, you plug in your iOS device, right click on it under ‘Devices’ under the sidebar, and click ‘Backup.’ When iOS 5 is released, iCloud should make backing your iOS device up locally moot for most people anyway.

Want to delete some of these old manual backups? They can be manually deleted under File > Preferences > Devices. Just highlight the old ones and click ‘Delete Backup’,

4. Stop Using A Dedicated Email Client & Switch To Webmail

You’d be absolutely shocked by how much of your MacBook Air’s SSD can soon be taken up by an email client like, Sparrow or Postbox. If you want to make your Air’s SSD count, you should switch to a webmail application and start doing all your email in your browser.

Personally, I use GMail, but there’s loads of fine options here, including MobileMe’s webmail client (soon to be iCloud Mail). Yahoo! Mail is another good one.

Pick a webmail service you like and stick with it. Your MacBook Air’s SSD will thank you for it. And hey, if you just can’t live without a dedicated client, pick Gmail and use Mailplane. It has a lot of the benefits of a dedicated email application without any of the local storage drawbacks for a pithy SSD.

5. Stream Instead Of Download

Downloading is your enemy on a small SSD, but luckily, the last couple of years have made actually downloading most content superfluous. There are a host of great subscription services that will stream almost anything you want.

For example, instead of buying iTunes tracks, why not subscribe to a streaming music service? At the time of writing, it’s pretty much a toss-up between Rdio and Spotify. Spotify’s got the better interface and feature set, while Rdio has the better indie selection. It’s up to you: we like both.

On the movie side of things, if you pay Netflix $9 a month, you can stream from their extensive collection of movies and television shows. The same goes for Hulu Plus. Want to watch something that’s not available on either Netflix or Hulu? Amazon Instant Video will let you rent or buy movies and stream them to your browser, no downloads required.

6. Use Hazel To Automatically Delete Old Downloads

Noodlesoft’s Hazel is a fantastic utility that will automatically scan your hard drive for files matching certain conditions, and move them to a location of your choosing.

For the MacBook Air, Hazel is a godsend, because it can keep an eye on your Downloads folder and automatically move to the Trash any file that hasn’t been added or opened in the last two weeks. You’re going to want to keep your Downloads folder trim on the MacBook Air.

To make things easier — a tutorial on using Hazel is out of the scope of this how-to — we’ve provided a rule that will automatically trash any files in the downloads folder that is older than two weeks and hasn’t been opened in the last two weeks. You can download it here. All you need to do is install Hazel, then double click the “Downloads.hazelrules” file you just downloaded. Voila!

7. Use AppCleaner to delete unwanted apps totally

Usually when you delete an unwanted app, OS X keeps around all of the old file settings in case you reinstall it later down the line. That’s a great feature for bigger hard drives, but it can soon cause your MacBook Air’s smaller SSD to wheeze and gasp.

That’s where App Cleaner comes in. It’s a small utility that allows you to thoroughly delete an app from your computer, including all of its settings and library files.

All you do is this: instead of deleting an app by just dragging it to the trash, open AppCleaner and instead drag the unwanted app on top of its icon. Once that’s done, click “Delete.” All the files from that app are now truly gone!

8. Keep Big Files On Your USB External Drive

This probably goes without saying, but if you do a lot of work in PhotoShop, iMovie or iPhoto, you should be storing all of these files on your external USB hard drive whenever possible. You may have to learn some tricks here to make sure everything plays nicely, but generally speaking, if you’re going to launch one of these programs, just make sure that your USB hard drive is plugged in before you do so and you’ll be fine.

9. Keep An Eye On Your MacBook Air’s SSD With OmniDiskSweeper [Experts Only]

Even after doing all of this, you may still want to make sure that no multiple gigabyte unnecessary files are falling through the cracks. What you’ll want to do is scan your MacBook Air’s SSD occasionally for big files and delete them accordingly.

Luckily, there’s a great free app for that, called OmniDiskSweeper. All you need to do is download it, install it, open it up and tell it to sweep your Macintosh HD occasionally. It’ll show you your MacBook Air SSD’s problem areas. You can then highlight problem files folders and delete them accordingly.

Warning: This is for experts only. Unless you know exactly what you’re deleting with OmniDiskSweeper, don’t use it. It’s too easy to delete important files if you start deleting multiple gig folders haphazardly.


Like I said, I’ve been using a 64GB MacBook Air for the last nine months. It was rough going at first: I was constantly running completely out of space on my SSD. Using the above tips and tools, though, I’ve mastered my MacBook Air, and I’m currently sitting at around 10GB free, without any headaches. Even if you’re used to having hundreds of gigs of space to play with, living on a small SSD is totally doable, and even a lot of fun… you just need to be a little more disciplined.

Got any other great tips for living with a small hard drive? Let us know in the comments.

  • dagamer34

    Everyone save yourself the trouble and get the 128GB version.

  • brownlee

    Even on the 128GB version, people who have gotten used to 320GB, 500GB and 1TB hard drives are going to feel the pinch. 

  • Iphoneication

    in my opinion i think people need to get used to the idea of cloud computing, it is the future. i have a macbook air 2009 model with 120 gig hd,,, i also own a 27 inch iMac with a terabyte of storage… but i use my air for almost daily use, i have my music and pictures loaded up on int,, and to be honest,, that is about 20gigs of space,, so i have about 98 gigs of hard drive left for what ever i want… i think people are just used to a big buffer,, most people don’t fill up there hard drives, i think its just the feeling of i have more to spare….

    i have also been using some of iCloud developer stuff, along with my air, iphone and iMac,,, and the space thing is gonna be irrelevant, and heres why…

    so my iMac has the brunt of my pictures,, and yes i use photo stream, those same photos are on my air,, but only in thumbnail form,, (much less space) my iphone gets backed up to the cloud as well… and syncs wirelessly with my iMac… see where I’m going with this,,, so the only real storage I’m using is my iMac…

    oh and a word on iTunes,, now that your entire library is in the cloud,, why do you need to carry them with you… i make a playlist that i might want to take with me,, and thats all i take on the go! 

    you can delete tracks and redownload at will,, ,so why have them all lumped up in your computer? it seems silly,, same for my iphone,, i can just make a playlist on my mac,, or even on my iphone,, and just download it,,,, then if i want a new one,, just delete and start over,, kinda like syncing but NOT,, if you get my drift…..

    lastly,, for an entry level person,, i would def go with 128 solid state drive,, spend the extra,,  you will be thankful later,, 64 gig is just to much of the bottom for my taste,,, but thats just me

  • Alex

    Or just get a 13″ MBP and install a 1TB HD yourself and stop being a poseur ..

  • martinberoiz

    These suggestions are ridiculous! You have to basically creep your day to day. I’m not willing to give up email clients and iTunes. I own an aluminum MacBook right now, but I think my next one will be a MBA, though. 

  • brownlee

    Uh, “poser?” The MacBook Air blows the 13-inch MacBook Pro out of the water by most common measures of performance, and by all measures of portability. AND it’s cheaper. Jeez.

  • Connor O’Neill

    When I got my Air (the late 2010 model), i also got a pogoplug, 2 1TB hard drives and a mifi! I store all my iTunes library, large files and stuff I might need (but don’t quite know whether or not I will) on the hard drives! Works like a charm!!!

  • Chris Brunner

    Check out this article Do the New Mini and MacBook Air Mean the End for Physical Media?:

  • SpongebobUK

    Um, iphoneication raises a very good point – when the iCloud arrives in a couple of months a 128GB drive is going to plenty good for most of us. It’s certainly making me rethink the need for a 256GB drive.


  • Alex

    13″Macbook Air

    13-inch : 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i74GB memory256GB flash storageIntel HD Graphics 3000$1,699.00

    13″ Macbook Pro

    13-inch: 2.7 GHz 2.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i74GB 1333MHz500GB 5400-rpmIntel HD Graphics 3000$1,499.00

    Which one is cheaper and has a faster processor and can be upgraded ?

    And if your not afraid to open up your Mac.

    1TB  Western  Digital HD  $109.-

    8GB RAM  Crucial Technologies upgrade $ 73.98 ( Apple charges $200.- for the same amount of RAM ) 

  • brownlee

    Like most people who have never used an SSD, you are really, really underestimating the performance benefits of using one. But to each their own.

  • brownlee

    Why would the iCloud change anything right now? It doesn’t stream: it’s a download service. You still need to have your media locally to play them.

  • Alex

    Is that you John Brownlee ?

    This reply was written on a computer with a 256 GB SSD ( self installed ) …   one of several I own.

  • David Rutan

    Alex, once you use a well performing SSD, you’ll realize how slow a traditional hard drive is and how much of the system’s performance is bogged down in disk activity.

    I’ve bought and maxed out several MBPros and I moved on completely to a MBAir.  After being shocked that it performed better than my maxed out pro I’ve decided that every computer I own from here on out will be equipped with an SSD drive.

    I even went out of my way to swap out the 1TB hd in my wife’s several year old iMac with a 256GB SSD and she absolutely adores it, it performs better than the Mac Pros she’s using at her work.

    Do yourself a favor and try out any SSD option you can manage and you’ll see what we’re raving about.  Until that time, it’s hard to understand why we are willing to give up space and $$ for them.

  • David Rutan

    It took a bit of work to transition to a MBAir, and choosing the 128GB drive was a requirement.

    I offloaded my media, photos, and large docs to an iMac at home. The iMac then shares all the content over our wireless network, so I have no trouble opening iTunes, watching movies, etc over the network.  I’ve decided to manage iPhoto directly on the iMac though, since networked photo libraries of the size I’m working with are too big.
    If I need to work on the iMac from somewhere else, I simply use Logmein or Screen Sharing.I also set up sharetool on it and the air so when I’m out and about I can network back into the system and stream content from iTunes home sharing.  Spotify has reduced the need to do that though.
    I still continue to use Apple Mail with all my different accounts as I wasn’t willing to use webmail.

    I also have part of my drive partitioned for boot camp with win 7 for work related stuff.
    I’ve always been a packrat, so the transition was hard, but I found it worked out fine once I identified what I REALLY needed to have on the Air.  Everything else can go on the iMac.

  • DJ Noxious

    Downloading Space Gremlin in the Mac App Store will show you exactly which place and folder is taking up the most hard drive space.  It’s only $5 and will do all the work for you.  It’s great since you don’t have to search thru folders and find out where the space is being taken up.

  • SpongebobUK


    I was looking at the $25/year charge for hosting my library through the iCloud for access to all of my OSX/iOS devices which would definitely unclog the drive. Just a thought.

  • Sheldon Stokes

    10 GB of media is TINY, that’s not even within sight of the bar that is a large media library.  I have Zero movies, just ripped CDs and photos and I’m at 400GB on my macbook pro, more on the iMac.  


  • Sheldon Stokes

    “Get a 17″ MBP and an SSD in what used to be the optical drive bay and stop being a poser”

    There, fixed that for you

  • Alex

    You mean the Optibay that’s in both my MBP’s  ?  

  • rbregt

    I am wondering if you are an Evernote user and how you have dealt with syncing their database. It might fill your SSD quickly if you are a power user.

  • brownlee

    Same here. That’s why I use external drives.

  • haolema2
  • huaqianba
  • mai duc chung

    The usual idea is that you would use NFC to set up the link between the two devices and then do an automatic hand over to a different protocol for doing the actual transfer of data – eg Bluetooth,iphone 5

  • Meghna

    If I become completely converted to MailPlane, is there any way to truly get rid of I’ve tried to uninstall it before because I’ve used other applications for mail (with more enterprise-related features), and a ghost of it always stayed behind and took unnecessary space up…

  • Rbn Zen

    Hi, how do i reverse step 3 > turn off automatic IOS device backups

    When I right click my iphone under devices, i do not see the option to click ‘backup’.  I think after doing step 3 this has occurred but i am not certain.

    Kindly assist. 

  • Siwamoto8

    I would say get the 256GB version and stop worrying. Want more speed? get the i7. Special order at the Apple Store.

  • Pretty Ponies

    Great pointers. Would you recommend deleting all copies of docs saved on the hard drive as well?

  • Danny Pang

    This article is a life saver for me as I am also struggling with a 64GB Macbook Air. Thanks!!

  • jazzybest

    I would never trust Gmail /google with my personal mail. Never..
    The whole idea of Mac is you get away from so called “free” software which usually is full of spyware and lack privacy.

  • jazzybest

    As for “Move Your Media Library / iTunes Library To An External USB Hard Drive” will slow it down and not worth the trouble. Itunes Cloud & Music match will resolve this. Once on Itunes Cloud you can listen to music on any device and save tons of disk space.

  • warnermonarch

    What is the app used at the beginning of this article to display the hard-drive contents?