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Adventures in troubleshooting: Replacing a MacBook Air's faulty SSD

Dan Moren | Feb. 13, 2014
The first time my MacBook Air crashed on wake, I didn't think much of it.

The first time my MacBook Air crashed on wake, I didn't think much of it.

But after about the fourth or fifth time within a couple weeks, I started getting concerned. Not only did it seem to crash a goodly fraction of the time I woke it up (sometimes with a black screen, sometimes with a spinning beachball, other times with a frozen login box), but on first restart it started giving me the dreaded folder with a blinking question mark.

Not good.

I tried Apple's suggestions for combatting that issue: resetting the NVRAM — where your Mac stores many of its settings when it's off — and the System Management Controller (SMC), but no solution ever seemed to take. It might offer a day or two's worth of respite, but just as often it was right back to the same old problem. I repaired my disk — and my disk permissions — and ran the meager diagnostics accessible via the Apple Hardware Test. Everything claimed the system was working fine.

Until I decided to try booting in Internet Recovery mode and running Disk Utility. To my surprise, the 120GB solid state drive in my Air didn't even show up.

Double not good.

And so, seeking wisdom and understanding beyond my years, I took the Air into a local Genius Bar. The fellow behind the workbench nodded sagely and ran a few tests, then deemed it a software problem. Dubious though I was, I let him wipe the computer  and do a clean install of Mavericks. (Having prepared for the eventuality, I'd backed up using both Time Machine and Shirt Pocket's SuperDuper; you can never have too many backups.) That, he declared, should fix the problem.

But when I got home and woke the computer, I was confronted by the return of the freeze and its friend, the question mark. (Which, come to think of it, sounds like quite the comic book team-up.)

My sneaking suspicion — that the solid-state drive had gone bad — was supported by conversations with a knowledgeable coterie of Mac experts. So, back to the Genius Bar I went — this time to a different Genius in a different store. This gentleman found nothing in the initial tests, and thus suggested I grab a beverage while he ran some more in-depth diagnostics — upon my return, he confirmed my fears: the solid-state drive was basically toast.

Alas, as the Air was no longer under Apple Care, the Genius said that the company would replace the drive for a few hundred dollars, but it would take several days to turn it around. When I asked if I might be able to replace it myself — I believe I described myself as "reasonably handy" — he concurred.


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