How to replace the SSD in a Macbook Air mid-2012 on a Sunday in Tokyo

When I came home from the wonderful day at Fuji-Q Highland my Macbook Air wouldn’t wake up. It had turned itself off, which I don’t think has happened before. So I turned it on, heard the chime, and got the login screen. I logged on, and a couple of seconds later the screen went black. The computer had turned itself off.

This was not what I wanted! Of course, you never want your computer to die. But I think any day would have been better than this one. It was a Saturday night. On the following Thursday my internship at a magazine in Tokyo will begin, and they expect me to bring my own macbook. And until that internship begins, I’m part of a funny work triangle between Stockholm, Kiev and Tokyo redesigning a website and earning some easy to spend cash. But even without the money angle I’m counted on by those people and need to design stuff comes Monday.

So what do you do? I spent the hour before sleep searching for causes (using my smartphone) and possible ways to make the macbook work again. I’ve done it so many times before, with older Macs, sigh… Then I went to bed. This morning I continued the research before going down to the Apple store in Shibuya, which was pretty crowded. I got an appointment at their genius bar for two hours later and went to my favorite café chain Doutor to have coffee and shrimp sandwich (610 yen = 4,60 eur = 39,90 sek; the yen is so weak and the crown so strong now!) and read the roadbike manga Yowamushi Pedal (which will premiere as an anime on October 8th).

When I came to my appointment the Apple “doctor” ran tests on my poor macbook for about half an hour. He tapped in to the terminal (which I had already done, though not knowing really what I did), it looked like this:

My Macbook Air being examined at the Genius Bar at Apple Store Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan

He concluded that the possible reason for death was that the SSD (hard drive) had broke. The way the computer stopped working is typical of when an SSD breaks, as opposed to an HDD, which can die more slowly, so that you can prepare for the final breakdown.

From the computer’s serial number he could easily see that I had bought it on September 22nd, 2012. Meaning I was just a week beyond the warranty! But he said they could replace the SSD free of charge despite the warranty period was over. Nice payoff for all the money that I and other people put into Apple by buying their expensive products! But:

  • It would take 2 weeks.
  • I would lose all my data.
  • I would not get the old SSD back.

Well, what choices did I have? I accepted, wrote down my address on the paper and signed it. Left the store. And didn’t feel good at all. What would I do for the internship? How should I handle the webdesign work tomorrow? Should I rent a computer? I searched for the possibility using my smartphone, but most laptop rentals only offered slow pc laptops with Microsoft Office. I remembered how the doctor had said that the 2 weeks was because they had to order the SSD, the actual replacement would only take 2 days. He also said that I could go to some small computer repair company in Akihabara, if I preferred that. But at the time it sounded good with the free replacement. And what if it wasn’t the SSD? The doctor hadn’t been sure. By leaving my Macbook to Apple, not only would I get it repaired free of charge, but I would also get it repaired no matter what the issue was. I would get back a fresh Macbook Air. But I would get it back in two f-cking weeks! I decided this wouldn’t do. After calling a friend to get his opinion I went back into the Apple Store, spoke to some other attendant (there’s like 50 of them there), waited for a while and then got my computer back.

Back on the street. Called a repair company. Took the Yamanote line to Nishishinjuku and found the store. It was closed (they had told me so on the phone, but I easily misunderstand in Japanese). I called it again. They confirmed again that they usually replaced SSDs in Macbook Airs overnight or even the same day. But did they have those drives in stock or did they, just like Apple themselves, have to order it first? He couldn’t tell, since he wasn’t at the office.

Did some more research on my smartphone. What model, how to replace, etc. Apparently the SSDs in Macbook Air are very special, which comes as no surprise since the computer model is so thin. You can’t just buy any SSD. Especially not a 2,5 inch drive. I decided to go to Akihabara, the electronics mecca. But on the way I asked at Bic Camera at Shinjuku station, but they couldn’t help me either.

Akihabara my darling! So funny to go there to actually shop for some rare electronics instead of the usual loli. Here’s Akihabara, apparently they close the big road for cars on Sundays nowadays:

Akihabara, Tokyo

I had done some research while on the Chuo line – what would I do without my LTE internet – and after asking at Sofmap (who couldn’t help me) sought out the little electronics store Akihaban on the 5th floor of a building full of manga and game stores. I looked around a bit before asking at the counter. Macbook, sure. Which year? 2012? Ok, do you want 512 or 240 gigabytes? I went for the smaller one. (The original, now dead SSD was 128 GB, I don’t need more since I don’t store things in my computers, I just work with them and store elsewhere.) Do you need screwdrivers? Yes, please! I was so happy when I left the store, it’s the blue and yellow sign here (sorry for the bad focus, the doors to the elevator had just opened and five young men were waiting for me to take the picture):

Akihaban store, Akihabara, Tokyo

But would it work? I called my friend again and went back to Shibuya and started screwing, following the instructions from Ifixit. It was a piece of cake. Just screw off the bottom, detach the power (battery) cord, unscrew the old SSD and insert the new one. (Much easier than when I inserted an SSD in my old 2007 24-inch Imac – pictures here.) And then the same procedure backwards and then turn it on. A question mark showed that there was no drive to start from, quite logically.










I thought I would have to go to the Apple Store again tomorrow morning to have them give me OS X, but apparently there has been some development since I last replaced a hard drive. Macbook Air automatically downloaded and installed the latest version of Mountain Lion from Apple (“automatic recovery”):



It worked! Next step: Downloading trial versions of the applications I use from Adobe. Apparently you can’t buy their programs anymore. They are now “subscriptions”. It’s very modern, I must say.

Then my friend gave me a well deserved beer and we went out with some other friends to a sushi restaurant nearby.

And now I’m sitting here at home, writing this on the same computer that little more than 24 hours earlier had died on me. Monday morning I will be back at work again (the coworking space in Gotanda). Yes, I lost all content. But so what, I hadn’t really anything important on it anyway! And luckily enough (did I sense this would happen or was I just smart?), I had uploaded the latest important documents in a blank email to myself this Friday. So I can really pick up on Monday where I left last Friday.

What I like most about this story is that I used Akihabara exactly for what it’s supposed to be used for: To buy hard to find electronic parts in small, specialised shops. I’ll go back for the loli later. ( ̄▽ ̄)ノ_彡☆

10 thoughts on “How to replace the SSD in a Macbook Air mid-2012 on a Sunday in Tokyo

    1. I don’t know, but all my stuff was encrypted with Filevault, I don’t know how proprietary that is or if one can just decrypt from any device by using the passphrase. From the terminal one could actually change directories and see the files in them, which puzzled the Apple guy a bit. Meaning there might still be some hope. But then there’s the special MBA connector too, so it’s not easy to find a device to run it from. In any case I’ll keep the drive.

  1. Thanks Karl! I bought a replacement SSD at Akihaban this weekend. The store is easy to find and near to the station.

      1. I just ran out of disk space. 😉 But really, thanks! Akihabara offers an overwhelming selection of electronics stores. In Akibakan, I was done in 5 minutes. Your post saved me a lot of time.

        1. Good it wasn’t anything more serious. In hindsight I wish I had taken the 512 GB one, but it would have been too big a risk, considering I wasn’t 100 percent sure what had gone wrong in my computer, the SSD or something else.

          At least I can confirm that my replacement drive still works well, almost a year later.

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