MacBook Air 11-inch Tips

Getting the most out of this thing

picture of a macbook air

Whether you're a long-time owner or you just got your hands on one of these, rest assured – with a little patience, these machines can still be useful for basic computing. Here I will share some of my tips from when I used one of these as my everyday computer. Many of the performance tips also apply to older Macs.

1. OS Choice

Figuring out what version of Mac OS to install? This depends on the model year you have:

Model Year Maximum supported OS
2010-2011 10.13 High Sierra
2012 10.15 Catalina
2013-2014 11 Big Sur
2015 12 Monterey

12 Monterey: Performance is tolerable, reliability is decent and software compatibility is excellent. Receives security updates.

11 Big Sur: Similar to Monterey, slightly worse performance.

10.15 Catalina: An interesting middle ground. Its software compatibility is stronger than High Sierra though in my experience the performance and reliability are mediocre.

10.13 High Sierra: If you don't mind using a third-party browser and losing some software compatibility, High Sierra is still a solid choice – it's fast and reliable.

Anything older than 10.12 Sierra is severely outdated and not worth it as a daily driver for most people.

It is possible to install a newer version of Mac OS than is supported on some models (look up "Dosdude patchers" and "OpenCore" on Google), though there may be performance and/or stability problems so I would leave this up to the Mac aficionados.

Installing Windows 10 is an option on these computers (look up "Boot Camp Windows 10" on Google), and is especially advantageous on the earlier model years as the versions of Mac OS supported on these computers get more out of date each year. Just don't expect great performance with less than 4 GB of RAM. Apple officially only supports Windows 7/8.1 on some models, but you can boot into a Windows 10 installer no problem.

I have been experimenting with Linux on a 2015 model. Ubuntu and Zorin OS are not much quicker or lighter than Mac OS but Lubuntu is very speedy with 4 GB of RAM. I may write another article on my troubleshooting process to get the Wi-Fi to work. Unless you have a strong predilection for open source software and are willing to put in the effort to make everything work, I recommend installing Mac OS with OpenCore or a Dosdude patcher instead. It's much more likely that everything will work out of the box with a simple patch.

2. UI Tweaks (Mac OS)

Okay, so you've got a tiny screen. Eleven inches. 1366 x 768. That's 1,049,088 pixels – make the most out of each one. Remove any icons you don't use from your Dock. Now hide it, or put it on the side. While you're at it, go through your menu bar and remove any items you don't use. Just hold down command and drag them off. Consider hiding the whole menu bar (I'm not that crazy). Decrease your icon size (command+J) in the Finder. I set mine to 48 x 48. This will allow you to fit more icons in your windows and desktop. These changes will make the screen feel just a little less claustrophobic.

3. Performance Tips

Time to get thrifty with your memory. Most of these MacBooks have 4 GB of RAM or less. When your computer runs out of physical RAM it will start using part of your hard disk as memory (a swap file), which is much slower. If you're on a newer version of Mac OS, use Safari. It uses less RAM and will maximize your battery life. Get into the habit of quitting applications when you're done with them. Don't keep endless tabs and windows open in your browser. Bookmark 'em and close 'em. Turn off FileVault – you're using an old MacBook Air, chances are you don't have any juicy top-secret documents. These computers already run warm so keep your work area cool and well-ventilated. As tempting as it seems, don't put the computer on your bed. The heat will build up inside the computer and cause the CPU to slow down. Lastly, restart your computer at least twice a week. Restarting helps keep the swap file usage down and run everything more smoothly.

4. Hardware/Upgrades

These computers are easy to open up – there are 10 P5 pentalobe screws on the bottom panel. From there the battery, SSD, and trackpad are easily swappable. Use compressed air and an old toothbrush to clean out the dust inside.

If your battery doesn't last at least 4 hours, consider replacing it. Speaking from experience, do not purchase the cheapest battery you can find. Best case scenario: they fail after a year. Worst case scenario: they blow up inside the computer. Trust me, don't cheap out on batteries. Do your research and always read the reviews. I have heard good things about Other World Computing's batteries. Different models take different batteries so double check your computer's year and model number.

The SSD is upgradable. An NVME SSD will improve performance, but a M.2 NVME SSD adapter is required. This is probably not worth it for most people unless you absolutely require more disk space. If you want to change it because you think it's worn out, keep in mind SSD wear and tear is often exaggerated. When I retired my MacBook after six years of heavy use, the SSD had reached about 25% of its lifespan according to smartmontools. Chances are you won't be using one of these for 18 more years so don't bother.

The CPU and RAM are soldered to the board. Replacing these components requires microsoldering and is not feasible as a DIY for most people. If you must replace these parts, it is easier to replace the entire logic board, although decent ones often go for as much as the computer itself, if not more. Upgrade services are not much cheaper. Again, save yourself the hassle and put the money towards a newer computer.

Last updated: 28 Jan 2024

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