How to install Lion on a new MacBook Air SSD (updated)

How to install Lion on a new MacBook Air SSD (updated)

Summary: I ordered my MacBook Air with the 256GB SSD -- but that's not nearly enough primary storage for me. Here are two ways to install Lion on a new, blank SSD.

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I just took delivery of a 13-inch MacBook Air i7 which will become my primary machine (more on that later) -- but before I can migrate to my new iron, some planning is required.

Although I ordered my MacBook Air with 4GB of RAM and the 256 GB SSD (and won the Samsung lotto - woot!) that's not nearly enough primary storage for me. I'm going to upgrade to a 480GB SSD from OWC now that they've been confirmed to work in the Mid-2011 MacBook Air.

While saving up the $1400 (cough!) for the new SSD I got to thinking about how I'd actually install Lion onto a brand-new, blank SSD. Apple includes no recovery media with the new machines, instead relying on a recovery partition and Internet booting to bail you out should trouble arise.

I figured that I'd install the new SSD blade, then boot from the Internet and install Lion that way. As it turns out, there are actually two ways to install Lion on a new, blank SSD in the MacBook Air.

Method 1 Use Lion's Internet Recovery mode (via Apple knowledge base article #HT4718)

Note: If moving an OWC Aura Pro Express SSD used in a 2010 MacBook Air, using this method will completely erase the drive's data. Make sure you have a Time Machine backup or clone of the OWC Aura Pro Express SSD on an external drive.

Method 2 Use Lion's Recovery HD mode:

  1. Make SURE you have a Time Machine backup or clone of your data (from either the Apple factory stock flash drive or OWC Aura Pro Express SSD) on an external drive. We will refer to this drive as Drive #1.
  2. Boot to the recovery partition on the stock drive by holding down Command R during a restart or boot process.
  3. Use Disk Utility to do a restore on a separate external USB drive. DO NOT use the same external drive that was used for your Time Machine or clone backup. We will refer to this drive as Drive #2.
  4. Replace the MacBook Air's stock flash drive with the OWC Aura Pro Express SSD.
  5. Boot to the USB Drive #2's recovery partition.
  6. Use Disk Utility to do a restore to the OWC Aura Pro Express SSD.
  7. Restart or Boot to the OWC Aura Pro Express SSD.
  8. Run Apple Migration Assistant to clone your data from Drive #1.

Update: The third (and perhaps simplest) option is to clone your original SSD to an external USB drive, then clone it back to the new replacement SSD. I use SuperDuper ($28) for this but the free Carbon Copy Cloner also does the trick.
Are you going to upgrade the SSD in your MacBook Air?

Topics: Apple, Banking, Data Management, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

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32 comments
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  • Wouldn't it just be easier....

    to dump the install.dmg in a Lion download image to an 8GB USB thumbdrive and install from there?

    Quick question: Mac App Store. If you buy a Lion-equipped machine, do you get download rights to the Lion download image for other computers?
    Joe_Raby
    • RE: How to install Lion on a new MacBook Air SSD

      @Joe_Raby
      except the MBA 2011 come with Lion preinstalled.. you do not have any way to get the image for Lion unless you borrow it or pay for it on a Snow Leopard machine or something
      doh123
      • For the $30...

        @doh123

        ...I think I'd pay it if there was more than one Mac in the house. If not, I'd try and scrounge the recovery partition for the compressed installation image.
        Joe_Raby
      • RE: How to install Lion on a new MacBook Air SSD

        @doh123 Actually, just cloning your main partition will not transfer the Recovery partition to the external drive. Before restoring from the cloned par<a href="http://www.tran33m.com/vb/">t</a>ition, you should use internet recovery to install Lion on the new SSD volume. This should create the EFI, Recovery and MacIntosh HFS+ volu<a href="http://vb.maas1.com/">m</a>es on the SSD. I don't know of any other way to copy the Recovery partition, but I imagine there must be some command line tools that could accomplish this.
        alasiri
      • RE: How to install Lion on a new MacBook Air SSD

        @doh123 You can pay for it. I found it with 50$.
        <strong><a href="http://www.ofertareonline.ro/termopane-Bacau.html">Termopane Bacau</a></strong>
        termopane
    • RE: How to install Lion on a new MacBook Air SSD

      @Joe_Raby It's just like previous Macs that have come along with a new OS on disk (or flash drive) - that particular version of Mac OS will (or should) only install on that particular model of Mac.
      Champ_Kind
      • But Mac's don't come with install media anymore AFAIK

        @Champ_Kind

        I thought Apple announced that was the way Lion was being distributed on new Mac's, what with the lack of optical drives on new designs.

        Also, I looked at different reviews of the Recovery HD stuff. Apparantly there is no recovery image on the recovery partition. So is the entire recovery process just a scripted rebuild instead of having a clean, compressed image? That seems really stupid to me.
        Joe_Raby
      • RE: How to install Lion on a new MacBook Air SSD

        @Champ_Kind
        That's is not the case. I burned Lion to a DVD and installed Lion from that DVD on three separate Macs without a problem.
        Eleutherios
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  • Easiest solutions is actually............

    Get an external drive bay for your SSD.<br><br>Use the free carbon copy cloner (Just do a google search for it if you are not familiar with this software) <br><br>Copy your internal drive to the external drive.<br><br>Swap drives<br><br>Now you have an extra external drive as well that you can either keep as an emergency boot drive or format for more storage<br><br>Done
    ben.karr@...
    • Absolutely

      @ben.karr@...
      Carbon Copy Cloner for the win. I have been using CCC for 7 years or more and it is fantastic - bombich(dot)com
      use_what_works_4_U
  • Not sure I would waste so much on SSD?

    As a Macbook Air owner. I am not sure I would have spent so much on a SSD if I had to do it over.
    jscott418-22447200638980614791982928182376
  • OWD & Warranty

    >I?m going to upgrade to a 480GB SSD from OWC now that they?ve been confirmed to work in the Mid-2011 MacBook Air.

    But - did this void your MacBook Air warranty (or AppleCare)?
    jm92610
    • It does but ...

      @jm92610
      On prior Mac models if you are careful you could leave no trace behind. Then if you need warranty work you simply reinstall the OEM equipment. If the problem is with the SSD itself, OWC has even better warranty replacement service than Apple.
      use_what_works_4_U
  • RE: How to install Lion on a new MacBook Air SSD

    After reading your article, I went via link to the OWC ad for their SSD. How does 480 GB equate to 4 x 256 GB (even considering 480`=512 for large values of 480)?
    straehle@...
  • RE: How to install Lion on a new MacBook Air SSD

    I read somewhere that Apple will begin selling ($40) Lion OS on a (USB) stick w/in a month.
    pk de cville
    • It's more than that

      @pk de cville

      It's $70.

      So you're paying the requisite $30 for the download, and an additional $40 for an 8GB USB thumbdrive, which is way overpriced.
      Joe_Raby
      • RE: How to install Lion on a new MacBook Air SSD

        @Joe_Raby No, it's $69 for a thumbdrive that can be used multiple times, since Apple isn't preventing you from using it more than once.
        ssaha
  • RE: How to install Lion on a new MacBook Air SSD

    So badly written article. In Method 2, step 3, why don't you refer Time Machine or clone backup drive as Drive #1. And use Disk Utility to do a restore on a separate external USB drive, but restore from where?
    laman
  • Aren't the new MacBook Air's all FLASH memory?

    I thought the new Macbook Air's were all FLASH so no SSD? Did I miss something?
    Garrius