Poor Man’s MacBook to MacBook Air Hack


Since I lug my late-2008, aluminum MacBook wherever I go, I decided to reduce its weight while I was making some upgrades.

First, I never carry my power adapter with the extension cord. Granted, the extension cord can be mighty useful in certain circumstances, I find that I don’t need it 90% of the time. Copper wire adds weight, so I decided to only carry the power brick with the removable wall adapter nub.

Second, there isn’t much that you can do without a milling machine and a lot of confidence to reduce the weight of a MacBook. However, you can pull out the optical drive to reduce the overall weight footprint of the MacBook, and in doing so, you make it more like an optical drive-less MacBook Air.

I had planned to go into the guts of my MacBook, because I needed to upgrade its hard drive and its memory. My photo and media collection necessitated a larger hard drive, so I had to replace the 120 GB SSD with a 500 GB Western Digital Scorpio HDD.

I originally purchased the maximum amount of RAM that the MacBook could hold: 4 GB PC3-8500 memory. However, the earlier maximum was dictated by Apple implementing software addressing limitations on the MacBook line, which they removed with Snow Leopard and Lion. I had read about folks installing 8 GB of DDR3 RAM in this MacBook model without any trouble, so I decided to do that, too, because it is an inexpensive upgrade that yields great rewards in system performance.

Replacing a hard drive in this MacBook is relatively painless. You open the battery cover, pull out the battery, remove a screw, pull the hard drive and unplug the SATA cable, using a torx driver you place the drive guides on the new hard drive, replace, plug in the SATA cable, put back the drive holding rail and screw, and replace the battery and cover.

Replacing the RAM in this MacBook is more involved, but it exposes the motherboard and optical drive. Due to going to the trouble to get to the RAM, I decided to add an additional mission to this project: remove the little used optical drive or Superdrive.

New Corsair memory:


To replace the RAM, you have to remove the screws holding the bottom plate with a jeweler’s Philips head screwdriver, pull up the plate, and then you will see everything exposed. The RAM is held in by plastic clamps that can be bent out of the way to release the SODIMMs. You pull the SODIMMs up about 45 degrees and then pull them out of the memory slots. To put in the new RAM, in this case Corsair PC3-8500 4 GB x 2, 8 GB paired memory kit, you slide the RAM in at about a 45 degree angle and push down until the SODIMM clicks into place. You do this for both SODIMMs.

Before removing the optical drive:


To remove the optical drive, you have to remove four tiny Philips head screws, with one of them being under the LCD panel’s data connector, which snakes around the case to the motherboard. To expose that last screw, you have to carefully remove the video feed cable from the motherboard. Remember to plug it back in after you pull the optical drive out. Also, the optical drive is plugged into the motherboard. It is easy to use your fingernail to pop the connector off at the motherboard, but you do have to be careful, because there is a component on the motherboard close to where you put your fingernail. You lift the optical drive from underneath the speaker assembly, and then slide it out all of the way. It is possible to accidentally disconnect the hard drive’s SATA connection to the motherboard when you do this, so remember to check all the connectors before you replace the cover. Also, keep your screws’ locations straight, because they are of different lengths.

After removing the optical drive:


The optical drive, or what Apple calls the Superdrive:


Now, I am less one optical drive, but I have significantly more storage space and application work space. The computer feels slightly lighter, too, which makes my back happy.

Published by Jason W. Ellis

I am an Associate Professor of English at the New York City College of Technology, CUNY whose teaching includes composition and technical communication, and research focuses on science fiction, neuroscience, and digital technology. Also, I direct the B.S. in Professional and Technical Writing Program and coordinate the City Tech Science Fiction Collection, which holds more than 600 linear feet of magazines, anthologies, novels, and research publications.