For years, the MacBook Air was seen as one of the hallmarks of the computer industry. Though not a cheap laptop by any means, the MacBook Air was positioned as a lightweight, affordable entry into Apple’s macOS ecosystem, and the design of the Air was copied by other computer manufacturers for years. Though the industry has finally escaped the wedge design of the Air, it no doubt influenced dozens of laptop designs over the 2010s, and ushered in the era of battery-efficient thin and light Ultrabooks we still see today. And even though the Air has since been replaced in Apple’s ecosystem of products by both the 12″ MacBook and the redesigned MacBook Pro released last year, millions of Air owners still rely on their trusty Apple laptop to write, read, and browse the web daily.
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But with the Air’s age, you might notice your laptop has been running slow lately, especially when considering the amount of updates and apps installed on your computer. With macOS High Sierra shipping this fall, it’s a great time to get your computer back up to speed for the newest features. And while High Sierra seems to be a fairly minor update to the macOS we’ve come to know and love, it’s still chock full of new enhancements and system changes that will keep your Air running for years to come.
If you’ve never factory reset your MacBook Air before, it’s a fairly simple process that makes it easy to wipe your data off the machine and fix any problems, bugs, or slow down you may be experiencing on your laptop, making the computer feel just as fast as the day you brought it home from the Apple Store. Here’s how to backup and reset your MacBook Air.
Backing Up Your Data with Time Machine
Apple makes it really easy to backup your data on your MacBook Air, even if most people probably don’t have a backup ready to go. If that sounds like you, no worries—so long as you have access to your MacBook Air, you’ll be able to use Time Machine and an external hard drive to create a backup of your files, documents, and other important information. If you don’t have a dedicated external hard drive, it’s a great time to pick one up. There are plenty of 1 and 2 terabyte drives on Amazon under $100, and if you’re looking for a recommendation, check out this Western Digital MyPassport drive, or this Seagate Backup Plus drive, both of which are designed to work with macOS directly out of the box.
Once you have your drive plugged into your computer and you’re ready to go, open up Time Machine on your device. This is accessible either through Launchpad or by tapping on the Apple menu icon, selecting System Preferences, and clicking on the Time Machine option. This will display some general information about Time Machine, including when and what it backs up. If you don’t plan on keeping your hard drive connected at all times to your MacBook Air, you can also do one-time backups using the same program.
Use your mouse to click on “Select Backup Disk,” and select your hard drive from the list of devices connected to your computer. Tap on “Use Disk,” and your hard drive will be saved as a Time Machine backup drive. Once your Time Machine has been set, macOS does backups every twenty-four hours to ensure your drive is always refreshed. Of course, since we’re planning on completely resetting the laptop, you can also choose to force a backup at any time by heading into the Time Machine menu and tapping “Back Up Now.” You can choose what Time Machine backs up by hitting the Options menu at the bottom of Time Machine inside System Preferences. Depending on the amount of files on your device, your first backup might take a while. If you’re looking to do a fresh install of macOS, without transferring over every application installed on your computer, head into your options menu to control what is and isn’t backed up.
Once you’ve finished your backup, make sure to safely eject your drive from your MacBook Air before unplugging the drive.
Factory Resetting Your MacBook Air
Once you’ve backed up your user data to either Time Machine or the backup client of your choice, it’s time to factory reset your device. This can help you solve all sorts of bugs and problems with your device, including issues with slowdown and freezing applications, and generally increase the speed of your device back to its original state. It’s also a necessary application if you’re looking to sell your MacBook Air, in order to remove any and all user data left on the device.
MacOS has a built-in recovery disk utility built to help you erase and reinstall the operating system to the device, which allows you to redownload the operating system from inside the boot display on your Mac. Alternatively, you can also choose to download macOS Sierra (or High Sierra, when it’s released later this year) from the Mac App Store on your device, creating a bootable USB drive from the download file. You can find instructions for that here. For now, we’ll be looking at how to reset your MacBook Air from the boot screen on your device. Please note that this does require an active internet connection.
To begin, start by hitting the Apple icon in the top-left corner of your MacBook’s display. Choose “Restart” from the drop-down menu and be ready to press some keys on your keyboard. When the Apple logo reappears on your MacBook Air’s display, press and hold down Command and R on your keyboard. Don’t let go of these keys until you see the macOS Utilities window appear on your display. Once this window appears, you can release the Command and R keys on your keyboard. Here, you’ll see several different options for selection, as shown above. If you want to reinstall macOS over your current file system, click “Reinstall macOS.” To factory reset your device, however, click “Disk Utility” at the bottom of the list.
Once Disk Utility has opened on your display, you’ll see a list of your computer’s installed disks on the left side of the Disk Utility panel. You’ll want to locate your MacBook Air’s startup disk; for most users, it’s the main and only disk listed. Select your startup disk from the list, then click the “Erase” button inside Disk Utility. Select the “Format” pop-up window, choose Mac OS Extended, give your reformatted disk a name, then confirm your erasure. You’ll now see a display begin to erase your MacBook Air’s drive and data. When this process is complete, your disk is successfully wiped—but you aren’t done yet. Your computer no longer has an installed operating system on it, meaning no matter whether you’re selling your laptop or simply reformatting the drive to improve the speed or performance of your computer, you’ll still have to reinstall your operating system.
Reinstalling MacOS On Your MacBook Air
So, with your newly-blank MacBook Air, start by quitting out of Disk Utility by selecting “Disk Utility,” then “Quit.” This will return you back to the macOS Utilities display we used earlier. This time, select “Reinstall macOS” from this list. Typically, this will keep your current files and other data and simply reinstall the operating system on top of the program. But since your files, apps, and other user data has already been deleted from your system, this option will simply install a new version of macOS on your hard drive.
This will open the macOS Installer, which walks you through reinstalling the newest version of macOS directly onto your MacBook Air. As of writing, the newest version of macOS is Sierra 10.12.6, though macOS High Sierra 10.13 is coming later this fall. The installer will ask you to choose the disk you’d like to install your system on (again, most MacBook Airs have only one storage drive built into their systems, unless you’ve personally added another, so select the default drive). When you tap Install, you may be asked to allow some permissions, after which your computer will begin to download macOS. This download will take some time, especially if you’re on a slower internet connection, so be patient and let your computer do its thing. It’s not a terrible idea to step away for a few hours, lest you simply stand over your MacBook Air watching the download bar slowly creep up every few minutes.
When macOS has finished downloading, you may need to start the installation manually by accepting the install on your computer. Once the laptop has finished installing your operating system, it should automatically restart and boot into the macOS Welcome screen, prompting you to start a new account on the system and to setup your system. If you’re planning on selling your laptop, you can more or less power off the device here—your MacBook Air has been returned to its factory state, and is safe to be shipped off without having to worry about your data being in danger.
Restoring a Time Machine Backup
When you’ve finished setting up your reformatted Mac, you may want to restore the files you saved onto your external hard drive using a Time Machine backup. Time Machine makes it easy to restore from any of the saved backups on your device, and this includes performing this action on newly-formatted computers. Here’s how to do it.
Start by opening up Time Machine, either from your dock or, if you’ve removed the shortcut from your dock, by clicking the Apple icon in the menu bar on the top of your display, selecting “System Preferences,” and selecting “Time Machine.” With your external hard drive plugged into your MacBook Air, you can use Time Machine to browse through your files to find what you want to restore. The timeline on the right side of your MacBook’s display will show the date and time of each backup, allowing you to slide through the list and find the correct or most recent backup to restore from. As you select file(s), you can hit the restore button to restore them back to your device. To preview a file, select a specific file and tap on the spacebar key on your keyboard.
Alternatively, if you want to restore everything from your Time Machine backup, you can use the same macOS recovery display we used earlier in this guide to format and reinstall macOS. Simply hit “Restart” on your device in the Apple logo, wait for your machine to power back on, and hold Command and R on your keyboard when the Apple icon appears on your display. When you’re back in the macOS Utilities display, select “Restore from Disk Utility,” and follow the instructions on screen to restore your backed up apps and files to your computer.
Restoring your MacBook Air to its former glory is surprisingly easy when you know how to properly use macOS’s recovery mode and Utilities menu. While this isn’t something you’ll want to do regularly, it is rather surprising how a simple reinstall can make your aging Mac feel brand new again. Apple’s MacBook Air is one of those few legendary laptops that will be remembered for its affordability, premium design, all-day battery, and the ubiquity of the machine at colleges, coffee shops, and everything in between. If you’re still rocking an Air, keeping it clean and clear every couple years will make your laptop run with improved speed and performance.
Just make sure you backup your files before you reinstall the operating system.