How to Recover Data from a Macbook Air: Different Cases Covered

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recover macbook air data

MacBook Air data recovery is simple enough if everything works as intended. But what if your MacBook won’t boot? Or your drive is severely damaged? Or worse – what if your MacBook Air is totally dead?

There are ways around all of those problems… But knowing the correct method to recover your MacBook Air in your specific situation will make things a whole lot easier. In this article, we teach you how to restore your MacBook Air data no matter its condition. Read on.

What Storage Options Are There on a Macbook Air

If you have a Macbook Air, chances are it has a factory-installed SSD, although earlier versions had the more traditional HDD. Each has its own pros and cons, but the key difference in relation to MacBook Air recovery lies in how it behaves when you delete files.

Let me explain.

When you delete a file on a MacBook Air hard drive, it doesn’t immediately get erased. Instead, the hard drive “earmarks” the data as “free space” that can be used by new data. Before new data gets written to that space, we can still retrieve the old data.

On the other hand, SSD uses the TRIM command, a tool that optimizes data deletion. When it is enabled, macOS commands your SSD to erase the file as soon as you delete it. If you don’t act fast, chances at successful recovery diminishes.

This is why it’s considered easier to recover a MacBook Air hard drive than it is an SSD.

TRIM command is enabled by default on factory-installed SSDs. If you want to disable this command, launch the Terminal app (Finder > Applications > Utilities), then type the following command hit return:

sudo trimforce disable

Below is a table of MacBook Air models along with their storage type and TRIM support:

Model Storage Type Has TRIM?
MacBook Air M2 (2022) SSD Yes
MacBook Air M1 (2020) SSD Yes
MacBook Air Retina (2020) SSD Yes
MacBook Air Retina (2019) SSD Yes
MacBook Air Retina (2018) SSD Yes
MacBook Air (2017) SSD Yes
MacBook Air 7.2 (2015) SSD Yes
MacBook Air 7.1 (2015) SSD Yes
MacBook Air 6.2 (2014) SSD Yes
MacBook Air 6.1 (2014) SSD Yes
MacBook Air 6.2 (2013) SSD Yes
MacBook Air 6.1 (2013) SSD Yes
MacBook Air 5.2 (2012) SSD Yes
MacBook Air 5.1 (2012) SSD Yes
MacBook Air 4.2 (2011) SSD Yes
MacBook Air 4.1 (2011) SSD Yes
MacBook Air 3.2 (2010) SSD Yes
MacBook Air 3.1 (2010) SSD Yes
MacBook Air 2 (2009) HDD or SSD Yes

How to Recover Data From a MacBook Air

Depending on the state of your device, there are different ways to recover data from a MacBook Air. Below, we provide you with methods to recover data from unbootable, severely damaged, and even dead MacBook Air devices.

If your MacBook Air is totally fine and you just deleted your files by mistake, we have a method for that too. Read on.

1. Recover Deleted Files Using Data Recovery Software

Data recovery software is a powerful tool that lets users extract data directly from the file system, during the window where your old data has been earmarked to be overwritten but not yet erased.

There are a number of data recovery software to choose from online, but we’ll be using Disk Drill for this article. It’s highly effective and super easy to use, even for beginners – we also used Disk Drill to recover data from a MacBook Pro in another article. Here’s how to use it to recover deleted files from your MacBook Air:

Step 1. Download and install Disk Drill into your MacBook Air.

Step 2. Launch Disk Drill (Finder > Applications).
Disk Drill icon in Finder

Step 3. On the Disk Drill window, select your system drive – it should be labeled as “Apple SSD” or something similar. Then, click “Search for lost data”
Disk Drill system drive selection window

Step 4. Once the scan is completed, click “Review found items” to preview the recoverable files.
Disk Drill scanning screen

Step 5. Use the search bar in the top-right corner of the screen to look for your file by its name or extension.
Disk Drill scan results window

Step 6. Click on the eye button beside the file name to preview the file. The file name may have changed during the scanning process.
Disk Drill preview window

Step 7. Tick the checkbox next to the name of the recoverable file before clicking “Recover”. Alternatively, you can click “Recover All”
Recover button in Disk Drill scan results window

Step 8. You will be asked to choose the destination folder for your recovered file/s. This folder must be located in a different drive to avoid overwriting any existing data.
Option to choose destination folder in Disk Drill dialogue box

Disk Drill Basic for Mac does not offer free data recovery, but you can preview as many files as you want. This is super useful for (1) confirming that your files are salvageable and (2) identifying the files you want to restore – there are cases where data recovery software are unable to retrieve exact file names.

2. Recover Data From Unbootable MacBook Air Using Disk Drill

If your MacBook Air refuses to boot, you can instead boot into macOS from an external USB. On that “portable” copy of macOS, we can then download and install Disk Drill and use it to scan your internal drive.

It takes a bit of preparation to install macOS onto a USB, but don’t worry – we go through every single step below (with screenshots):

Step 1. Plug in your external storage device to a working MacBook. Ensure that you have enough space to save your macOS and your backup.

Step 2. Go to Disk Utility (Finder > Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility)Disk Drill icon in Finder

Step 3. Click the sidebar button on the top right corner of the Disk Utility window, then click “Show All Devices.”
Show All Device highlighted in Disk Utility window

Step 4. On the left sidebar, click on the external drive. Then, click “Erase”.Erase button in Disk Utility window

Step 5. In the dialogue box, you will be asked to name your drive. Also make sure you select AFPS for the format and GUID Partition for the scheme for compatibility with macOs.Options to change name, format, and scheme in Disk Utility dialogue box

Step 6. From the App Store, download macOS Monterey installer (or your preferred version), but don’t install it yet.MacOS Monterey in App Store

Step 7. Once downloaded, go to Finder > Applications. Then, double-click on the installer icon to run it.MacOS Monterey installer in Finder

Step 8. Click “Continue.”Continue button in MacOS installation window

Step 9. Click “Agree” once in the main window, and again in the confirmation dialogue.Agree button in MacOS installation window

Step 10. Click “Show All Disks…”Agree button in MacOS installation window

Step 11. Select the “Monterey USB” disk we formatted earlier, then click “Continue.”Show All Disks button in MacOS installation window

Step 12. Select your profile, then click “Install.”Destination folder selection in MacOS installation window

Step 13. Once the installation is complete, shut down your Mac and hold the power button until you see “Loading startup options.” You can then choose which drive to boot from.

This instruction applies to M1 and M2 Macs. For intel-based Mac, you can hold the Option (⌥) or Alt key immediately after turning on your laptop.

Step 14. Once booted, download and install Disk Drill (Finder > Applications). Follow the standard procedure set in the preceding section to scan and save a backup of your data. Note that Disk Drill will recognize your internal drive as an external drive in this case.

3. Recover Data From Severely Damaged MacBook Air Hard Drive or SSD

DIY data recovery methods have their own limitations. If your hard drive or SSD is physically damaged, we advise that you send it to a professional data recovery center for damage and cost assessment. Their specialists have the right tools and experience to help you in extreme data loss situations.

4. Recover Data From a Dead MacBook Air

The only surefire way to recover data from a dead MacBook Air is by retrieving this data from a Time Machine backup. This method requires you to have set up Time Machine beforehand and to have access to another Mac (Windows computers don’t support HFS+ and APFS formats).

If you connect your Time Machine backup drive to another Mac, you should be able to access its contents through Finder. Here’s how:

Step 1. Connect your Time Machine backup drive to a working Mac.

Step 2. Open Finder, then select your Time Machine backup drive on the left sidebar.

Step 3. Double-click “Backups.backupdb”, then double-click the folder labeled with your Mac’s name.

Step 4. In this location, you’ll see folders labeled with their respecive backup dates. You can browse these folders to locate the files you need.