M3 MacBook Air - Alternative to Apple’s crazy disk prices

I heard an interesting podcast regarding the Apple pricing funnel where they talk about how Apple gets you to upgrade certain options because you know that you can’t upgrade later.

I actually went out and bought a MacBook Air with 512 GB of storage and 16 GB of memory But I returned it because I don’t trust iCloud and sometimes have to work where I don’t have Wi-Fi. Getting a 2Tb drive would cost over $600

I was thinking of buying the MacBook Air with only 256 of storage but then installing the operating system on an external drive using a NVME GEN5 drive and the enclosure mentioned above .

I suspect the performance would be close to what I would get on an internal drive seeing how they are an older generation.

I could pair that enclosure with a 4 terabyte drive which would give me room to install the operating system and install parallels and have iCloud stored on the external drive. I would just run the system off of the external drive.

I wonder if down the road, I wanted to get the new notebook with the M5 chip if I could just unplug the external drive, plug it into the new system and then set it to boot externally would I be able to upgrade that easily?

Anyone see any flaws in my plan.

1 - I am not sure but I don’t think you can boot from an external drive on current MacOS versions. I seem to recall this was a big issue when Apple ended that option

2 - You have to really carefully look at the practicl achieved speed in such a configuration - I suspect it will be meaningfully lower than the bus transfer speed to an internal SSD

3 - You would need to be extremely careful to not disconnect the external drive while the computer is operating

4 - The point of a Mac Air is to have a really easily to transport portable device. You will lose that with this plan and always have the external SSD dangling

Perhaps an alternate plan woudl be to keep the OS on the main SSD and to use an external SSD only for large, generally non-essential files. Keep the OS and your key apps on the internal SSD so you can still use the computer if the external SSD gets disconnected.


It’s possible to select an external SSD as a boot drive:

That would be my approach too. You can use the laptop as a “standalone” device and only plug the external SSD when needed.
Cloud services, photo library (with Optimize Storage turned on), email, etc would work without an external drive.


Interesting - how do we reconcile that with this? What are the rules for when you can or cannot create a working bootable external drive?


I don’t know.
The support article I linked to is up to date and it’s from Apple. It is mentioned that the drive has to be connected to a specific USB-C port on the Mac for it to work.
The linked thread is 2 years old, so maybe something changed in the meantime.

I don’t think so. From the support article:

When the installer asks you to choose where to install, select your external storage device before continuing. (You might need to click Show All Disks first.) The installation will be specific to your Mac model, so you should not expect it to start up other Mac models.

I would do that but Parallels, Dropbox and iCloud need reside on the system Drive

What I haven’t seen mentioned in this thread is that if your internal SSD is damaged then you will not be able to boot from an external drive with an Apple Silicon Mac.


The biggest drawback is Apple forcing 3rd party cloud storage (in my case, DropBox) to only be allowed from the system drive.

I wonder if it is only a matter of time before someone sues them claiming the security rationale they give as an excuse is only a smokescreen while the real reason is to force buying grossly overpriced SSD internal storage from Apple.

I’m facing the same decision as I need as least 4TB and would prefer 8TB of SSD but the price is astronomical. (And 8TB pushes you from a MacBook Air to a Macbook Pro or from a Mac Mini to a Mac Studio even if you don’t anything else but more storage).

For many applications, the speed of an external SSD, of any kind, will be more than enough. But the inconvenience of a dongle’d drive and the limitations with DropBox, Gdrive, OneDrive, Parallels, etc. are a real issue.

I tried this (using an external SSD as a boot disk) for quite a while as a way of speeding up a fusion drive Intel iMac.

It worked with mixed results:

  • I could afford a much bigger system drive
  • it was slightly faster (nothing like as much of a speed increase as I had calculated)
  • there were regular “weird issues”
    • OS updates quite often gave problems: not rebooting properly or needing to be done twice. Once I had to reinstall the OS from scratch. I guess Apple just assumes that it’s all about the internal system drive
    • some software gave similar weirdness sometimes, especially anything more “systemy” like backup, audio or video
  • I became very concerned about the consequences of accidental disconnection or dismounting. All my macs have had a tendency to “unplug” drives for random reasons at random times and I wondered what would happen if it did that to the system drive.

In the end, I went back to the internal fusion drive. I just did not gain enough benefit for it to be worth it.

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I currently have a 1 TB 2020 MacBook Pro (M1). I store my photos — currently around 850 GB — on a 2 TB Samsung T7.

In an operational sense, this is perfectly fine. The T7 speed is more than enough, and it is super light to pack. I can even slip it into the same sleeve that I carry the MacBook in.

But… I still have to plug and unplug when I’m using it away from my desk. That is not particularly often, but I dislike quite a lot.

When I am travelling and I want to offload from my camera, I get out my laptop. And get out the cable. And get out the T7. And plug them all together. And then find somewhere on the tiny hotel table where the T7 can rest safely. And then get out my SD dongle. And then plug in my SD card.

When I’m done with my photos, I have to reverse the whole process. It’s really quite annoying. Petty, I know, but it annoys me nonetheless.

Which is why my next laptop (savings currently accruing) will be a 4 TB MacBook Pro M3 (or M4, depending on when I have enough money). Then my photo task will become…

Plug the card in.


Well, within reason, but I’m still rocking the oldest, lowest, slowest M1 and it does fine, so I expect an M3/M4 Pro to last me plenty of time — probably 5 years at least. Honestly, if my M1 had 4 TB on board, I would probably not upgrade.

I dislike paying the tax for 4 TB, but I also dislike external anything when mobile.


I’m wondering what happens if you don’t plug in the T7 and try to open the photos app? I guess it’s empty but does it all come back as you as you plug it back in? Do you have to set things up from scratch?

No, Adobe Lightroom Classic will handle this specific situation. Lots of photographers keep their GB and TB of actual photos on an external hdd or ssd. You also have the choice of whether to keep the catalog file (that indexes everything and stores keywords and edits, etc.) on your internal drive or on the external drive next to the collection of photos.

Where should you store your photos? | The Lightroom Queen

Lightroom doesn’t mind where you choose to store the photos. They can be on an internal drive, an external drive, a network drive, or even a mix of different drives. The important detail is that YOU know where they are.


I got an external drive that basically has an attachment to go on the back on my MacBook Pro. I basically never detach it.

It’s from OWC and it’s called Envoy. I took a picture of it, but DiscourseHub is not allowing me to upload it for some reason

Maybe this one?

OWC Envoy Express

If you would like to have the Envoy Express attached to the back of your laptop cover (for example to conserve space on your desk or while using the device on an airplane), you can use the included surface-safe removable drive slide mount to accomplish this.


I have an Intel 2017 27" iMac that was slow slow slow. Rather than try to replace the fusion drive with an internal SSD, I bought an external 2T OWC Envoy Pro FX and am using it as my system drive. It is awesome! It’s speedy and gave my iMac a complete new lease on life. Given that Apple has discontinued 27" iMacs, I’m keeping this one going as long as I can.

I did that for a while and it worked great. Much faster and no problems with updates or reboots.

However, the Intel iMac I had has slow USB 2.0 only ports. I bought a Thunderbolt external SSD drive and that’s how I got the speed boost.

At the time, only needed a 512GB SSD, so prices, even for Thunderbolt, weren’t too bad.

FYI There is currently an SSD chip shortage, so prices are through the roof. I just paid $100 more for an external drive then what I paid 6 months ago.

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Only if you have SD. My 35mm uses CF Express so I still always need at least that card reader. I think I’ll be dead and buried before Apple ever includes a CF Express slot built-in.

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Shame they dropped the SD card slot from the Air, as something like the JetDrive can be quite useful for this purpose.

But the MBA has never been considered a power user option. It was introduced when netbooks were all the rage, and its strengths have always favoured portability, focusing on web surfing and document editing.

I’m not sure what the overlap is between users who need that much local storage, but won’t opt for the versatility of the Pro.

I still have an Intel MacBook Pro and the Macbook Air M3 will run circles around it. When I buy a replacement, probably soon, I see no reason to go to the MacBook Pro other than storage.

Same for my Mac Studio M1 Max. It made sense when I bought it as I was upgrading from a 7 year old iMac 27" retina, but I’m seriously thinking a Mac Mini M3 (when available) would be fine for me.

I don’t need the absolutely crazy top performance. And I do heavy video editing, audio processing, and photography with more AI tools all the time.

A render time of 10 to 15 minutes is fine and my largest processing job on the M1 takes about an hour.

I don’t need to spend gazillions of $$$ more to speed those up incrementally as I don’t do the heavy processing on a daily basis.

But I do need lots of storage and have been juggling external SSD’s. Will have to make some hard decisions when I do buy as Apple (IMHO), does not see any reason to change their storage configurations and upcharges .

P.S. On my old iMac or Macbook Pro, the same large job took about 17 hours and the typical 15 minute render used to take about an hour.

If I’m being brutally honest, upgrading to M1 was very enjoyable, but having grown up in the days of punch cards and mag tape batch processing, I had a workflow that minimized the impact of the large processing times on my Mac (it’s called going to sleep for the night).

OTOH, recently upgrading my Internet from broadband 500 mbps down/ 20 mbps upload speed to 1gig down and up fiber has truly been a game changer as cloud backup and uploads of huge files are no longer the ongoing daily pain it used to be.

A 1 hour file upload is now less than 5 minutes and I changed a lot of my workflows because file movement went from a serious issue to a non-issue.

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