Upgrade Surface Laptop 3 / Pro X to 1TB SSD for ~$220?

[2021/01/05: added Micron 1TB and 512GB M.2 2230 drives to compatibility list]

Now you can upgrade your Surface Laptop 3, Surface Pro X, Laptop Go, or Surface Pro 7+ for Business to a 1TB SSD for ~$220! Save yourself over $500 compared to Microsoft’s list price for 1TB models.

The trick is to get your hands on a speedy M.2 NVMe 2230 SSD module. As of March 2020, the recently launched Toshiba Kioxia BG4 is the fastest available SSD in this form factor. While it does not have a DRAM cache on-board like desktop-class SSDs, it implements NVMe v1.2 host memory buffering which results in great performance at its price point. Unfortunately, it is only available in bulk orders to OEMs and is not readily available to consumers in most regions

But…

The Tuff Nano external 1TB drive by Caldigit (alternate link) has this SSD inside and is $220 as of March 2020 – far less than the $500-700 USD premium Microsoft charges on its high-end models and less than competing SSDs from Micron, Samsung, and Western Digital/Sandisk. (See below for a full list of compatible M.2. 2230 SSDs.)

The process:

Disclaimer: This will likely void the warranty of both the Tuff Nano and your Surface Device.

  • Backup your data. Do it now!
  • Surface Laptop 3 customers may want to get a few OEM spare parts but this is not necessary if you’re careful
  • Purchase a Caldigit Tuff Nano 1TB (alternate link) or one of the other SSDs listed below
  • Download the Microsoft Surface recovery image for your system and follow the directions to prepare a bootable USB recovery stick.
    • Advanced users can try the Macrium Reflect tool to clone the original SSD directly to the external SSD while connected to the USB-C port prior to swapping drives or generate a recovery image directly from their running Surface. This eliminates the need to re-install all your software but adds some prep time.
  • Open up the Tuff Nano
    • remove outer rubber sleeve, then pry up both end caps
    • remove two screws on each open end
    • slide the PCB out, then loosen one screw to free the SSD
    • [Photos by Neil]
    • Recommended: remove the thermal pad from the SSD as this can present fitment challenges when installing in your Surface. If it is difficult to remove, try blowing a hair dryer at it for 10 seconds to warm it up first.
  • Open the Surface Laptop 3 or Pro X and swap the SSD per the original manufacturers directions:
  • Switch on the system
  • Apply the previously prepared recovery image per Microsoft documentation if needed.

Once you have confirmed that the new SSD is working, you can install the old SSD from your Surface into the Tuff Nano case and use it as a portable backup drive. When installing into the Tuff Nano, it is best to re-use the Tuff Nano thermal pad that was previously removed.

Happy upgrading!

Full list of M.2. 2230 SSD modules

2TB models?

  • 2TB models are only available in the larger 2242 form factor as of 2020/01/05.

1TB M.2 2230 models:

512GB M.2 2230 models:

In my opinion, it is not worthwhile upgrading from 128GB -> 256GB given how little you save compared to a 512GB drive. So I haven’t bothered to research and list 256GB models here.

Laptops and other devices that ship with M.2. 2230 NVMe drives:

  • Acer Swift 7 S7-371
  • Dell Inspiron 14 5490 (also fits 2280)
  • Dell Latitude 13 5300 (also fits 2280)
  • Tons of 2020 Dell models per this compatible systems list here
  • Xbox Series X

Know more? Let me know in the comments.

Resources:

Thanks to \u\SmashedTX and \u\Wiidesire for inspiring this article and especially to Neil for the updated photos.

13 thoughts on “Upgrade Surface Laptop 3 / Pro X to 1TB SSD for ~$220?

    • Hi are you referring to this update to improve heat resiliency?https://www.dell.com/support/home/us/en/04/drivers/driversdetails?driverid=rv9hd

      If so, these firmware updates only work when the SSD is the primary boot device and attached directly to an M.2 slot AFAIK. I don’t believe they function the same when a USB interface is in between like in the Caldigit.

      And these updates may not function when certain flags are unset on the host controller (determined by the UEFI firmware). IIRC, most Surface devices are not setup to allow these types of updates, so you need to pop the SSD out and put it into a laptop that can run the updates.

      If the heat issue crops up on Surface, MS will likely issue their own firmware update for the models that shipped with BG4. I believe MS updates use a different mechanism than Dell.

      Relevant thread: https://www.reddit.com/r/Surface/comments/eqlzgs/toshiba_kioxia_bg4_ssd_firmware_update/

      Like

      • Hi Danchar,

        Excellent post! Just purchased an SPX and hoping to upgrade the to the Kioxia BG4 1TB but a bit weary on the recent firmware update that is being discussed.

        Is it highly recommended to update the firmware on the drive? Have you heard or has anyone experienced any issues using a drive that is not using the updated firmware?

        Appreciate any help.

        Like

        • I wouldn’t worry about it. I believe MS is now using BG4 drives in several 512GB and 1TB models so if this ever becomes an issue on Surface, I expect MS will issue firmware updates too.

          Like

    • Very nice guide and lovely photos! Thanks for sharing!

      I hope you don’t mind, but I’d added a couple of your photos here (with credit) posted inline so as to not use up your bandwidth.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Just to confirm, even if you have an i5 process in the surface laptop 3, a 1tb drive upgrade is still compatible right? There’s no issue with only the i7 drives being able to use 1tb and i5 stuck with 512. I can’t see why. I don’t need processor speed, just fast storage space, so hopefully I can get the 1tb with this refurb and be set.

    Like

  2. I got my 1TB in. Thanks for this post which helped me realize 1TB was possible. But after watching this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPUYfBJaJ14 I went ahead and transferred the tuft nano thermal foam to the oem surface SSD and put it back in the tuft nano case, then cleaned out the oem enclosure and got some XTM50 from best buy. I put on a thick layer (that stuff isn’t watery at all, almost spongelike, really nice to work with) and sealed it all back up. Typing on my new 1TB system now. Glad to have found this page and that vid. It’s a much better solution than the bulging Z and Shift key on the keyboard that I briefly had when I left the tuft nano thermal foam pad on. Now the keyboard it exactly like it was before, and the hot 1TB drive has excellent thermal paste passing heat to the aluminum enclosure to help it pass heat. Everything looks brand new except the inevitable small marks to the plastic pieces that hold hide the tiny T5 torx screws (got them in a nice $8 kit on amazon with 160 pieces; can’t believe how good of a deal it was; has apple, torx, min screwdrivers, tweezers, plastic pics, all in a hard case). I wish I could buy new plastic feet for the surface even though I barely marked mine, and I think some replacement double-sided tape or some other gentle adhesive may be in order. I could see those falling out in a few years. Cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great work! I’ll definitely add the link to the video and clarify the instructions to indicate it is best to transfer over the black case rather than re-use the thermal pad – especially on the Laptop 3. I believe the fitment on the Pro X is a little more forgiving here…

      Like

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