Upgrading A Microsoft Surface To A 1 TB SSD

The Microsoft Surface Pro 3 is a neat little tablet, and with an i7 processor, a decent-resolution display, and running a full Windows 8.1 Pro, it’s the closest you’re going to get to a desktop in tablet format. Upgrading the Surface Pro 3, on the other hand, is nigh impossible. iFixit destroyed the display in their teardown, as did CNET. [Jorge] wanted to upgrade his Surface Pro 3 with a 1 TB SSD, and where there’s a will there’s a way. In this case, a very precise application of advanced Dremel technology.

Taking a Surface Pro 3 apart the traditional way with heat guns, spudgers, and a vast array of screwdrivers obviously wasn’t going to work. Instead, [Jorge] thought laterally; the mSSD is tucked away behind some plastic that is normally hidden by the small kickstand integrated into the Surface. If [Jorge] could cut a hole in the case to reveal the mSSD, the resulting patch hole would be completely invisible most of the time. And so enters the Dremel.

By taking some teardown pictures of the Surface Pro 3, printing them out to scale, and aligning them to the device he had in his hand, [Jorge] had a very, very good idea of where to make the incision. A Dremel with a carbide bit was brought out to cut into the metal, and after a few nerve-wracking minutes the SSD was exposed.

The only remaining task was to clone the old drive onto the new one, stuff it back in the Surface, and patch everything up. [Jorge] is using some cardboard and foam, but a sticker would do just as well. Remember, this mod is only visible when the Surface kickstand is deployed, so it doesn’t have to look spectacular.

Thanks [fridgefire] and [Neolker] for sending this in.

65 thoughts on “Upgrading A Microsoft Surface To A 1 TB SSD

    1. Screws need a surface to grab onto and need a thread to grab into. When you squeeze the last little bit of space out of a device screws can get in the way. Heck just look at the iPhone internals where one screw is a few microns shorter than another and swapping that screw with any of the others that look like they are the same distance apart results in you cutting traces on a PCB.

      1. That screw was put there specifically to make it harder for third parties to repair the phone. It wasn’t a necessary engineering choice, and using one special size screw would only make it more costly to manufacture and harder to fix for Apple itself.

  1. Why do companies make it so hard to open up their products without breaking them. How does MS open it if, say, tablet’s SSD fails and requires replacement? Do they send back the new tablet?

    1. If it breaks, you purchase a new one.

      If it breaks under warranty, Microsoft uses any excuse it can find to deny warranty replacement.

      Products are designed to be disposable, and extract the maximum amount of profit from each revenue generating unit, aka “customer”.

        1. it is indeed very good. I had a keyboard which got a firmware error after 3 Years making it completely useless.
          One call in the MS line and they said its a common failure and sent me a replacement without warranty, without sending my invoice,, without sending my keaboard in, within one week, just perfect.

          Can´t tell anything about the Surface service since mine is running and running…

      1. They immediately replaced my surface pro over the counter because my display was bleeding a lot. No questions, no hassle, the shop simply made one call to Microsoft while I was there and boom they handed me a new one immediately.

    2. Products don’t always go together like legos, especially when making something smaller is a primary concern. Adding plugs that come apart adds space. Adding a door with latches takes up space. Sometimes throwing glue on the back of something is cheaper or smaller than adding a boss for a screw. And when it comes to breaking a screen to get inside, maybe they think that chances are the screen would be the first thing to go, or that replacing it when they replace something else is worth the cost to make it smaller. As a designer, I see this kind of stuff all the time, though I’d be the last one to agree with such practices.

      1. I understand and agree with all you say, up to a point. Good design should take into account reasonable repairability, particularly for electronic devices that incorporate batteries. A fixed life of 2-3 years for a product that could be functional and useful for 5-10 years, if not for the battery is not good design (though it is “good” business). It is unethical to design such a product that is useless with a few years, given the ethical issues in the supply chain of the raw materials used to create it.

        1. Repairability is moot when the lifespan of the product is smaller than the lifespan of the components. In the case of most tablets, cell phones, etc., the lifespan comes right in at about 18 months or so before the consumer is expected to buy a new one. The old one heads off to the land fill (or some lucky hacker) and the consumer gets a brand new one.

          1. That is an artificial lifespan, intended only to provide the company more SKUs to keep the influx of cash at a high rate. I am not anti-business, but this is ultimately an unsustainable model for the world.

        2. yes you are right, but no its not the companys fault. We as customor decide what gets made, and since everyone is freaking out about the ipad air, and other slim devices they stopped designing these bulky notebooks.
          And – as a Designer by myself – we need to admit that its just not possible anymore to connect repairability and a case which is thinner than 10mm (just think about it, the Display itself takes up to 3-4mm since it is made out of Glass you can´t screw shit against that so you got 6mm left how the fuck are you supposed to build a case this thin without glue? BTW the iPad is just 6mm, Display takes 2.5mm as far as i know, so 3.5mm for all the ingredients and the backplate.

          So since it is mission impossible to to something against that,
          it will get worse and its our own fault.

          1. Slim is fashionable. Phone designers in particular went a bit bonkers in shaving every micrometre. Premium phones sell on slimness. You can design a phone held together with screws but if nobody buys it then you’ve failed anyway.

          2. I agree with most of what’s been said here, but just because glue is the only reasonable means of attachment doesn’t mean it can’t be repairable. There are so many adhesives in industry right now that if any manufacturer wanted to make something durable that could be opened, it could be done. They are playing to the masses; most folks don’t want to mod or repair an old thing… they want the newest shiniest thing. Most manufacturers prefer that people buy a new shiny thing to… repair operations are a huge nuisance , especially when the product changes annually.

          3. There are mechanical wind-up watches where the mechanism is just 1.2 mm thick, and they’re designed to be entirely serviceable.

            In 1976

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Lassale#The_Calibre_1200

            It’s just a question of cost-effectiveness, because the product changes every two years and putting significant effort on the engineering would imply smaller profits. Guess why Apple has that minimalist look? It’s not because its stylish, but because it’s extremely simple to make and takes very little time to design.

        3. Although laptops are usable for 5-10 years, most people use them for less. As an owner of a surface pro 2 for 1.5 years now, I know that in another year I will buy the latest again. Even though I’m not the person to throw away hardware (still have 3 old laptops hanging around sometimes doing the odd job in the house here and there), the high-use functional life is just about 3 years. I’ve never bought new batteries for any of my older laptops.

          Now phones is a different question. I’m on my third battery currently, and will probably buy another before switching phone.

    3. If you had ever had to design a project with very very small tolerances than you would understand … screws take up a shocking amount of space, plastic/metal snaps tend to be a failure point and still take up quite a bit of space and glue is just a sensible cost effective method
      chances are the engineers have their own guides of heating points to remove it or even if they must break the screen its not FUBAR and can be replaced (seeing how chances are most of the repairs will be broken screens)

    4. It’s probably most efficient in terms of time and money, to just send out a new one. They’re designed to be made by machines, not to be repaired by humans. Once reliability gets to a certain point, there’s no point thinking about repairs, just replace the few that go wrong. Especially in portable electronics, nobody gives any thought into being able to open them back up again.

  2. Well done!
    Very brave knowing that you could have accidently hit the battery and had an instant ball of flames. Also how did you prevent any metal flecks going into the unit and shorting out components?

    1. Looks like he milled most of the way through the magnesium case, then pried his way in with a wooden and metal tool. I’d still be wary of metal shavings, but that would minimize the risk.

    1. From the pictures it looks like he only cut most of the way through the case. Then he cleaned the metal shavings and pried the square out (thus tearing the metal the rest of the way.)

    2. Looks like there is an insulating sheet between the drive and the case, which would help, but it would still be incredibly nerve wracking. Having the peace of mind to not go ahead and cut all the way through was a great idea as well.

  3. Awesome work, although I agree it’s shocking that he had to go to these lengths.

    As he hasn’t disturbed any of those “warranty void” stickers I assume it’s still covered under the warranty too!

    1. Warranty Void stickers are so 2013. These days there’s just a line in the manual that says “Warranty Void if display is broken” or “Warranty Void, because we told you so that’s why”.

    1. What has that got to do with anything? This is a change of hard drive and has nothing to do with the operating system, he’d have had to do exactly the same if he had Ubuntu on the Surface Pro 3!

      Please keep the OS wars out of hardware hack threads, geeze.

  4. Felicitaciones doctor Frankenstein! I have to admire someone who will tear, literally, into a $1000 tablet to hack it, and who does such a nice job to, again congrats! Oh and as for screws and smallness, come on, there must be someway to make a device small ans serviceable, hell bacteria do it, why not people? Come on M$, give us screws, don’t just screw us!

  5. Thank you, manufacturers, for building premium priced disposable equipment. Yes screws take up space, but a good design could hold the whole thing together with just one screw and designers who say this is not possible are either incompetent or not telling the truth (a Rolex is not held together with glue).

  6. The “designers” tell us that screw, metal snaps, etc, take a lot of space or are not strong enough. This is nonsense. Did they look at a mechanical watch lately? Watches are much more complex, much smaller, contains tens of delicate parts but still manage to use many screws, snaps, and are, at least partially, serviceable by the user. Do not tell me that a tablet is too small or too cramped to use screws.

    1. +1

      It’s money. Simple as that. It’s cheaper to make and they’re more likely to sell you a newer model when it breaks. Most customers won’t check repairability or expandability when buying. (HaD readers may be a little different to the average consumer in that respect.)

    2. True, to an extent. Ignoring the $15 watches made with $.85 of parts, the insides of most watches worth their salt are mechanical, and it’s all about cost and lifespan. When it comes to making anything, you need to think about the stackup of costs, whether it be materials used, methods used to process the materials, costs of preassembled electronic components, and assembly labor. Chances are a lot of those little watch parts are assembled by hand (at least assembling the pre-assembled sub assemblies). And chances are, with exception of the high end luxury items, the gears and springs are cheaply produced. This allows for more money to be spent on labor of assembly. When you match this with the durability, lifespan, and market expected repairability, it’s no wonder they use screws.

      Taking this back to phones, tablets, etc.. everything needs to be small, cutting edge, and cheap. In order to get cutting edge parts, the company needs to pay a premium. When it comes to getting a new design out to meet market deadlines, the company needs to pay a premium. When it comes to cramming everything into a small space, the designers and engineers need to think practically and realistically about the device they’re designing and how/where it will be used. And when all is said and done, they still need to assemble it, all with as low of a price tag as possible. Here enters the production line, where lots of people do one task each, as opposed to one person meticulously working though many processes of the same watch. When every added second and added bit of complexity adding to the cost, they frankly don’t have the budget to have someone pick up a tiny screw, line it up with the driver and the hole, then screw it down into place. It’s faster to squirt glue or peel some tape. And in the end, when you take market expectations of use into play, the percentage of typical consumers that use a phone beyond 4 years and need to replace a battery vs the typical consumer that expects to wear a watch for more than 4 years and need to replace a battery, is negligible. For the most part, the type of people to have a use for ‘old tech’ (a phone older than 2 years these days, unfortunately), would be the type of person who doesn’t mind the work of finding instructions online and taking the chance at repairing it themselves.

      If these devices were expected to last longer, the company had more time to design, or wasted cubic millimeters didn’t matter so much, then yes, of course, they could use screws. But will they (we) anytime soon? No.

      TL/DR: If you look at a watch (expected lifespan of years in the double digits, something that is designed with a standard of the most basic preventative damage feature — a rubber gasket) and a phone (expected lifespan of months you can count on your digits, designed to need an aftermarket rubber case to save it from a fall off a table), there simply is no comparison when it comes to how it’s made. All in all, cost is boss.

      1. It is designed this cheaper way because people are stupid enough to buy this rubbish (at a price that should reflect better design). We should not buy products that are built this way and this would remove this awful wasteful market.

      2. David, I completely understand what you are saying. However, the Surface tablet is a full featured Windows PC. It should be functional at least until the end-of-support date for the version of Windows which was pre-installed. That is typically more than 10 years. There is no way that the glued-in battery will last that long. A few screws to replace the battery and/or SSD would not have increased the size of the Surface tablet by enough for any human to notice.

        There is no doubt in my mind that Microsoft decided to make this a non-serviceable unit so that they could over-charge for a larger SSD, and so that they could sell you a new unit when the battery dies. Apple has been doing it for a long time, and Microsoft has jumped on the bandwagon.

    3. Yeah, if they can put all them screws on the inside of the thing then there’s obviously enough room of a couple on the outside, even if it requires doubling up the function of a few of the inner ones.

  7. I have a Surface Pro 3 that I purchased a few months ago and I have to admit, I’d be scared as hell to do this, even knowing exactly where the hard drive was. I generally use the tablet at home on the wifi, streaming things from my main computer though, so thankfully I don’t need that much space…

  8. Way back in the late 70’s early 80’s I had a friend who owned a stereo shop. When most of the expensive stereos needed repair, $200 to $300 he could buy the internal works for $13 and be done in about 5 minutes. The cost to do component repair would have drove him out of business. It costs the manufactures way too much to repair electronics today than to just replace the entire product!

  9. Its odd that 1/2 the photos seem mirrored. In the first few with the printout the msata is ‘clear’ as he states, on the right side. When he starts cutting the window is now on the left side. The kickstand is oriented the same in both sets.

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