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Surface Pro X: How to upgrade the SSD in a few simple steps

Pro X Ssd Swap Open
Pro X Ssd Swap Open (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)
Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

For owners of Surface Pro X (or Surface Laptop 3) the ability to upgrade storage with minimal work is a new perk to the Surface line.

But what about the details around such a procedure? What tools do you need? Should you re-paste the thermal enclosure for the SSD? And how do you get Windows 10 on to the new SSD?

All these questions and more are answered in this new guide on how (and why) you may want to upgrade your SSD for Surface Pro X.

Why upgrade your Surface Pro X SSD?

Before we begin, let us discuss why you want to upgrade the internal storage to Surface Pro X.

There are two reasons to consider, with the first being the most obvious:

  1. You want more internal storage
  2. You want a (slightly) faster SSD

The first reason is self-evident. You bought a Surface ProX8 with 128 or 256GB of storage, and you want more. Maybe you want 512GB or even 1TB.

If you bought the $899 Wi-Fi-only Surface Pro X, you could drop in a 1TB SSD for less than $200, bringing your total cost to just $1,100. Considering even Microsoft doesn't sell a 1TB model, that is fantastic. Even if you wanted to jump from 128GB to something like 512GB, you could do it for as little as $100 ($999 total), whereas it would cost you $1,499 to get the pre-configured Surface Pro X with 512GB.

A faster SSD is less of a reason to upgrade and should be seen as a side benefit. Typically, doubling or even quadrupling your storage also improves the read and write performance due to the parallel nature of how flash storage is accomplished. Surface Pro X's default SSD is, at best, mid- to low-range by today's standards for performance. Popping in more storage could yield +500MB/s improve sequential read scores, which does make everything feel just a smidge snappier.

Which SSD to buy?

M2 2230 Ssd Surfacepro

Source: Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Windows Central)

Picking which SSD to get for Surface Pro X is the tricky part. It's different from buying a standard laptop SSD as Surface Pro X (and Surface Pro 8) use M.2 2230 PCIe SSD, which are much smaller. The market for such chips is also much tinier, hence why I can't just point you to Amazon and tell you to buy a specific model.

The easiest to recommend is a Toshiba/Kioxia BG4 M.2 2230 PCIe SSD. It gets excellent performance, and it just works. But, Toshiba does not direct-sell to consumers. Instead, it is an OEM part that must be purchased through business channels like Dell or on eBay if you are savvy. The key is to use the product SKU to find the version you want:

  • KBG40ZNS256G TOSHIBA BG4 256G PCI-E NVME 2230 SSD (CLASS 35)
  • KBG40ZNS512G TOSHIBA BG4 512G PCI-E NVME 2230 SSD (CLASS 35)
  • KBG40ZNS1T02 TOSHIBA BG4 1TB PCI-E NVME 2230 SSD (CLASS 35)

Assuming you want to increase the storage and get faster speeds, you will want to search for KBG40ZNS256G (256GB), KBG40ZNS512G (512GB) or KBG40ZNS1T02 (1TB). Pricing at the time of writing is around $30 for 256GB, $99 for 512GB and $200 for 1TB.

The good news is the1 the TB option decreased from $300 at the end of 2020 to a more affordable $200 in October 2021. The bad news is that most sellers are from China or Hong Kong, so it could take many weeks to get your purchase.

But there is now another option in 2021 that wasn't available previously: Western Digital (WD).

This part gets even trickier. You could get a Western Digital 1TB drive costing between $117 and $170, making it even a better deal than the $200 Toshiba. Plus, many sellers are based in the U.S., meaning you can get the SSD in days instead of weeks.

For this guide, I bought a Toshiba KBG40ZNS512G (512GB). But in a similar guide for Surface Pro 8 I grabbed a "new" WD 1TB CH SN530 on eBay drive for $170. I had it in my hands in three days after ordering.

Either option works with Surface Pro X.

There is a catch, though, with the Western Digital drives. The "CH" denotes something unique about these: they are for the Xbox Series X|S. That's why so many of them are listed as "refurbished" or "pre-owned."

So, what's the downside of using it with Surface Pro X? Available storage — which some eBay sellers are upfront about, e.g.:

Please also note that the usable space for this drive is 867GB (rest of the space WD already allocated to overprovisioning so it is not accessible by the user. This is done to some extent on all SSDs).

The speculation here is that allocated space is used for Xbox Series X|S, and it can't be recovered.

A typical 1TB SSD usually has 952GB of available storage with around 913GB available after Windows 10 (or 11) is installed versus the 823GB you'll have (with Windows) in one of these Western Digital drives. That's a loss of about 90GB.

On the flip side, if you're jumping from 128GB (available is less than 100GB) to 823GB, you're still getting a massive upgrade. Plus, you can save around $80 versus the Toshiba chip and often get it delivered faster. I can also vouch that the SSD performance is like Toshiba's, making a choice even more difficult.

Whichever route you go, you get a considerable storage upgrade and slightly faster speeds while saving money. The question is whether you need every GB and want to save even more money. The choice is yours.

Surface Pro X SSD upgrade: Tools needed

Pro X Ssd Swap Tools

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

There are only a few tools needed to swap out the Surface Pro X SSD, but they are crucial:

Thermal paste, a prying tool, and rubbing alcohol is not obligatory as it depends on how detailed you want to be with the replacement. Microsoft ships its SSD in a metal enclosure for protection, functioning additionally as a heat sink. It uses a small amount of thermal paste sandwiched between the drive and the casing. SSDs typically do not produce that much heat (compared to a CPU or GPU), so the benefit is likely minimal.

Some people mount the M.2 SSD directly, but it may rattle due to it being thinner without the enclosure. Users can add a shim to stop the rattle or put the new SSD into the old enclosure with (or without) adding the thermal paste.

For this tutorial, I will re-use the metal enclosure and re-paste the thermal compound.

Surface Pro X: Making a Windows 10 Recovery Drive

Since the replacement SSD does not have an OS, you will need to reinstall Windows 10 after the swap. The easiest way is to load Microsoft's official Surface Pro X recovery files to a USB drive as this gives you all the necessary drivers for Surface Pro X. Doing so restores Surface Pro X to its factory state.

Note: If you want to get to Windows 11, you'll need to upgrade from Windows 10 after this procedure.

  1. Format the USB thumb drive by right-clicking on the drive in File Explorer and choosing Format.

Formatusb

Formatusb (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)
  1. Use Fat32 for the file system and use the default allocation size.

Formatusb

Formatusb (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)
  1. Download the 6.4GB of Surface Pro X Recovery Files by entering in your Surface Pro X serial number
  2. Unzip and extract all the Surface Pro X Recovery Files to the USB drive

Formatusb

Formatusb (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

Put the thumb drive to the side for now, as it will be used after we swap the SSD.

Surface Pro X: Swapping the SSD

Now that we have the substitute SSD and necessary tools, we can begin replacing the Surface Pro X's storage. Please ensure you have backed up any files, photos, videos, or documents before removing the old SSD.

  1. Power down Surface Pro X
  2. Open the rear SIM/SSD panel found under the kickstand using a SIM tool

Pro X Ssd Swap Open

Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central (Image credit: Source: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)
  1. Use the T3 Torx screwdriver to remove the single screw holding in the SSD

Pro X Ssd Swap Open

Pro X Ssd Swap Open (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)
  1. Gently lift the SSD up at a slight angle and pull out from the M.2 slot

Pro X Ssd Swap Open

Pro X Ssd Swap Open (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)

If you do not plan to re-use the SSD metal enclosure, you could slide in the new SSD and secure it with the holding screw. Once completed, move on to the next section on reinstalling Windows 10.

If you want to re-use the SSD enclosure (and re-paste it), continue to these steps:

  1. Using a thin prying tool or X-ACTO knife, gently tease apart the enclosure starting from each side

Pro X Ssd Swap Case Pry

Pro X Ssd Swap Case Pry (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)
  1. Remove the old SSD

Pro X Ssd Swap Case Pry

Pro X Ssd Swap Case Pry (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)
  1. Remove old thermal paste using rubbing alcohol and Q-Tips

Pro X Ssd Swap Case Paste Old

Pro X Ssd Swap Case Paste Old (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)
  1. Remove the label/sticker from the new SSD

Pro X Ssd Swap Case Sticker

Pro X Ssd Swap Case Sticker (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)
  1. Add a tiny drop of thermal paste to the top of the SSD (1/2 a pea)

Pro X Ssd Swap Case Paste

Pro X Ssd Swap Case Paste (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)
  1. Gently smooth the paste around the entire black area of the SSD

Pro X Ssd Swap Case Paste

Pro X Ssd Swap Case Paste (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)
  1. Put the SSD back into the enclosure and close it, lightly pressing the sides to crimp it in place
  2. Reinsert SSD enclosure into Surface Pro X securing it with the single set screw
  3. Replace rear enclosure door

Please do not add a lot of thermal paste as it is not strictly needed. Nor do you need expensive thermal paste, as this is not a high-performance CPU. You want a very thin layer when spread out, as too much paste defeats the purpose.

Once completed, you should save the old SSD. If you send in your Surface Pro X for a Microsoft warranty claim because it breaks, you'll want to put back the original drive and keep your after-market purchase as you may not get it returned.

Surface Pro X: Reinstalling Windows 10

Now that the new SSD is in place, you need to reinstall Windows 10. It is recommended to have Surface Pro X plugged in for AC power during this process.

  1. Insert the USB thumb drive into Surface Pro X
  2. Press and hold power and volume down (-) buttons at the same time
  3. When the Surface logo appears on screen release only the power button
  4. Continue to hold the volume down (-) key for 10 seconds until the recovery menu appears
  5. From the blue Windows recovery menu choose your language

Pro X Ssd Swap Boot

Pro X Ssd Swap Boot (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)
  1. On the next screen, select Recover from a drive

Pro X Ssd Swap Boot

Pro X Ssd Swap Boot (Image credit: Daniel Rubino / Windows Central)
  1. Follow the rest of the prompts to reinstall Windows 10

Reinstalling Windows 10 should only take about ten minutes. You will want to check for updates using the Windows updater to get the latest drivers and version of Windows 10 and update your apps.

Surface Pro X SSD Upgrade: Results

Upgrading the Surface Pro X SSD brought two enhancements. Storage size increased from 256GB to 512GB, which is the main point of this upgrade. While 1TB would have been nice, the $300 price tag and my needs did not necessitate such a purchase. Still, it is fantastic to have the option if you need it.

Additionally, storage performance increased, which is expected from the improved Toshiba BG4 drive.

Read performance is what you experience when running Windows 10 and launching apps. Write performance is when you write to disk for creating large files, installing apps/games, and transferring data – that is, it is rarer. With the new BG4 sequential reads went from 1,943 MB/s to 2,302 MB/s. But the more significant change is in sequential write performance, which jumped from 718 MB/s to 1,545 MB/s, which is considerable.

Image 1 of 2

Bg3 Vs Bg4 Read Graph

Image 2 of 2

Bg3 Vs Bg4 Write Graph

While sequential speeds did see a significant bump, random read and write did not.

The performance increase is welcomed but also not game-changing. Apps and games will load a smidge faster, the system will be more responsive, but it also does not affect the overall performance measurably.

Overall, this is a fun and easy upgrade for Surface Pro X. It's great to see Microsoft embrace a more modular approach to its Surface line. I hope to see such modifications come to other Surface devices in the future.

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

26 Comments
  • Hmm... looks at the images and asks self "are these the short NVME drives that MS is using in the Xbox Series systems?" Also, hoping MS starts doing this with the surface pros soon too...
  • "are these the short NVME drives that MS is using in the Xbox Series systems?"
    Kind of. The underlying tech is similar NVMe PCI-e 4.0/SSD, but the adapter itself is custom for hot swapping. re: Surface Pro, my hunch is they will, but we won't see it until a bigger revision either later in 2021 or 2022.
  • Cool, didn't have a m.2 anything around me at work to compare when I read the article.
  • Thanks for detailing this upgrade process. I did find the item in eBay per the link provided in the article. I'll be going from 128 to 256 in my case. We'll see how everything goes once I get the SSD from eBay and thermal paste from Amazon in the next week or so.
  • Good luck! The process should only take 30-45 minutes if you're taking your time. Longest part is downloading/unpacking recovery files to USB.
  • Thank you. I will try to prep that in advance. Appreciate it.
  • I got all the hardware do to the replacement. For the life of me though I cannot get past the UEFI screen. I did the holding down of power button and volume down button as noted, but not matter what combination of buttons I try I still cannot get to the recovery screen. I am using a USB hard drive will full image. I am now going to do just a recovery USB stick instead of hard drive to see if that works.
  • Nevermind I'm a air head. Using the USB stick worked instead of fully recovery drive. Sorry first time doing this.
  • Thanks for the article. Strange the Recovery Image is still 1903. A nearly 2 year old Windows 10 version. It's also strange this still isn't included with the Media Creation Tool.
  • "Thanks for the article. Strange the Recovery Image is still 1903."
    Pretty sure it's 20H1 build 19041. It then upgraded right to 20H2 in one update.
  • After I entered my serial it said (which is my specification): Surface Pro X - SQ1/16/256 M1501 - Windows 10 Pro Version 1903 It's also a 10.3GB zip file for me too. I followed your link and entered my serial. Strange. The download is based on the serial so I must've been offered a different download than you. I'm in The UK, maybe their English US recovery is 20H1 and British English (*) is still 1903. Can't think why it would be much bigger though. * Microsoft oddly refers to British English as "International English".
  • Any idea if it's possible to download regular Windows 10 installation media like you get from the Media Creation Tool but for Windows on ARM? That's less than 4GB. I appreciate that's not specific to the Surface Pro X but any drivers would come from Windows Update. Like they do for Intel Surface Pros. Thanks
  • Their office dictionary for years was uk in Canada
  • I did this with my Surface laptop 3. I was able to get the 1 tb Toshiba BG 4 inside a Caldigit tuff nano external USB drive for $220 on Amazon. Ended up with a nice external enclosure for the drive that was in the machine as a bonus. To get the feet off of the laptop look at the MS service guide. It showed how to get them off without damage. I then used a bit of 2 sided really sticky tape to secure them afterwards. If you go this route make sure to use diskpart to remove all the partitions first. There is an EFI one that requires you to use the override option to delete it.
  • I feel like they could improve on the media creation tool by letting you download both generic OS images and device specific ones when applicable, especially since it's a more complicated process with ARM. That and maybe an option for installing directly to another drive if the intent is to replace the existing one and avoid having to go through the clean setup process.
  • I don't get why the Media Creation Tool doesn't cover Windows on ARM period. Although it would be out of the scope of device specific images. I suppose it could include Surface but where would they stop? Installing to a secondary device would be ace.
  • Just did it myself a week ago. It's actually easier just to create a complete system image and then restore it onto the new drive. That way you don't have to setup a new Windows 10 from scratch.
  • What did you use to clone the drive? Can it run on the Pro X itself?
  • It's a T4 screwdriver you need not T3
  • Nah, it's a Torx T3.
  • Nope - I have just bought a T4 for the job and it fits perfect.
  • Did an upgrade to the TOSHIBA BG4 1TB on my Surface Pro X ... works great. I used two thin layers of 0.5 mm thermal pad, one under the SSD, one on top. Very easy to apply and helps with heat dissipation. ... and yes, it's definitely a T4 Torx ;-)
  • Really appreciate the time and effort you put into making this guide, the photos were especially helpful. Everything worked perfectly for me. Thank you.
  • Excellent guide....just finished upgrading my Surface Pro-x from 128 GB to the 1 TB... bought the 1 TB drive from Dell...turns out they for that particular 2230 M.2 drive it was the exact one from Kioxia KBG40ZNS1T02...ran the Crystal Mark test afterward and performance is as stated in the Guide even a little better on some of the test. Thanks again Dan...awesome guide...and loving the Surface Pro X!
  • I got as far as holding down the power and volume down button. The recovery menu refuses to come up. I keep getting a "Cannot find a bootable device" message. I am REALLY holding down the volume down button - nothing. It will go to the Surface UEFI menu and try to reboot. I can't get to the menu which would allow me to use the Recovery USB. Any other way to do this?
  • An update - I ended up redoing the Recovery USB. I used the Recovery app in Windows 10 and created the Recovery USB drive, which was a rather long process. So, I deviated from the procedure on this page on how to create the Recovery USB, but I was able to upgrade the SSD after that. A bonus was that an upgrade to Windows 11 was available, so I managed to completely transform the Surface Pro X!