Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E540: SSD installation

SSD

cs CZE

The Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E-540, which I recently chose to be my new laptop, is available in various hardware configurations. There are not only different CPU/GPU/memory options, but also the storage subsystem can somewhat vary. Nevertheless, the usual configurations available at big resellers (like Amazon, NewEgg etc.) come with either 1 TB 5400 rpm or 500 GB 7200 rpm rotational regular drive, coupled with an optional 16 GB SSD cache module.

There are multiple options to get a bigger SSD for the notebook, each having its advantages and disadvantages. The article describes a procedure to replace the original 16 GB SSD module by a bigger one, and use it as a boot drive with the system instead of cache. This way the big original HDD can stay in the machine, while still having the option to boot the system from SSD.

The storage subsystem of Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E-540

The notebook has only one bay to install a 2.5″ S-ATA 3.0 drive. In the most common configurations available at the resellers, it is occupied by a 1 TB or 500 GB regular rotational drive.

The optional 16 GB SSD cache module uses a different form factor specification, called M.2 (also known as NGFF, it is one of the available S-ATA 3.2 implementations). Other than that, is is handled as a regular storage drive by the computer, so it is possible to use it as a stand-alone storage drive instead of SSD caching drive. However, the 16 GB SanDisk module, installed by default, is way too small for the modern systems, so it is necessary to replace it by a bigger one for that purpose.

This scheme is also used by some other models of Lenovo laptops (IdeaPad Y510p, most newer ThinkPads – T/L/S 440, S/W 540 etc.), or even notebooks of different manufacturers (Toshiba Satellite U50t-A-100, Acer C720, …), so the procedure can also be used there to some extent.

Choosing the SSD module replacement

As mentioned, the SSD cache module is not a classic SATA or m-SATA drive, but the  M.2 (NGFF) drive. Furthermore, only the short M.2 drives fit into the machine (only the 42mm long models), which constraints the available options quite a lot. At the moment of doing the upgrade, there were basically only two available options:

Both are manufactured with 64 GB and 128 GB capacities.

I chose the 128GB MyDigitalSSD, which was slightly more expensive than the ZTC Armor, but the package also contains a licence key for FNet Hybridisk caching software. Also, the reported speeds of the drive are higher (especially the write speed, which is specified 410 MB/s, whereas the ZTC Armor specifications only states 200 MB/s). The 64 GB versions should be able to hold the operating system itself too, but not too much of applications, therefore I decided to buy the 128 GB version. In the fact, I planned to use the disk in hybrid mode (use the first 80 G(i)B for the system partition and the remaining 32 G(i)B to cache the secondary regular HDD), but unfortunately that did not work.

(after installing the systems and some applications, my current used space on the SSD is 57.5 GB vs. the 54.1 GB of free space, and that is just Windows 7 and programs, after cleanup of all temporary folders and downloaded Windows updates, also hiberfil.sys and pagefile.sys removed – so with the 64 GB SSD version, I’d not be able to put all programs there)

Both drives can be bought for example on Amazon, or directly at MemoryC.

Replacing the SSD

Mounting the new SSD module is not terribly difficult. You just need a cross-point screwdriver to remove the bottom of the notebook, and replace the SSD itself. Although there is a small screwdriver in the package of the MyDigitalSSD, it is still recommended to have a “serious” screwdriver, because with the small one you might have hard time to loose the screws of the laptop, which are fastened quite strong (I was actually able to release the screws with the small screwdriver, as I didn’t have any other, but it wasn’t entirely easy).

128GB MyDigitalSSD SC2

128GB MyDigitalSSD SC2 m.2 NGFF

Warning: When you unpack the SSD module (and operate inside of the laptop), beware of static electricity!
The SSD modules, RAM modules etc. (most integrated circuits in the principle) are very sensitive to the static electricity, and if you touch them while being charged by static charge, the modules can be severely damaged by the discharge over the integrated circuits. In particular, it is not recommended to wear clothes made of plastic (polyester) or wool, or work on a polyester carpet etc.
It is possible to buy an anti-static wrist band to be absolutely sure, but I never used it and never damaged any sensitive device – before you start working on such device, just be sure to not wear clothes made of plastic bottles and touch some electrically grounded object first (heating radiator, water tap, steel computer case, etc.) to release any possible accumulated static charge.

Step 1: Shutdown the computer and remove the power cord and the battery

The notebook should be fully shut down (i.e. not only put to sleep or hibernation), because we will modify the hardware. After that, disconnect the power adapter and remove the battery. The removal of all power sources is important, you really do not want the laptop motherboard to be under power while operating on the hardware – it has no potential to hurt you (the voltage inside of the notebook is low), but the motherboard itself could be damaged.

Step 2: Remove the back cover

To gain the access to the notebook hardware, the back cover needs to be removed. This requires three screws at the bottom to be released (pointed by the red arrows on the image):

Lenovo E-540 bottom cover removal

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E-540: Removal of the bottom cover

After the screws are released, the cover needs to be removed carefully – there are some plastic locks in addition, which require some amount of force to be applied, but not too much to not damage the locks.

This step might be different for other laptop models.

Step 3: Locate and remove the original SSD cache module

After removing the back cover, you can access the notebook internals. In the Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E-540, the SSD cache module is located as marked in the following image:

Lenovo E-540 original SSD

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E-540: Location of the SSD cache module

Below the module, you can see the regular HDD, and in the lower right corner the memory module. In some models of Lenovo E-540, the slot might be empty (or could also contain additional WAN wifi card).

The original SSD cache module can be loosened by releasing the screw on the left:

Removal of original SSD module

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E-540: Releasing the SSD cache module

After releasing the screw, the module can be raised on the left side and removed from the connector. Make sure to not turn it after removal, so you can compare the module with the new one to insert it in the correct orientation (which is important).

Step 4: Insert the new SSD module

After the old SSD cache module is removed, the new one can be inserted now. Insert it in the same orientation as the old one (there are two “separators” in the connector, which are in slightly different distances from the corner, so it should not be possible to insert the module in the opposite direction). Do not use extensive force, the module should be inserted carefully, under a slight angle. Make sure, that the module is fully inserted in the connector.

After the new module is in place, tighten the screw back to hold the SSD in position.

New SSD installed

Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E-540: The new SSD module in place

Step 5: Return the cover and the battery

After the replacement of the SSD module is finished, the bottom cover might be inserted back and the screws tightened again. When putting the cover back, press it carefully on various places, so that the plastic locks click back again.

Step 6: Check the functionality

After you finished everything, connect back the power adapter. First enter the BIOS to see, if the new SSD module is detected (press the F1 key immediately after switching the computer on). You should see the new module as a separate drive (i.e. two drives should be there – the SSD and the big HDD).

You can also boot the system from the HDD and check in the Hardware manager or in the Disk management ("diskmgmt.msc"), if the new SSD module has been detected by the system.

Installation of Windows

The installation of the Windows operating system directly to the SSD is not entirely straightforward. The issue is, that the Lenovo ThinkPad E-540 normally comes with the so-called Recovery Partition (which is located on the main HDD), but when installing the system from that partition, it does not allow to select the system partition, so it cannot be used to install the system to the SSD in M.2 port.

It is needed to do a clean installation from Windows media (which is described in my older article). It is strongly encouraged to create the Recovery DVD media from the original pre-installed system, before doing anything else – those media (5 empty DVDs needed) will basically contain the backup of the recovery partition, so it can be restored later, if anything goes wrong. After creating the recovery media, the recovery partition will no longer need to be be kept on the HDD and it can be removed to reclaim additional free space.

Before you’ll start with the clean installation from the Windows media, make sure to select the M.2 SSD as a first boot drive. Press F1 after the computer start to enter the BIOS, go to Startup / Boot, where the items can be re-ordered with the “+” and “-” keys, and removed or re-added to the boot device list by pressing the “!” key. You can possibly remove the secondary HDD from the boot list (as it will only be used for data after the system installation on the SSD).
Also make sure, that you have the DVD drive added to the boot options (if you’ll install the Windows from DVD media). The DVD drive does not necessarily need to be the first boot item, I actually prefer to have the SSD as the first boot item and the DVD as the second, and if I want to boot from the DVD (e.g. to install the system), I can then press F12 for one-time selection of the boot device upon startup.

The partition for the system can be created directly in the Windows installer, or in any other partitioning tools, as for a standard Windows installation to any other drive.

After the system installation, the system boots up really fast. Therefore I prefer to switch off the hibernation option by the "powercfg -h off" command (requires a command line with administrator privileges). This removes the C:\hiberfil.sys file, which is usually very big (normally about 75% of the size of installed memory, i.e. 6 GB for computer with 8 GB RAM) and occupies a lot of the precious SSD space.

You might also want to check and possibly alter the pagefile options (normally, a pagefile.sys of the size of installed memory is kept on the system drive). If the pagign file is really needed (for low RAM memory size, e.g. 4 GB is relatively low for 64-bit Windows 7/8 and the system swaps a lot), it is still appropriate to keep it on the SSD, as it improves the system response a lot; but if there is a plenty of memory (8/16 GB), it is more approptiate to move the paging file to the slower HDD and release some space on the SSD for other purposes.

Some other recommendations for fine-tuning of SSD Windows installations can be found all over the Internet, e.g. here:
The SSD Optimization Guide Ultimate Windows 8 (And Win7) Edition

20 thoughts on “Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E540: SSD installation

  1. I have novo thinkpad edge E540 can i use m.2 ssd to
    Install the os on it and i open the back cover and found
    Place for the m.2 ssd and they told me that for wan 5G
    My E540 core i7 MQ 1tera 8g of ram
    This is the place in my laptop
    http://postimg.org/image/e9pxho2qv/
    Please advice

    • Yes, to me it seems that it is the same port, so if it is empty, you should be able to install the m.2 SSD there. And yes, as far as I know it can be used also for the WAN 5G card, but the interface (m.2 slot) should be the same in both cases.

  2. bro can I ask should I get this Samsung 250GB SSD 850 EVO or this MyDigitalSSD 256GB Super Boot Drive 42mm SATA III M.2 2242 NGFF SSD – MDM242-SB-256, because Im still confuse what is better?

    • They have different connectors. The point of using the m.2 drive (MyDigitalSSD) is that it can be mounted into the m.2 slot and you can keep the original SATA drive. Samsung 250GB SSD 850 EVO is a regular SATA drive so it would replace the original drive. However it is faster (550 MB/s vs 500 MB/s of MyDigitalSSD in sequential read).

      So, if you’d like to keep the original drive, then you need to use the MyDigitalSSD m.2 drive (as a primary drive, the original one in the NB will become secondary). If you are ok to replace the original drive, then you can use the Samsung EVO.

      (assuming that you have the Lenovo E540 – if it is a different NB, first check if it has the m.2 interface connector)

  3. Has MyDigitalSSD turned out to be reliable for you? I read a lot of reviews on amazon of it failing after some months of use.

    • I’ve checked the reviews now, it seems that there is indeed relatively high failure ratio. However for me the drive is still working without problems. I remember I had an issue when I installed the system initially in the first days, that the drive somehow disconnected and I had to reinstall the system (but the failure might be connected to other things I did, because I experimented with Truecrypt encryption of the system drive – initially it worked but after some hours of use the system crashed and was no longer able to boot). And since then it works without issues.

  4. Hi, if I can use the m.2 ssd as bootable device, then why it said in the user guide (do not) it is for (cache) only?

    • If the system is installed using the recovery partition, there is no option to install the system to m.2 SSD, so that is probably why it is mentioned as cache-only in the user guide. The recovery also installs and sets up the ExpressCache automatically.

      However the m.2 drive itself behaves as a “regular” drive type in the BIOS, so if the Windows is being installed as a clean system (from a regular Windows DVD), it allows to select the m.2 SSD as the installation target. See e.g. here for some details: Clean OEM Windows installation

      • Thank you Emil, and I would like to ask you about the thinkpad E440, is it good laptop? What is your opinion?

    • Yes, this seems to be the correct connector. Some ThinkPads E-540 are AFAIK also sold without the SSD cache, so this might be the case.

      Note that some ThinkPads don’t support the SSD cache (e.g. ThinkPad E-450), but in those the connector is missing.

  5. Thank you for the fast response! BTW your guide is more than great!

    The funny thing is that my E-540 specs included ssd cache, so I was cheated sort of…

    I suppose that the Transcend 256GB SATA III 6Gb/s MTS400 will fit physically in the slot. The side where the pins are “missing” looks a bit narrow. What do you think?

    • In the images (e.g. here https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00KLTPUG4) there are separate pin sections on both sides of the module, one shorter and one longer. The shorter is on the right of the image, so then the module will be inserted “flipped” (the smaller pin section on the right of the image will come to the left side of the connector).

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