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
- Choosing the SSD module replacement
- Replacing the SSD
- Installation of the Windows system
- The SSD performance
- Other options to get SSD to Lenovo ThinkPad Edge E-540
- Considerations of pure SSD system installation vers. SSD caching
- The hybrid SSD mode
- The gallery
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.
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:
- 128GB MyDigitalSSD SC2 42mm m.2 NGFF
- 128GB ZTC Armor 42mm m.2 NGFF
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.
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).
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):
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:
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:
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.
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.
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