Triple Your Speed: How to Install an mSATA SSD Boot Drive in Your Laptop

Your laptop would be so much faster if you replaced your hard drive with an SSD , often three times faster on the tasks that matter most: opening apps, copying files and multitasking. The catch is that high-capacity SSDs can be very expensive and you don’t want to give up your 500GB mechanical drive for a much smaller storage solution. Fortunately, if your notebook has an mSATA slot, you can have the best of both worlds, a large hard drive for data storage and a speedy SSD boot drive for your operating system and programs.

While not every laptop offers mSATA support, several popular models from 2011 do, including most Dell and Lenovo systems. If your notebook is available with a solid state cache, even if you don’t have it in your configuration, the system will have an empty PCIe slot, which you can use to connect an mSATA SSD. You can also check the service manual for your notebook or look at a list of mSATA-compatible notebooks such as the one maintained by My Digital Discount .

Though you won’t find an mSATA SSD at your local Best Buy, you can purchase one at any number of hardware e-tailers, including NewEgg, Amazon, Tiger Direct, My Digital Discount and Mwave. Intel, Crucial, ADATA and Mushkin are among the popular SSD vendors who make mSATA drives, with prices ranging from $55 for a 32GB model to well over $200 for a 240GB capacity.

We recommend purchasing at least a 128GB size, which should cost between $100 and $150, depending on brand and speeds. If possible, choose a drive that’s rated for SATA III speeds. For this tutorial, we used a 240GB Intel 525 Series SSD ($299) and installed it in a ThinkPad T430 notebook.

To install an mSATA drive and make it your boot drive, follow these instructions.

Before You Begin:

  1. Install disk imaging software. We recommend Macrium Reflect Free, which we used for this tutorial.
  2. Create a full backup of your system on an external drive. Using Macrium Reflect Free, you can simply select your hard drive under the Create a backup tab, click “Image this disk” and then choose a folder on the external drive for storing the image files.
  3. Clear space on your hard drive. Make sure you don’t have more data on your hard drive than the mSATA drive can accommodate. If you bought a 128GB mSATA SSD and your hard drive has 250GB of data on it, you’ll need to delete unnecessary files and temporarily move large media files onto external drives as necessary.
  4. Install Easy BCD, a free application that helps you control which drive is your boot drive.
  5. Make sure you have admin rights. The Windows account you use to perform the upgrade must have administrator privileges. If it’s the only or main account on the laptop, it probably already is an administrative account. To check, launch the User Accounts app in the Windows Control Panel and the word “Administrator” should appear next to your username either on the first screen or after you click the “Manage user accounts” or “Manage another account” links. If not, log in to the administrative account, before you proceed.
    The User Account settings screen shows whether you are an admin 

Physical Installation:

  1. Open the your notebook’s upgrade panel and locate the PCIe slot. A thin slot that’s made to accommodate a stick the size of a piece of gum, the PCIe slot is usually located next to the RAM. If your notebook doesn’t have an upgrade panel on its back side, you may have to check its service manual on the manufacturer’s website to find out how to access the PCIe slot.
  2. Remove the existing cache driveif your notebook came with one installed. If the slot is empty, skip this step.

     

  3. Unscrew the mounting screwand put it to the side.

     

  4. Insert your mSATA SSDinto the slot. Because of a groove in the slot, you cannot insert it upside down.

     

  5. Reattach the mounting screwto hold the mSATA drive in place.

     

  6. Replace the upgrade panel or close any other parts of the chassis you had to open.

After you install the drive, it should mount and appear as a drive letter on your computer. If you don’t see the drive, check Windows’ Disk Management Utility, which appears under Computer Management in the control panel’s Administrative Tools section. If you don’t see it there, check to make sure it’s connected properly.

Make the mSATA Drive Your Boot Drive:

  1. Launch Windows Disk Management which appears as an option in the Computer Management control panel app.
    Disk Management
  2. Shrink the main partition on your hard drive so that it’s the same size or smaller than your mSATA drive. To shrink the partition, right click on it and select Shrink Volume. Then click the Shrink button in the dialog box that appears.
    Shrink the main partition on the hard drive

    It’s not necessary to change the default value in the “amount of space to shrink” field. When you’re finished shrinking, the hard drive should have hundreds of megabytes of unallocated space and the amount of allocated space should be the same amount of less than the available space on the mSATA drive.
    Shrink the drive to its smallest possible size

  3. Clone your hard drive to the mSATA SSD. In Macrium Reflect Free, click “Clone this disk” and select the mSATA disk as your destination and follow the prompts. If the mSATA drive has any existing partitions on it, delete them when given the option. This process could take anywhere from 10 minutes to half an hour.
    Select Clone Disk in Macrium Reflect FreeChoose the mSATA drive to clone to
    After cloning, your mSATA drive’s partitions will appear as drive letters with the same volume labels and data as the primary hard drive. However, the mSATA drive’s main partition will probably not be the C drive, which will cause all kinds of problems until you follow the steps below to fix it. If the mSATA drive already labeled as C, you can skip to step 22.
  4. Restart your PC and Enter your BIOS. To access the BIOS setup menu, interrupt the startup by hitting the appropriate key for your notebook, which is usually one of the function keys (F1 on our ThinkPad).
    Enter your BIOS
  5. Change the boot order in your BIOS setup menu and rank the mSATA drive higher than the hard drive. The boot order submenu appears in different plac on different notebooks, but on our ThinkPad, it was located under the Startup Tab.
    Change the boot order so the mSATA drive comes before the hard drive
  6. Launch EasyBCD in Windows.
  7. Click BCD Backup / Repair
    Click BCD Backup / Repair
  8. Select “change boot drive” and click Perform Action.
     Select Change Boot Drive and click Perform Action
  9. Select the mSATA drive’s Windows drive letter on the menu that appears. Usually this will be drive D or E, because the old hard drive still has letter C.
     Select the mSATA drive’s Windows drive letter
  10. Click Edit Boot Menu.
    Click Edit Boot Menu
  11. Delete all the entries by highlighting each and clicking Delete.
     Delete all the entries
  12. Click Add New Entry
     Click Add New Entry
  13. Enter “New Windows Drive” as Name and make sure Select Windows Vista/7/8 is selected on the Type pulldown.
  14. Select the mSATA drive’s drive letter and Click Add Entry.
     
  15. Make sure that the mSATA drive is both the boot device and Windows drive by clicking View Settings in EasyBCD.
    Make sure the mSATA drive is both the boot device and WIndows drive
  16. Reboot the PC.
  17. Launch Regedit. Either  hit Windows + R and type Regedit into the Run box or find the program by searching.
    Run Regedit 
  18. Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\MountedDevices
    Navigate to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\MountedDevices 
  19. Rename the \DosDevices\C: to \DosDevices\Z: so that the hard drive’s Windows partition will now be the Z drive. If the hard drive has any other partitions with drive letters, change their letters to lower-alphabet letters also.
    Rename the \DosDevices\C: to \DosDevices\Z:
  20. Rename the key associated with the mSATA drive’s Windows partition (ex: \DosDevices\D or \DosDevices\E:) to \DosDevices\C:. Rename any the keys for any other partitions on the mSATA drive to reflect the drive letters the original partitions used on the hard drive.
  21. Close Regedit and Reboot your PC. If you did everything correctly, the laptop will now boot off the mSATA drive, which will also be the C drive.
  22. Open the Disk Management tool and verify that the mSATA drive’s Windows partition is now the C drive.
     Open the Disk Management tool and verify that the mSATA drive’s Windows partition is now the C drive.
  23. Extend the Windows partition on the mSATA drive so it uses all available space. To expand the partition, simply right click on it, select Extend and click Next a couple of times so Windows adds all available unallocated space to it.
    Extend the mSATA drive's Windows partition to fill all available space
  24. Delete all of the partitions on the hard drive. To delete a partition, right click on it and select Delete Volume.
    Delete all of the partitions on the hard drive.
  25. Create a brand new partition on the hard drive, using all available space.To create a new partition, right click on the unallocated space and click Create New Volume then follow the prompts.
    Create a brand new partition on the hard drive

    Your laptop should now boot off of the mSATA drive with its Windows partition showing as your C drive. The hard drive will be a huge blank partition you can use for data.
     Your hard drive should now be one large, blank partition

The Payoff

So just how much of a performance benefit can you get from an mSATA SSD? Our ThinkPad T430 did not support the full SATA 6 Gb/s throughput of our Intel SSD 525 drive, but we still saw a significant speed bump.

On CrystalDiskMark, a synthetic test that measures transfer speeds, the mSATA SSD provided sequential read and write speeds of 264.7 / 233.1 MBps, about double the hard drive’s 125.1 / 124.8 MBps rates. While the hard drive took 1 minute and 57 seconds (43.5 MBps) to complete the LAPTOP File Transfer Test, which involves copying 4.97GB of files, the SSD performed the same task in just 35 seconds (145.4 MBps).

File Transfer Test

With the mSATA SSD, Windows 7 booted in just 30 seconds, a 25 percent improvement over its 40-second hard drive boot time. Even better, it launched Photoshop CS 6 to a 400MB TIF file in just 6.6 seconds while the hard drive took 21.7 seconds. The SSD also opened Adobe Reader XI to a 500-page PDF in just 3.5 seconds about half the time it took the hard drive (7.1 seconds).

Application Open Times

With the real-world performance improvements an mSATA SSD offers, you can spend less time waiting for your PC to complete tasks and more time getting things done. You don’t even have to give up your high-capacity hard drive in return.

AUTHOR BIO
Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch
The official Geeks Geek, as his weekly column is titled, Avram Piltch has guided the editorial and production of Laptopmag.com since 2007. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram programmed several of LAPTOP's real-world benchmarks, including the LAPTOP Battery Test. He holds a master’s degree in English from NYU.
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  1. Amit Khajuria Says:

    Can i upgrade dell inspiron n5010 with 50Gb mSATA SSD

  2. Steve Says:

    Hello,

    my msata ssd is not mounting and it looks like its installed correctly. I am not sure what to do.

    Lenovo Y500 256gb msata crucual ssd….

    Please help!

  3. Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director Says:

    @Steve,

    Did you replace an existing mSATA SSD. If so, make sure you disable caching in the BIOS and/or the Intel caching software if installed. Also, check the disk management panel to see if the drive is appearing there.

  4. Peter Says:

    Hello, I’ve followed your instructions with at new win 8 T530 and a Crucial CT256M4SSD3. All works well untill i get to 8) change boot drive where i get the message “an attempt was made to change the boot partition to a logical drive which is not allowed. The boot partition must be a primary partition.” Even though disk manager shows the d: as a primary partition and if i remove the original HD the system boots to the new SSD and lists it as the c:. But of course when i put the old HD back in it again is the c: and the ssd is the d:. What am i doing wrong ??
    thanks

  5. Dylan Says:

    I have a Lenovo Z580 and the bios is locked can i still do this?

    Also there is something in my PCIe slot and i think its my wi-fi card?

    Help Please!

  6. Daniel Watts Says:

    I just spent two days trying to figure this out. Turns out that you need to initialise your SSD as MBR to follow this procedure. NOT GPT. Otherwise you cannot use the EasyBCD to change the boot drive – it won’t see it as a primary drive.

    Also I installed the 2.2 version of EasyBCD to get this working properly with Windows 8. There are installers for 2.2 but actually install 2.1.2 instead. – this version didn’t work for me.

    Lastly, in the BIOS remember to change the start up sequence to follow the old ‘legacy’ bios order before the new EFI devices.

  7. Dustin Says:

    I am trying to determine if I can setup a msata boot drive in a Dell 17r 5720. The manual and everything I have found so far in searching has suggested that the msata slot for this model is mainly to be used as a cache drive, and Dell only confirms that 32gb msata drives will work. I have not found anyone yet who has confirmed that the procedure described in this article will work with the Dell 17r 5720 and with a drive larger than 32gb. If anyone has experience with this specific model and can speak to this question, it would be appreciated.

  8. Victor Says:

    Do you know if this causes any problems with the Lenovo One touch recovery?
    I Have the Y500 with a 1TB HDD and 16GB SSD which I am looking to up to at least 128GB and make it my boot drive. My concern is I will loose the ability to use the one touch recovery. I was planning on leaving the lenovo partion on my HDD as a back up. Any thoughts on this?

  9. Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director Says:

    I’m not sure if that will work, but you can always use Macrium reflect or another backup program to create a disk image you store on another drive.

  10. Alex Says:

    For some reason I was able to boot into my mSATA SSD on my Y500 without changing the drive letters in the HDD Windows installation. It appears that my SSD Windows partition is already labeled as C. In this case (I have confirmed that I did boot into the SSD Windows installation) am I okay to delete the HDD partitions?

  11. louis Says:

    Easiest way is to install a new OS on your SSD, you can always activate your license. Remember to use UEFI+GPT+Win8 64bit, which can be very fast.
    Tested on a very cheap e430 platform with a 32GB liteon msata ssd

  12. WizeGuy Says:

    THIS MAY BE VERY BAD ADVICE! (Depending on your system BIOS) After installing the mSATA use the device as an inelegant cache that learns your behavior. I have this with Win 8 and my system literally boots in 10 seconds. Not only that, but once a program is used and shown to be a regular patter as what you do, it get’s loaded in the cache so it to start SSD fast. Just Install Intel’s RST software to enable the cache. I believe the system bios needs to support it.

    You get the BETTER of the best of two worlds.

  13. grayball Says:

    The installation and resulting function on my Lenovo W530 worked just great save for one SMALL inconvenience. Whenever I right-click on any of the partitions on the mSATA (SYSTEM_DRV (F:), Windows7_OS (C:), Lenovo_Recovery (Q:), and the remaining 500GB HDD (D:), I get the message “Windows Explorer has stopped working”. I then get the message that it is restarting but does not. I just get the desktop. Any thoughts, solutions, or jokes? Thanks for any reply.

  14. Avram Piltch, LAPTOP Online Editorial Director Says:

    Hmm. Not sure why that would happen. Sounds like it’s not related to the transfer.

  15. grayball Says:

    Right click on all other folders, files, and drives (DVD) works just fine. It seems to me that it only has to do with the transfer as all else is good.

  16. MFFJM Says:

    I just replaced my 20GB msata in my Acer M5-481 with a 128MB msata and loaded win8 on it and used it as the boot drive. Tons faster, no issues noted yet. Just started by making a recovery USB with Acer software. Then opened the case, replaced the msata, unhooked the 500GB HDD, and booted off the recovery USB and did a recovery install (factory) of win8. Once done, I shut down, and reattached the 500GB HDD, and rebooted ensuring I F12′d and chose the msata as the boot drive. Once in win8, I copied over any files I wanted, then formatted my 500GB drive for data. Much easier than I thought it was going to be.

  17. eternota Says:

    hello,guys..nice article..I just wanted to know if anybody knows if the Samsung S5 series (in my case NP530U) have the msata soldered to the motherboard or if it can be replaced? (most samsung S5, like mine, include a mSATA SSD for caching + HDD)..I wonder if a can do the upgrade in my 14′ laptop from my 24gb mSATA to a proper 128 or 25GB mSATA SSD

  18. mradios Says:

    I did follow the Daniel Watts’s recommendations:

    1- I did initialize the SSD (ADATA SX300) as MBR but when I wanted to clone to SDD the EasyBCD see the SDD as GPT and not MBR and get stuck on step 8) change boot drive where I get the message “an attempt was made to change the boot partition to a logical drive which is not allowed. The boot partition must be a primary partition.” Even though disk manager shows the d: as a primary partition

    2- I already installed and using the 2.2 version of EasyBCD and checked the file version and it showing 2.2.0.182.

    3- I Did change the boot order in BIOS and set the SDD befroe:

    a) ATA HHD2 ADATA SX300
    b) USB CD
    c) USB FDD
    d) ATAPI CD0 HL-DT-ST DVDRAM GT80N
    e) Windows Boot manager
    f) ATA HDD0 HGST HTS725050A7E630
    g) ATA HDD 1
    h) USB HDD
    i) PCI LAN
    j) ATAPI CD1
    k) ATA HDD3

  19. mradios Says:

    Finally issue resolved, had to format the mSATA drive as MBR, run the EasyBCD 2.2, try to change the boot sequence, still getting the same message “an attempt was made to change the boot partition to a logical drive which is not allowed. The boot partition must be a primary partition.”. decided to reboot the system, mSATA drvie was showing as C:\ after reboot. Removed the old drive, reboot, was able the system with mSATA, added back the old drive to system, format the drive and use it for storage. Thanks to Daniel Watts .

  20. Don McMahan Says:

    the simple way to make the msata ssd the boot drive is after cloning or doing fresh install just remove the hdd and start up the computer. it makes the only drive available C/. Then shut down, replace the hdd and start, it will boot from ssd (C/) and designate the hdd as drive D/ even though it is in the drive 0 position.

  21. Marek Says:

    Hi
    I would like to ask you, if it’s possible to clone my laptop’s HDD to mSATA throught my desktop computer. In this case Widows 8 installed in laptop’s HDD won’t be running during clonong HDD, so i could avoid problems with booting windows after cloning. After finishing cloning process, i would simply format HDD, insert my mSATA and HDD to my notebook and boot windows from mSATA. Thanks

  22. Rohit Says:

    I installed mSATA with the help of your article and my lenovo x220 tablet is running 40% faster now. Thanks a lot!!

  23. Jaimito Says:

    Helo Avram P, good job on the informative article. Is there any difference in speed on mSATA SSD vs mSATA “III” SSD??

  24. CP Says:

    Windows only me shrink down to 378GB. I need to get it down to 110GB. If I click on shrink the amount to shrink is 0.
    How do I achieve this?

  25. The Sim Says:

    Thanks for the article, especially the recommendation for Macrium Reflect really helped. That is some great software, and it’s free!!
    BTW 1- You can use Disk Management utility itself to change drive letters, no need to go into Regedit.
    2- I initialized the mSata SSD as GPT, then cloned the main hard drive partitions and tweaked my boot order, and didn’t need EasyBCD at all – it just booted directly into the ssd on the first try. It also made the SSD the C: drive automatically.

  26. Neville Says:

    I performed this on my new laptop without too much issues. What’s not included in this tutorial is how to transfer your user files and settings to the SATA drive on the new laptop.

  27. Cam Johnston Says:

    Thank you for the article very helpful.
    I have installed my mSATA card as instructed and that part went fine. Like a couple of other folks the drive is not being recognized by Windows 7. I have checked the storage management in windows 7 and the drive is not there in any form. I have disabled all caching as suggested in the polices for the drive in windows 7. Again no drive being recognized.

    Any help you could provide would really be appreciated.

  28. Sam Lee Says:

    HI,

    I followed your step Make the mSATA Drive Your Boot Drive: step 11
    When i deleted all my boot setting and added the new one according to your instruction on step 12.
    Ended up when i reboot my computer. it just stuck at the load up screen. I cant boot up my computer anymore.
    PLease help me…. T_T

  29. Amer Riaz Says:

    Can I upgrade HP Envy 15-j138tx with a 240 GB mSATA SSD and use the SSD as the boot drive?

  30. Reza Says:

    Hi,
    I have Lenovo W530 with 500HD, I was wondering if I could add and SSD or mSATA internal to be used for boot up disk? What size mSATA would be suitable.
    Thanks

  31. Renan Says:

    Hi, I have a HP ENVY 15-j054ca, and I was planning to buy a mSata (250GB), but I lookep up on the manual, and I’ve found: Support for 24-GB mSATA solid-state drive. It really means I can only install 24GB hard drive at maximum ? It doesn’t make much sense.. Thank you

  32. John Says:

    This is great! Just what i was looking for!
    I have just buildt a new rig and installed two ssd’s (500gb +1tb)thinking i would use the 500gb one for win and boot while the other for storage….but when i installed win (8) it default installed win to 500gb and boot to 1tb….why on earth it would do that is beyond me! However, leasson learned: just install one SSd/hdd before installing os, Then install others afterwards:)

  33. Chris K Says:

    Hi…

    Can someone offer some help!?

    I installed a 250gb samsung msata, but when I go to step 8 I get the same message a few others have:

    “an attempt was made to change the boot partition to a logical drive which is not allowed. The boot partition must be a primary partition.”

    I haven’t really found a clear answer as to what to do from here. The msata was formatted as an MBR. I also tried changing the boot order from UEFI to legacy but that simply prevented my computer from booting.

    I am running windows 8.1 on an acer r7.

  34. dokotak Says:

    need help

  35. pradeep Says:

    Hi

    I’m not able to find the msata connector in my qosmio x70

    i didn’t buy it from toshiba as it was way above my budget so i decided to snag one when there was an offer in msata

    recently i bought a 128GB msata and i have been struggling to look find it

    Kindly help me

  36. Jas Says:

    My main partition only shrunk to 357gb but there is 310gb of free space. My mSATA ssd contains 120gb.

  37. a_c Says:

    I deleted all entries by Easy BCD and the 2 new entries, that I added, do not work. I am not able to entry to windows neither with HDD nor SDD. The restort and recovery menu do not work.
    What can I do?

  38. RAJEEV NAGARSENKAR Says:

    I have lenovo y 500 laptop with 80gb hdd, Ineed to replace the HDD, will 500gb hdd support? please chare your opinion.

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