Monday, July 21, 2014

Swapping the HDD for an SSD on the Lenovo U310 Ultrabook

There was a time, before SSDs and Ultrabooks, when life was simple. You received your "laptop" from a generous uncle or cousin; or perhaps you scrimped and saved until you got one. It would be smooth going: the 9+ pound weight wasn't a concern; 5400 rpm of hard-drive speed was great, for they'd couple that with a whopping 80 Giga (!) Bytes of space. 

Tinkering was restricted, mostly, to those occasions when you'd spill your late-night coffee all over your keyboard and your laptop would start randomly popping open windows and typing strange chat messages to strangers and your keys would become all ... sticky. "I popped open all the keys and cleaned my laptop today," you'd say proudly to anyone willing to lend a year. Perhaps at the end of your laptop's life, you'd replace the battery with a cheap Chinese knockoff, or reinstall Windows. 

Heck, once upon a time, my laptop started blue-screening every time it hit a bad sector. It took 3 or 4 trial-and-error attempts, but I finally partitioned off the bad sector into a 2GB "quarantine" and installed Windows on the rest of the 80GB drive. I even managed to sell it off on EBay!

But ... those were the good old days (*sigh*). Enter SSDs. Suddenly, our laptops were just. not. fast. enough! To go back to an HDD after trying out your friend's shiny new MacBook was like going back to public transport after having driven a car. And Ultrabooks totally messed it up for the budget-conscious laptop buyer. From being okay with spending a few hundred dollars, now we were forced to fork out at least double that, for a yesteryear almost-Ultrabook. And once you'd been with an Ultrabook, you couldn't go back to a regular full-sized laptop. Again, *sigh*.

And so it was, that when my existing Ultrabook died (I dropped it during a playful tussle with my nephew), I was forced to look for an alternative. 
The cheapest alternative out there, was a 42000 INR (I had returned to India by then) Lenovo U310. Even the date of manufacture on the label made me balk - it was a year old at purchase, and was probably sitting on a store shelf gathering dust! Either way, I had to get it. It was a relative steal at the price. 

Barely 7 months after purchase, the laptop started feeling slow. This was not helped by the fact that my work laptop was a Core i7 + 128 GB SSD beast. So, I decided to make the switch from HDD to SSD! 

Swapping the HDD with SSD - what you need

  • Swapping out the Lenovo laptop's Hard Disk is child's play if you have done it before. I have to say that Lenovo has made it very easy to access the Hard Drive Bay. 
  • If you haven't swapped out HDDs before, I strongly recommend proceeding with caution. The back cover and parts are cheap plastic and will break or at-least chip off if you aren't careful.
  • An SSD, or solid state drive, around INR 6000-10000 at time of writing. Try searching Flipkart for a good deal. 
  • An installation ISO for Windows
  • A USB thumb drive, greater than 4 GB.
  • An expired credit/debit/shopping rewards card.
  • A good screw driver set.
  • An ESATA-to-USB adapter case.
  • An External Hard Drive
  • Windows 7 USB/DVD/Download Tool


  1. Back up your existing data to the external Hard Drive.
  2. Using Windows 7 USB/DVD Download Tool, create a bootable USB Drive using the 4GB Thumb Drive and the Windows 7 ISO.
  3. You will use this thumb drive later, to install Windows.

Remove the rubbery pads

Remove the rubbery pads using your (uncut) fingernails
Point of no return
  1. First remove the four rubbery pads from the bottom of your Lenovo.
  2. Use your extra-long fingernails to do this.
  3. It might take some effort but eventually you will get through.

Unscrew the back cover

  1. Using a screwdriver, remove the 4 screws that are now exposed.
  2. See the little sticker in the image? That voids your warranty (moment of truth!)

Remove the back cover

There goes my Zipcard!

Start at the hinge, proceed clockwise

  1. Now use the plastic card and gently slide it under your case, just near the screen hinge.
  2. Jiggle it up and down until you hear a snapping sound. This means the fastening buckle has come out. Do it gently or else the buckle will break!
  3. Proceed clock-wise until each buckle has snapped open.
  4. The last buckle is especially tricky and can snap if you are rough!
  5. After all the buckles are out, gently prise the case open. It should come out easily.

Remove the Hard Drive

Unfasten the screws
Connect the SATA connector properly

  1. This is the easy part if you know your way around a screwdriver and HDD.
  2. The hard drive is fastened to a case, and that case is fastened to the board by 4 screws. Take out these 4 screws.
  3. Gently lift the hard drive + case. Unfasten the SATA connector. 
  4. Detach the Hard Drive from its case by removing the 4 screws on the sides.

Insert the SSD

  1. Attach the SSD to the case in exactly the same alignment as the HDD was. The holes in the case and the grooves in the SSD should align without trouble.
  2. Reattach the 4 case screws. 
  3. Reattach the SATA connector. Don't force it in! Take note of how it aligns. 
  4. Place this connected SSD into the hard drive slot so that the screw grooves in the laptop align with the corresponding holes in the HDD case. 
  5. Screw it down tightly.

Replace the Case and Rubber Pads

  1. Replace the case and rubbery pads. This is not as easy as it looks!
  2. Each of the 4 rubber pads has a number. You need to match it with the corresponding number on the laptop's case!

Start it up!

  1. Hopefully you have done everything right. Start the machine, with the USB bootable disk connected.
  2. You will need to hold down Fn + F2 during startup to boot into Setup.
  3. Under the boot menu, check that you see the USB Thumb Drive as well as your SSD.
  4. Move the Thumb Drive to the top of the list. Save and restart.
  5. Now, the laptop will start using the thumb drive. Install Windows like you normally would, and you are good to go!