Just because you’ve run out of hard drive space, doesn’t mean you need to buy a whole new computer. Save money and avoid e-waste with our handy guide for first time tinkerers.

Why you should upgrade your computer

Computers are a major part of our daily workflows, helping us to create, plan, research and browse the endless expanse of information known as the internet. Unfortunately, every document, file, game and app on your computer takes up space on your hard drive, and that real estate is finite.

When you initially purchased your computer, you may have picked a preconfigured storage size that suited your needs at the time. However, those hard drives can quickly fill up, even when we offload our data to the cloud or external storage units.

The volume of computers and other electronic devices that we discard each year reached over 57 million metric tonnes in 2020.

Many people will opt to save up for another computer, one with more space, as a means to remedy this issue. But what if there was a less expensive alternative, one that made sure your current device could live a little longer and avoid becoming e-waste? The volume of computers and other electronic devices that we discard each year reached over 57 million metric tonnes in 2020, a figure that continues to grow. Likewise, production of new electronics contributes to global greenhouse gas emissions. Although many vendors have pledged to reduce their carbon emissions, one of the best ways you can already do this is to consume fewer items and hold on to what you already have for longer.

Old school computer enthusiasts will know where this is going, as will those with classic-style tower PCs. The answer lies in upgrading your device! Individual parts will always cost less than a whole new device. Fortunately, we are starting to see more hardware makers return to designs that are far more sustainable, increasing their longevity and usability by allowing consumers to once again repair and upgrade their own devices.

When one of our Surface Pro 8 PCs started to run low on space, we decided to put together a guide for those that are interested attempting their own upgrade, written with novice DIYers in mind. Follow along, and let’s push back on hardware obsolescence with a more economical and ecological solution.

What you’ll need

Here are the key items you’ll need to install a new SSD in your Surface device:

  • A solid-state drive that is compatible with your device type.
    We used an a 512GB Kioxia (Toshiba) M.2 2230 SSD to replace our existing 256GB SSD. Either check with your local PC store or look up the following SKU’s online to find a similar unit: KBG40ZNS256G (256GB), KBG40ZNS512G (512GB), KBG40ZNS1T02 (1TB).

  • A USB drive that is at least 16GB in size.
    Depending on your device’s ports, this could be either a Type-C or Type-A USB.

  • SIM ejector tool and T3 Torx screwdriver.
    Both are available from iFixit. You may already have an ejector tool in the box that came with your mobile phone.

Optional: Depending on your device configuration, and how thorough you want to be with this upgrade, you may wish to make sure your new drive is mounted in an optimal way. Addressing the heat conduction situation will allow your drive to run at a higher temperature and faster speeds, for longer. This is optional but recommended, since you are already upgrading the storage capacity. Reusing the existing SSD enclosure will also ensure that the new SSD is firmly secure in your device and won’t rattle, although this can also be achieved using a very thin shim or thermal pad between the SSD and the SSD slot.

  • Thermal Paste (or pad), Rubbing alcohol, Pry tool.
    iFixit sells a pry tool, and your local PC store may stock the other optional items.
The tools for the job.

Upgrade steps

The whole process should take between 1-2 hours and involves just a few steps. Make sure you have backed up any important data and that your device is well charged before begining the upgrade.

  • Prepare the Recovery Drive (USB)
  • Download the Recovery Image
  • Remove the existing SSD
  • Install the new SSD
  • Reinstall Windows

Prepare the Recovery Drive (USB)

  1. Power on your Surface device and plug in your USB
  2. Click Start and search for Recovery Drive
  3. Launch the application. Select yes to allow the app to make changes to your device.
  4. Uncheck the option to Back up system files to the recovery drive (not required).
  5. Select your USB drive and continue through the prompts to format and wipe the USB drive.
  6. The application will then delete the contents of the USB and configure it as a bootable recovery drive for Windows 11.
  • Windows operating system screenshots showing a recovery drive being configured.
  • Windows operating system screenshots showing a recovery drive being configured.
  • Windows operating system screenshots showing a recovery drive being configured.
  • Screenshot of the Microsoft Windows Surface app, showing system information.

Download the Recovery Image

  1. Take note of your Surface’s serial number, which can be found in the Surface app (in the Device information section) or under the kickstand of your device. You can launch the Surface app by searching for it by clicking Start and typing in Surface. If your device doesn’t have the Surface app installed, you can grab it from the Microsoft Store.

    Using the app will also confirm your Surface device type, which we’ll be using in the next step. The device type is also listed as a “Surface model code” under the kickstand, which you can check online to confirm.
  2. Next, you’ll want to browse to the Microsoft support site and search for Surface Recovery Image to get the latest files that will be used to reinstall Windows on your new SSD.
  3. Enter your Surface device type and serial number to start the download, which may take a few minutes to finish, depending on the speed of your internet connection.
  4. Once downloaded, unzip the files onto your USB and replace any duplicate files if prompted.

Remove the existing SSD

  1. Power off your Surface device and remove the USB drive.
  2. Open the kickstand to access the door of the SSD panel located underneath.
  3. Use the SIM tool to open the panel.
  4. Pop off the panel and use the T3 Torx screwdriver to remove the screw holding the SSD enclosure.
  5. Using a pry tool (or thin lever), lift the SSD up at a slight angle, then gently pull it towards you to remove it.
  • Removing a hard drive from a tablet PC.
  • Removing a hard drive from a tablet PC.
  • Removing a hard drive from a tablet PC.
  • Removing a hard drive from a tablet PC.
  • Removing a hard drive from a tablet PC.

Decision point: If you don’t wish to reuse the SSD enclosure, ignore the following steps and jump to the section on installing the new SSD.

  1. Use the pry tool to gently separate each side of the enclosure, starting on an edge and carefully working your way around, looking for gaps to tease apart.
  2. Remove the SSD and clean the existing thermal paste from the enclosure using rubbing alcohol and a small applicator (such as a cotton bud). If you plan to keep the old SSD, be sure to carefully remove the thermal paste from it as well.
  3. Remove the label from the SSD.
  4. Place a small amount of thermal paste where the label was and gently spread it over the same area. Of, if you are using a thin-width thermal pad, cut an equal sized amount and place it in the same area.
  5. Insert the SSD into the enclosure and press the sides together until secure.
  • Removing and cleaning a small PC hard drive.
  • Removing and cleaning a small PC hard drive.
  • Removing and cleaning a small PC hard drive.

Install the new SSD

  1. Line up the new SSD with the SSD slot, making sure to insert it at a slight angle, (just as you did when removing the old SSD). The new SSD should pop down into place if lined up correctly, using minimal force.
  2. Secure the SSD with the single screw and replace the SSD panel door.

Reinstalling Windows

The hard part is over, now the fun begins. Make sure your Surface has ample battery power and is also plugged in and charging during this step (connection to your standard wall outlet with normal AC power delivery is preferred here).

  1. With your device connected to an active charger, insert the USB Recovery Drive.
  2. Press and hold both the power and volume down (-) buttons at the same time.
  3. Keep holding them until you see the Surface logo, then release the power button (but keep pressing the volume down button).
  4. Once you see the Windows Recovery menu, release the volume down button.
  5. Select Choose your language.
  6. Select Recover from a drive.
  7. Follow the onscreen prompts to finish reinstalling Windows.
  8. Apply any security updates, configure and customise your Surface as needed.
  • Computer screenshot showing hard drive speeds.
  • Computer screenshot showing increased hard drive speeds.

Finishing up

Congratulations, you made it. According to the rules of the internet, you can now be officially dubbed a tech guru. Plus, you’ve just ensured that your device has avoided landfill by extending its life through your nifty handwork.

Overall, the longest part of this entire process will be installing the required updates and tinkering with the system to get it to your liking, although you at least shouldn’t have to worry about your files and some system settings thanks to the use of a recovery drive.

With a new, faster SSD installed, you should see better system performance and enjoy the benefit of having more space on your PC. Remember to keep your old SSD handy in case you ever do need to send your device in for repairs or a warranty claim.

Now go enjoy your freshly upgraded computer (and the deserved DIY bragging rights).

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