New Toy: Intel 310 mSATA SSD

New Toy: Intel 310 mSATA SSDI’ve been into SSDs the last couple of months. It’s the kind of thing where a day or so after installing it, the speed of your computer feels just “normal” and nothing breathtaking, until you go back to using a hard disk and then it’s “OMG! How did I ever live with this before?”

I bought a Intel 320 160GB SSD earlier this year which I ran in my netbook, the speed increase was amazing, although the netbook’s slow CPU became the next bottleneck. Since upgrading to the thinkpad X220, I’ve moved that SSD into my desktop PC, where it hosts my OS and home directories, along with a 2TB Seagate drive for larger media stuff.

The thinkpad was pretty snappy with its standard 320GB but of course the pull of solid-state technology didn’t keep me away for long. The main trade-off with an SSD is the cost per gigabyte, something like 320GB would probably set me off half the price of the thinkpad itself. On a desktop PC, the ideal state is to combine a SSD with a regular hard disk, but on a laptop with only one drive bay your choices are quite limited.

Not so with the ThinkPad X220 (and a few recent business-class laptops). While most laptops have a second mini PCI-e slot to allow expansion for a built-in Wireless WAN (i.e. 3G) card, the one in the X220 also doubles as an mSATA port ( Most people never use the WWAN slot, as it’s much easier to just plug in a USB 3G dongle, so this slot is ideal to be used for an SSD, as it lets you still keep the existing hard drive for media stuff.

mSATA SSDs are much harder to find though. Intel makes one that works with the X220 (Lenovo offers it as an option when buying the X220 in the US), but its hard to source. NewEgg occasionally have a few units, but then its a rush to buy it before stock is depleted again. I eventually managed to buy an 80GB Intel 310 ( off Logic Supply (

It arrived yesterday together with some other stuff from the US. Despite the lack of sleep and alarm bells going on in my head not to strip the thinkpad X220 bare at 3:00AM in the morning, I went ahead anyway …

You can get the excellent Service Manual for the ThinkPad X220 of Lenovo’s website ( There a few steps to cover to get to the WWAN Slot:

* Remove the Battery
* Remove the screws (all helpfully indicated with an icon next to the screw)
* Slide open the keyboard
* Slide open the wrist pad

Opening everything felt “right” i.e. no un-natural force was required like some of the Dell models I’ve opened before. The screw to mount the SSD was also already present on the motherboard, so it was just a matter of removing the screw, sliding in the SSD, and replacing the screw, then reversing the steps reassemble the laptop.

On first boot … nothing happened. I looked all over the BIOS and also Linux’s “dmesg” output but the SSD was not detected at all. Some googling revealed that i needed BIOS 1.19 or later for the Intel 310 to be recognized, and mine was 1.16 … so I headed over to Lenovo’s website, rebooted to Windows 7, and upgraded the BIOS.

On next boot, the SSD was detected. I re-installed Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal on the SSD, and the began migrating my stuff over from the hard disk into the SSD.

The SSD appears in as a second SATA Device (/dev/sdb). Grub is installed into the MBR of my hard disk (/dev/sda) and lets me boot into Windows 7 or Ubuntu on the hard disk, or Ubuntu on the SSD.

This post was originally published publicly on Google+ at 2011-09-15 13:33:10+0800

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