You might know M.2 as NGFF, the ‘next generation form-factor’ for plugin modules on laptop and small-form-factor motherboards. You can find out more here but in short, it’s either a SATA or PCIe interface to modules like SSD, LTE and the like. MyDigitalSSD kindly sent a half-height M.2. SATA over along with a $199 Chromebook so here’s the how-to, video and results of the Acer C720 Chromebook upgrade.
Why upgrade the SSD in a Chromebook?
It’s a good question considering that Chromebooks are designed to work with files in the ‘cloud’ but here are some reasons you might consider.
1 – Local storage for video and music playback. With 8 hours battery life on the Acer C720 it makes a great video playback device.
2 – Increased SSD speed
3 – Increase the storage to enable the switch to a full Linux distribution.
The video review at the end of this article is only 12 minutes long so we recommend watching it before you do the upgrade but the step-by-step instructions are also listed below.
You’ll need a 4GB SD card, a small cross-head screwdriver, the M.2 SATA drive and a strong fingernail. The process will take about 30 minutes including system recovery operations.
We’re using the MyDigitalSSD Super Cache 2 128GB module, also available in 32, 64 and 256GB sizes. For latest prices, see the shop at MyDigitalDiscount.com. At the time of writing the 128GB module is $99.99
Summary. Detail Below.
- Save all your ‘download’ documents to an external drive as they will not be retained.
- Create backup media
- Open Chromebook
- Swap Drive and replace cover.
- Boot, insert SD card
- Follow Recovery process
- Restore downloads if required
You will invalidate your warranty when you do this. You’re on your own if you break anything.
Create backup media
Turn on the Chromebook and insert an SD card. (Min 4Gb, This will be formatted and you will lose files already on it.)
Go to the browser and type chrome://imageburner
You’ll see a simple set of instructions that will allow you to create the recovery drive.
The recovery image will be download and copied to the card. Speed depends on your Internet connection speed.
Remove the SD card when the process is finished. Now you can shut down the Chromebook.
Open the Acer C2720 from the rear.
Turn over your Acer C720 onto a clean piece of paper (printer paper is generally clean) to stop the case getting scratched. Unscrew all the cross-head screws from the rear of the unit. One is hiding under a sticker. Once you’ve broken that sticker you don’t have a warranty.
Check the video below to see how to remove the rear in detail but if you’ve ever prised electronics equipment open in the past you’ll know that you have to work a thumbnail, or thin plastic tool between the cover and frame and ‘unsnap’ the two parts while working around from the front to the sides and then to the back which should come away as you lift up the rear cover. There’s no glue so if it doesn’t come apart easily, check you’ve removed all the screws. That’s how we found the ‘secret’ screw under the sticker.
When the unit is open it will look something like this.
Swap the M.2 SATA drive
This is easy. Just undo the one screw as shown in the picture (or video below) and wiggle the module out of the slot. It comes away easily but there was a bit of sticky paper on our model. Just peel it back.
Put the new M.2 SATA module and insert the screw.
Replace the cover by putting it on from the rear first. Leave the screws out until you know it works.
Turn the unit on and you’ll see an error. Insert the SD card and recovery is automated. Just wait for the install to complete and you’re done. After a reboot and after logging in your apps will be restored. If you want to restore your downloads folder, do that now.
If the restore fails you’ll have to replace the old SSD and try creating the recovery SD card again.
The upgrade increased the free space from 9GB to 109GB and this can be used for your music and video collection or, as many people will be thinking, convert the unit to Linux. We haven’t done that but there are some instructions out there that will help you achieve that. As for Windows install it looks like the process is very difficult. If you’re happy hacking your BIOS, go ahead. We won’t be doing that but we’ll write about it if you’re successful!
The secondary advantage is one of speed. Although it’s difficult to do speed tests from ChromeOS we were able to do some rudimentary tests using file copy from USB and on the drive itself.
|Test||Stock 16GB (Kingston) SSD||MyDigital SSD|
Copy 2.2GB from USB3.0 Drive
|1:44 (21MB/s)||1:13 (31MB/s)|
Copy 2.2GB file on-drive
|2:39 (14MB/s)||1:12 (31MB/s)|
It appears that the internal interface / bus con the Chromebook isn’t actually that fast for what should be a sequential read/write operation. When tested on an Ultrabook the MyDigitalSSD drive was capable of 435MB/s Sequential Read and 137MB/s write. Also measured on an Ultrabook were 4K read speeds of 29MB/s and 4K write speeds of 44.74MB/s.
Despite the relatively slow file copy speed we see a good increase in the on-drive copy speeds over over 100% and that’s going to help the system a lot. Whether it’s noticeable is another matter but we suspect that if you went back to the stock SSD after 6 months you’d notice the slower speed of the original.
Your questions, experiences and tips are welcome in the section below the article.
Video: How to upgrade the SSD on the Acer.
Thanks to MydigitalSSD for the loan of the module and Chromebook. Again, we were using the MyDigitalSSD Super Cache 2 128GB module, also available in 32, 64 and 256GB sizes. For latest prices, see the shop at MyDigitalDiscount.com.