I’m in the processing of prepping my previous production PC for a family member right now. In so doing, I faced an interesting challenge. The unit incorporates a Gigabyte Z77X-UD3H motherboard, which in turn plays host to an mSATA SSD onboard. As things stood last Friday, that was a Samsung 840 EVO 500 GB unit, which still retails for over $300. Because I still have a 250 GB version of the same device at my disposal, I wanted to switch out the bigger unit for the smaller one so I can use it in one of my Lenovo laptops (or as a reasonably speedy USB 3.0 device, as I’ll proceed to explain). In determining how to make the switch, I learned that swapping out mSATA SSDs needs cool tools. Let me explain…
Why Say “Swapping Out mSATA SSDs Needs Cool Tools?”
The situation reminds me of a famous conundrum from Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. It goes like this: “How can you tell you’ve got flies in your eyes if you’ve got flies in your eyes?” That situation involves transferring the contents of one mSATA SSD to another on a system that has only one mSATA socket. Thus, there are two classic ways to solve the problem:
- Make an image backup of the source drive while it’s still installed in the socket. Remove the source drive and install the target drive. Then, restore the image backup to the target drive while booted to a recovery disk of some kind. Conduct any startup repairs that might be needed.
- Purchase a device to house the mSATA SSD for USB attachment to the PC. Clone the source drive to the target drive. Shut down the PC, and swap source for target, then conduct any necessary startup repairs.
After looking into the tools at my disposal, I elected approach #2. I used two tools to effect the swap — namely, MiniTool Partition Wizard (MPW) and Macrium Reflect (Free).
Lessons Learned While Swapping Out mSATA SSDs
A quick Internet search showed me that Sabrent makes a $15 USB 3.0 enclosure for mSATA drives. Better yet, it was available at my local Frys superstore. I ordered it online, and drove down to pick it up on Saturday afternoon. It proved to be surprisingly sturdy, too. Its housing is made of nicely machined aluminum.
The unit runs pretty warm with an SSD inside, but it does the job and runs pretty fast.
I used the commercial version of MPW ($39) because it can switch from an MBR source disk to a GPT target disk as part of cloning operations. Next, I used its partition management facilities, and downsized the OS partition from 460-odd GB to 232 GB. Finally, I shifted the recovery partition adjacent to the OS partition so it fit the smaller drive, then cloned source to target. Then, a quick shutdown, and the actual swap of source for target drive on the mobo. After working through those gyrations, I then booted to the Macrium Rescue Media. Its startup repair facility let the new GPT-formatted 250 GB SSD do its job at boot time. The whole process took about an hour, as I noodled through necessary steps along the way.
Along the way, I learned some interesting lessons:
- The Gigabyte motherboard is old enough that it won’t boot from a USB 3.0 port. I got stuck on a “minus-sign” cursor on three different bootable UFDs (Microsoft Recovery, Macrium Rescue and Kyhi’s Recovery Tools) before it finally dawned on me that I had to plug into a USB 2.0 port to boot from a UFD.
- Even after the Windows 10 Recovery media booted the PC, its “Startup Repair” tools proved unequal to the task of fixing my boot environment. Instead, I got an error message that repair attempts had failed. The Macrium Rescue Media rebuilt my startup environment without a hitch, and did so in under a minute.
- I ended up switching the motherboard BIOS to UEFI boot only settings throughout, instead of the earlier combo (Legacy + UEFI) boot settings it had used. I didn’t realize I’d formatted the 500 GB SSD as MBR to begin with, and the previous setting probably explains why that happened. Going forward, UEFI only should prevent this from recurring