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Using an External SSD as an Internal SSD? All you need to know

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Solid State Drive (SSD) is well known for being much faster than HDD, but it’s certainly more expensive. If you already have an external SSD, you might consider saving on upgrades by converting it to an internal SSD for your computer. Can you do this?

You can use an external SSD as an internal SSD only if it’s compatible with a SATA interface, and you can remove the casing. Some companies make it difficult to remove the casing or install programs, making the conversion impossible.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about converting an external SSD and using it to upgrade your computer. 

Differences Between Internal and External SSD

Before I explain how you can convert your old external SSD, it’s important to explore the differences between the two. The main concern when converting drives from portable and fixed is speed. 

Internal SSDs typically have a fast read/write speed if all other factors are kept constant. This is chiefly because internal SSDs usually have better connections or interfaces. The physical form of an SSD affects speed as well. 

Note that speed doesn’t change with the capacity (storage space) of an SSD. Now, let’s take a look at how internal and external solid-state drives compare when it comes to interface:

Internal SSD: PCIe or SATA

The most commonly used SSD interface is the Serial ATA (Advanced Technology Attachment). It is also known as SATA. Although it is the older of the two, SATA is also compatible with hard drives. This makes it more universal and practically ubiquitous. Transfer rates using SATA can reach a maximum of 6 GB/s.

On the other hand, PCIe (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express) is a new innovation that brings even more read/write speed. Tests show that it is around four times faster at data transfer when compared to a SATA interface. However, it’s worth mentioning that not all SSDs are compatible with PCIe. 

External SSD: USB 

You’re probably familiar with USB connections as a data transfer interface. USB interfaces have changed drastically over the years, evolving from the slower USB-A up to USB-C. The latter is faster and compatible with USB 3.0 hosts (and Thunderbolt for Apple devices). 

USB-C is the fastest connection and transfers data at a maximum rate of 10 GB/s, which is actually faster than PCIe or SATA.

So, to compare internal and external SSDs without factoring in the cables and interfaces is pointless. It’s also worth mentioning that internal SSD can be cheaper to buy than external SSD because manufacturers do not need to include the case or even any wire.

How to Convert an External SSD to an Internal Part

Now that we’ve compared External and Internal SSDs, let’s take a look at how to convert one to the other. Note that not all models are suitable for this conversion, and here are two things to look for:

  • Dimensions: Some SSDs are actually just an internal SSD device in a plastic case, so they aren’t shaped differently. You should check whether your SSD’s dimensions are compatible with an internal SSD. 
  • Interface compatibility: You should be able to use the SSD with a SATA interface in order to use it as an internal drive.

A quick Google search for the specific model you own should give you the answers to these questions. 

Remove the Casing

This might be the most difficult part of the entire process. You will need to remove the plastic enclosure or casing that holds the actual drive. If there are no screws holding the enclosure together, and you will need to pry it open to dislodge the front and back parts. 

You can also use acetone to dissolve some of the glue holding the front and back parts of the casing. Be very cautious when using acetone near any electronics (especially the motherboard), and only pour a minimal amount on a cotton pad to saturate the glue and nothing else. Use a nail file to gently scrape at the glue and pry it open. 

If there are screws in the casing, the process is relatively simple. Simply remove all the screws holding the enclosure together and carefully remove the SSD. 

Open Up Your Computer

This step involves ensuring that system BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) on your computer is fully updated. Once you’ve checked this, you can start opening up your computer. The only tool you’ll likely need is a Phillips head screwdriver. 

Here’s how to open the computer:

  1. Shut down the computer and clear your desk, especially from anything that induces static.
  2. Take a photo of all the cables that are plugged in (for later reference).
  3. Remove all the cables from the back of your computer case.
  4. Remove the large thumb screws (by hand).
  5. Lift off the side panel carefully.

Replace or Add the SSD

If you are replacing the existing HDD with your SSD, you will need to remove the old one and insert the SSD in its place. Otherwise, you’ll need an open drive bay, which is space to install the second SSD.

In most computers, the second drive bay is also a 2 2.5” form factor. However, if it’s too big for your SSD, you can purchase brackets to fill the gap—they fit onto your SSD, turning into a 3 2.5” form factor. 

Here’s how to install an SSD drive:

  1. Remove the existing drive (if applicable) by removing any screws and sliding them out.
  2. Install brackets on your SSD to adjust the form factor (if applicable). 
  3. Slide the SSD into the drive bay, with the SATA interface facing outwards for access.
  4. Line up the holes in the brackets to screw the drive in place.
  5. Tighten the screws.
  6. Connect an unused power cable to the SSD.
  7. Connect a SATA cable to the SSD on the motherboard (you can find the SATA connection by following where the SATA cable of the old drive is connected).

Close Up

Now that the SSD is in place slide the side panel back to its place and use the photo you took earlier to return all the cables to their rightful places. 

After connecting everything, start up your computer. Preferably, you should have a first installation CD with you (from when you purchased the computer) to install the Operating System and startup applications. 

If you do not have a first installation CD, you will need to purchase a copy of an OS (probably Windows) and install the relevant drivers for your computer manually. Installing an operating system from a download or a CD is simple enough these days. Simply follow the instructions on the screen, and make sure that your computer is plugged into a stable power source during the installation.

Problems You May Face

While replacing an SSD on your computer is a pretty straightforward process, there are some problems you might face if you attempt this. 

Here are a few:

  • Incompatible form factor. If your SSD is too big to fit in place of the standard 2.25” form factor of an HDD, you may not be able to physically fit the SSD inside. This is especially true if the dimensions are completely off.
  • Incompatible with SATA. If your SSD only works with PCIe, you won’t be able to connect it to the motherboard, making the entire process futile.
  • An enclosure that can’t be removed. Some companies specifically design their SSDs by enclosing them in a case that is extremely difficult to open. The idea is that you will purchase one when you desperately need it.
  • Read-only installed programs. Some companies also install programs on external SSDs that prevent the installation of an operating system. The data uses a large portion of the memory and makes it extremely difficult to resolve this issue.

Benefits of Using an Internal SSD

Given that data will be stored on your SSD whether you use it as an internal or external drive, you may be wondering whether it’s worthwhile converting your SSD. 

Below are a few benefits of using your solid-state drive as internal storage:

Additional Storage Space

If you are installing the SSD in addition to existing storage, you are adding additional fixed storage to your computer. Of course, you would have had access to the data anyway if you had used it externally. However, an internal SSD will provide storage space that can be part of the operating system.

Faster Data Transfer and Boot Times

If you install the operating system on your SSD, this means your computer will have a faster boot time as data transfer internally is much faster. This is because you will be reliant on the SATA cable to transfer data instead of going through the USB interface, which will slow things down significantly.

Less Damage

If you are storing sensitive data, it helps to know that the internal drives are less prone to damage because they are less exposed to wear and tear. There is a lower chance of dust getting into the drive, and the SSD is also not exposed to any major temperature fluctuations. 

Portability is convenient, but it does also put your drive in places and situations which put a lot of strain on the drive. On the other hand, an internal SSD is stowed away inside the CPU of your computer, where it will benefit from sufficient air circulation, and it’s kept far from any interference. 

Can You Use an Internal SSD for External Storage?

Let’s say you have an old computer with an internal SSD that is still working. You should know by now how to transfer the SSD from your old computer to the new one. Additionally, you have the option of converting the SSD from internal to external. That is, making your own portable external storage.

The only thing you will need is a plastic enclosure for the SSD, which you can find online. I found the Reletech 2.5” Tool-Free Clear Enclosure on Amazon. It’s easy to use because you don’t need any special tools (well, none at all). It has a USB 3.0 interface for faster data transfer as well. 

Of course, you can replace your internal HDD with an external SSD if the SSD is compatible with a SATA cable and it is the correct form factor. This will speed up your computer and improve its boot time. 

Can You Replace an Internal HDD with an External SSD?

Many people think of converting their portable SSD into an internal one but worry because their computer is old and has an HDD installed. If you don’t want to use your SSD and additional internal storage, you can simply remove the old HDD from the primary drive bay and slide the external SSD in its place. In other words, the process is the same. 

There are several benefits to replacing your existing Hard Disk Drive with a Solid State Drive, whether it is marketed as internal or sold as external. 

Here are a few:

  • Faster boot time: Because SSDs are generally faster at data transfer, reading the data for booting your OS from an SSD takes considerably less time. 
  • Surge protection: SSDs are less sensitive to damage from power surges, something that can significantly damage an HDD, causing data loss.
  • Energy efficiency: SSDs access data instantly, so there is less electricity being used to access the same data when compared to traditional HDDs. Reports show that you can save a lot of money on electric bills by converting to SSDs.
  • Durability: HDDs are an old technology that are dependent on discs that can wear out faster. 

Final Thoughts

As you can see, it is possible to convert a portable (external) SSD to an internal drive, and there are more than a few benefits of doing so. The process is relatively simple, so long as the external drive you are using is compatible. Most SSDs found in today’s market are compatible with being used internally, but you might have a hard time removing the plastic enclosure they come in.

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