Upgrade to SSD Hard Drives in a Lenovo ThinkPad P50

I recently purchased a Lenovo ThinkPad P50. It’s certainly not the sleekest machine on the market, but don’t judge a book by its cover. I picked this model because it offers an Intel Xeon CPU and up to 64 GB of RAM in a 15 inch laptop. My previous computer was a Dell Latitude e6530 which is about the same form factor, although the older one is a little thicker and slightly larger and heavier due to the extended battery that sticks out of the back of it. The ThinkPad doesn’t have an optical drive but in my scenario it’s unnecessary since the ThinkPad offers multiple internal hard drive bays which is what I was using the optical drive bay for on the Dell.

My old Dell Latitude e6530 is shown on the left and my new Lenovo ThinkPad P50 (in the docking station) is shown on the right:

p50-9a

I started out with the cheaper configuration on the Lenovo site and added the options I wanted. I selected the Xeon CPU (this selection also updates the video card to a 4 GB NVidia Quadro), 64 GB of non-ECC memory, backlit keyboard, and a 3 year depot warranty. I stayed with the default 1920×1080 non-touch display and a single 500 GB hard drive. I also purchased a ThinkPad Workstation Dock (Docking Station) with it. I’m in no way affiliated with Lenovo other than being a customer and I did NOT receive any type of discount or compensation for writing this blog article.

I planned to add a second 2.5 inch SSD hard drive which didn’t work out as expected. After numerous searches on the Internet and in the Lenovo forums, I found that I needed a proprietary cable for the second hard drive along with a hard drive caddy. I found the part number for the cable, but based on information in the forums it appeared that the cable wasn’t available due to lack of demand. The hard drive caddy didn’t even seem to have a part number. It appears that if you’re going to go this route of wanting to add a second 2.5 inch drive, it’s best to order it with that configuration from the factory if for no other reason than to get all of the necessary propriety parts and pieces that you’ll need to swap it out with a SSD.

I decided to ask Jeff Hicks about his upgrade path since I’d heard that he was planning to perform upgrades on his as well. He pointed me in the direction of M.2 hard drives which was another option in the second hard drive bay. As a matter of fact, two M.2 hard drives can be added in the second bay for a total of three hard drives. I discovered that a tray was needed for each M.2 hard drive and confirmed this with Jeff. The M.2 hard drive trays can be found here. I recommend going ahead and ordering two of them.

I ordered one of the drives that Jeff recommended which is the Samsung 950 PRO Series 512GB PCIe NVMe M.2 Internal SSD. They can be found on Amazon.com or at NewEgg. Looking at the Crucial system configurator shows that the system also accepts M.2 drives that based on the specs appear to go through the SATA bus which are cheaper than the Samsung one that I ordered which bypasses the SATA bus and plugs directly into a PCI Express interface. The cheaper drives have two notches in them and the more expensive ones only have a single notch. ARS Technica has an article on “Understanding M.2, the interface that will speed up your next SSD” that helps clarify the different M.2 interfaces. I’ve heard of booting issues with the Samsung drives in the Lenovo forums and also not being able to do RAID unless it’s ordered with it from the factory, but I can’t confirm either of these issues.

One thing that I noticed is the default 500GB 7200PRM drive that ships in the ThinkPad is sluggish when compared to the hybrid boot drive that shipped in my old Dell Latitude. Sluggishness wasn’t something that I was willing to accept so I decided to take the 500GB 2.5 inch SSD drive out of the optical drive bay of my old Dell Latitude and replace the boot drive in the ThinkPad with it.

Disclaimer: All data and information provided on this site is for informational purposes only. Mike F Robbins (mikefrobbins.com) makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, currentness, suitability, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. All information is provided on an as-is basis.

Remove the battery and then hold down the power button to make sure all power is drained out of the system before proceeding. Remove the bottom cover. The screws that are holding the cover on don’t come all the way out. You should now be at this point:

p50-1c

If you’re replacing the existing SATA drive as I did, remove the HDD cable and hard drive:

p50-2a

The old drive is stamped with 7.2mm on the metal shield so keep this in mind when ordering a replacement. Place the drives next to one another as you’re dissembling them so things don’t get reassembled incorrectly:

p50-3a

Reassemble in the reverse order using the 2.5 inch SSD drive:

p50-4a

Add the M.2 drive. Pay attention to this section because it’s not as straight forward as replacing an existing drive. Mount the M.2 drive in the tray prior to installing the tray in the computer. Lift up the plastic cover on the tray and align the drive properly:

p50-5a

With the chips on the drive facing down, insert the drive making sure the notch is aligned properly:

p50-6a

The screw for mounting the M.2 drive in the tray is included with the tray. Mount the M.2 card with the included black screw (#1) and remove the silver screen from the laptop (#2) which will be used to mount the tray itself in the computer:

p50-7a

Be sure if you’re only adding one drive that you place it in slot 0. Align the screen holes (#3) and use the silver screws that were removed in the previous step to mount the trays in the computer. This prevents them from becoming unseated:

p50-8b

Reassemble the cover and battery using the reverse procedure and you should be all set.

If you replaced the boot drive, you’ll need to reload the operating system or clone the original boot drive, both of which are outside the scope of this blog article.

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24 Comments

  1. Jeffery Hicks

    How-To photos are always great and as I haven’t upgraded my drives yet, this was very helpful. Thanks.

    Reply
  2. Jeff

    Were you able to do a factory install of Windows and the Lenovo software after installing the 2.5″ ssd? If so, how?

    Reply
  3. Qi

    Do you install the OS on the PICe ssd card? That may be better than using the SATA 2.5′ SSD?

    Reply
  4. Steven Alexander

    In this configuration, can you make the M.2 drive the boot drive? I came to this article having purchased a P50 with just the 7200 RPM drive (for the same reasons) and plan to replace the 7200 RPM with a 2.5 SSD and have just ordered the PRO 950 to be my second drive. My thought was to boot from the 2.5″ SSD and use the M.2 for media (video editing, etc.). I got to thinking about whether the P50 could boot from either and wondered about your success either way? Thanks.

    Reply
    • Prateek

      Hi Steven, Did you actually go ahead and performed a migration of Windows from HDD to M.2 drive? I am in the same boat where my system has come with 2 250 GB M.2 drives, but OS is still on default 7200 rpm HDD. I have cloned the OS using Macrium Reflect from HDD to M.2, but am still unable to make it boot from M.2. Hoping to find someone who has faced similar issues and successfully resolve it.

      Reply
  5. Terri

    newer m.2 with dual slots also install chip side down

    Reply
  6. NIlesh Sawant

    Friends,

    Where can I get the single key, My P50’s “Left Arrow key” broken and now it’s not getting fix. Please suggest if anybody knows the shop. Thanks in Advance

    Regards,
    Nilesh

    Reply
  7. Maximilian Melcher (@maxmelcher)

    Cool stuff – thanks for the pictures and the links to the cage, the new m2 options are pretty new to me!

    Reply
  8. Haitham Shaddad

    I just ordered a P50 with 64GB RAM and the default 7200 500GB RAM and I am in the process of ordering an SSD for it, I plan to buy the 256 Samsung 960 Evo and another 500GB SSD but not sure if I should get it with M2 interface or the normal 2.5 that replaces the default hard disk,
    Will I have any booting issues? I want the 960 to the primary one that has the system, I thought that by having 2 M2 SSD, I can make sure of the default HDD instead of throwing it away

    Reply
  9. Brian Simison

    Thanks Mike, this is great info. Is it possible to replace the default 500GB 7200PRM boot drive with an SSD and make the second drive a 2TB 7200 HD? The configuration wizard on the Lenovo website does not permit mixing SSD and spinning drives.

    Reply
  10. Anton Lvov

    Hi Mike!
    Thanks for this article! How does your setup work now? Does it stable?
    I’m asking because I just received my TP P50 with M2 SSD + HDD and replaced HDD with 2.5 Samsung EVO750 SSD. But it works very unstable – sometimes it hangs at the boot splashscreen, other times it boots slowly but then works fine. SMART monitor tells te that SSD is 100% healthy. I wonder if I am the only one who faces with this issue…

    Reply
  11. Anton Lvov

    Could you please tell me what BIOS version do you use?

    Reply
  12. David Bakin

    Hi! Do you have any idea if the metal shield on the HDD you removed from your P50 – which is attached to the drive – is necessary? If you’re replacing it with another HDD do you need to find one or make one out of aluminum foil or what? SSDs are enclosed all around so it wasn’t an issue in your upgrade … and on prior ThinkPads that had them the shield was not as flimsy and also not actually attached to the HDD so you could transfer them …

    Reply
  13. Matthew

    Just a warning. lenovo won’t cover damages if you install the m.2 drive with the chips up even tho lenovo doesn’t mention this in any documentation.

    Reply
  14. Alme Melana

    Hello. There seems to be a confusion about M.2 SSDs. A lot of people are reporting having their SSDs burned down just because they were attached the wrong way. On some videos on Youtube I see people attaching with chips facing up and in some others with them facing down. Can you please clear out which side is the correct one for Samsung 960 Pro? A photo will be much appreciated. Thank you

    Reply
  15. Mike F Robbins

    M.2 drives which are NVMe PCI-Express drives such as the Samsung 960 Pro that you referenced, only have one notch in them. Line up the notch as shown in this image:

    Reply

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