As soon as we learned from The Verge last week that at least one of Microsoft’s new Surface devices sports a super-tiny 2230 SSD (that’s just 30mm or 1.2 inches long), we suspected that the drive in question came from Toshiba. Why? Because Toshiba (which is currently rebranding as Kioxia), is the only company we knew of that currently makes drives that small.
In fact, we recently reviewed the company’s BG4 M.2 SSD, a 2230 M.2 SSD that fits Microsoft’s description exactly, and was designed to be an OEM solution for devices like the Surface. The 1TB unit we tested had strong performance for its size, offering up to 4 times the speed of a SATA drive, but high-end M.2 NVMe drives like the Samsung 970 PRO had transfer rates that were up to 1,000 MBps quicker.
Now, after checking out display units of some of Microsoft’s latest devices at a local Best Buy, we can confirm that the 13-inch version of the Surface Laptop 3 indeed uses the Toshiba BG4 drive (specifically KGB40ZNS128G in the unit we looked at), but not exclusively.
Interestingly, the AMD-powered 15-inch model of the Surface Laptop that we saw at the same Best Buy uses an SK Hynix drive (HFM256GDGTNG-97A0A), which doesn’t appear to have been officially announced. But based on a similar model that shows up on Ebay, the SK Hynix drive in the 15-inch Surface Laptop 3 is also an NVMe 2230 drive.
Furthering the complications, we checked out a few more new Surface models at a nearby Microsoft store. And a 13-inch Surface Laptop 3 that I looked at did not have a Toshiba drive in it, but the same SK Hynix SSD model as the 15-inch Surface Laptop we spotted at Best Buy.
To round out the new Surface devices that you can currently find in a store, we also checked out what SSD’s inside the Surface Pro 7 and Surface Pro X at a Microsoft Store. The Pro 7 also sports a version of Toshiba/Kioxia’s BG4 SSD (KBG40ZPZ256G), but the previous-generation Surface Pro 6 had a soldered-down SSD, so it’s unlikely you’ll be upgrading the Surface Pro 7’s storage.
The Surface Pro X we saw in the Microsoft store had a drive with the model name HFB1M8MO331C0MR, which doesn’t show up in search results at all. It’s not even clear who the manufacturer is. But given that device isn’t slated to launch until next month, and Microsoft had the tablet encased in a big hunk of plastic so that all you could see was the screen, there’s a good chance it wasn’t a final unit, and may contain a different drive than what we saw in the store.
What does all this tell us? Well, it seems that you can expect either a Toshiba or an SK Hynix drive on most of the new single-display Surface devices (save for the Pro X, which is still up in the air). But it’s unclear whether Microsoft is sourcing multiple drives for the same laptops (we saw both a Toshiba and an SK Hynix drive in different models of the 13-inch Surface Laptop 3 in different stores), or if the display units we saw weren’t representative of the final shipping products.
Whether the drives are made by SK Hynix or or Toshiba, it doesn’t look like end users will be able to find replacement models on the aftermarket any time soon. That matters because Microsoft is charging a ridiculous $300 to move up from a 128GB to a 256GB model so, if you can do your own upgrade, there’s plenty of incentive to do so. Of course, Microsoft doesn't advise doing so and recommends using its technicians. And trying could void your warranty.
Perhaps, after launch, another vendor will step in to fill this void in the market and sell M.2 2230 SSDs. Given that Microsoft’s Surface devices are some of the highest-profile products in the PC industry, we wouldn’t be surprised to see multiple tiny 2230 M.2 drives pop up in the coming months.