Surface Laptop Studio Upgrades: eGPU + NVMe SSD
For the longest time, Microsoft had opted to exclude Thunderbolt connectivity from its Surface hardware lineup. I came close to purchasing a 28" Surface Studio two years ago but the lack of Thunderbolt 3 was a deal breaker. Today's release of the Surface Laptop Studio (SLS) and Surface Pro 8 (SP8) is significant. With Thunderbolt 4 support, they can now access Thunderbolt eGPU enclosures and a vast amount of other high bandwidth peripherals.
eGPU + Surface Laptop Studio
As soon as I unboxed my base model [i5-11300H, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD] I connected it to my Razer Core v2 + Radeon Pro W5700 eGPU. This was plug-and-play without any user interactions. Windows 11 automatically initiated the PCIe connection over Thunderbolt 3/4 and installed the Radeon drivers for W5700. Also worth noting is Power Delivery (PD) through the very same Thunderbolt cable. The Razer Core V2 provides 65W PD which matches the SLS perfectly (same amount as Microsoft power adapter).
Surface Laptop Studio NVMe M.2 SSD Upgrade
Next upgrade was the internal solid state drive. Microsoft doesn't make it easy to remove the bottom case. There is no visible screw anywhere, but in total there were 9x Torx T3 screws and a silver plastic strip of adhesive that make it challenging to remove cleanly. Below were the steps I took to access the NVMe M.2 socket on the SLS:
1. Two rubber strips cover 7x T3 screws (3x by the hinge area and 4x by the trackpad area). Once the rubber strips are out of the way, you can remove the T3 screws.
2. A C-shaped silver plastic strip covers the "awning" underside. Start peeling this strip at the edge of either hinge then stop when a T3 screw is visible. Repeat this same process on the other side.
3. There's another tape section right below the trackpad. Lay the SLS at a 90-degree angle on its display and use a guitar pick (or something thin enough) to separate this section. The bottom case should be mostly free, only attached to the motherboard through the battery ribbon cable. Slowly guide the bottom case away from the top case and make sure the battery ribbon cable is not stretched.
4. Disconnect the battery by wiggling on the PULL tab. The NVMe drive is now accessible for upgrade.
One unfortunate news is the lack of PCIe 4.0 support for this NVMe M.2 socket. I was hoping to use an ADT-Link R43SG 4.0 which doubles the bandwidth of version 3.0 and nearly triples that of Thunderbolt 3/4 (22Gbps). All is not lost though because the Intel 11th generation H35-CPU has integrated Thunderbolt controller which performs very well in my other eGPU builds.
hello - very excited to hear your experience w/ Surface Studio + eGPU w/ gaming.
I have a Ultrawide 1440p monitor and a 1080TI.
Once you start using your setup, I would love to hear more details about how the laptop works for gaming. Primary concerns are: overheating & CPU throttling.
Hi @itsage very happy for your new setup! It looks amazing!! It could be a new beginning for Microsoft products with Thunderbolt technology.
As I know if you add your Nvme SSD you broke the warranty... if confirmed this is very sad! 😐
Waiting for 2022 for mine....eheheh
Do you happen to still have the ASUS XG Station Pro? That's the enclosure I have and I'm curious if that would work in this manner (my experience with the MBP was hotplug it during spinny wheel on Windows 10 boot).
@karm, Yes I checked with the ASUS XG Station Pro + RTX 3070 Ti FE just now and the eGPU worked plug-and-play. Keep in mind this enclosure doesn't provide enough Power Delivery so you'd need to connect the AC adapter. The eGPU can work through hot-plug, cold-plug, and wake-from-sleep has been working well so far with this Surface Laptop Studio and Windows 11.
oh geez, I'm sold. Thanks for the information.
Yeah, I imagine at some point could swap enclosures to one with PD. Really wish there were a XG Station Pro 2 with it because I like how clean the thing looks.
I got more time to use the SLS with and without an eGPU. Microsoft provides a Surface app that serves as a hardware support portal. One thing I haven't seen is the Intel Thunderbolt Control Center. In other Windows laptops with Thunderbolt connectivity, this utility typically comes preinstalled. The good news is Microsoft set Thunderbolt Security to pre-approve peripherals so no user interactions are required.
The integrated Thunderbolt 4 ports are working very well so far. Hot-plug, cold-plug, and wake-from-sleep are all working properly with the Razer Core V2 + RTX 3070 Ti. I also wanted to test the throughput of the two ports by pairing an USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 SSD alongside the eGPU. AIDA64 GPGPU was running concurrently with CrystalDiskMark and eGPU bandwidth did not suffer. The table below shows from left to right: Samsung T5 500GB, ROG STRIX Arion + 1TB NVMe, and WD_Black D50 Game Dock + 1TB NVMe.
|USB-C gen 1||USB-C gen 2||Thunderbolt 3|
Thanks @itsage! Your new SLS is an impressive, innovative design! I agree about needing Thunderbolt with earlier surface models!
Sorry to read the SSD upgrade messes with your warranty. But at the same time, WOW! Upgradeable, repairable storage! Someone ought to send Apple a photo to show them how it's done!
It is a shame that Microsoft would consider voiding your warranty for opening and / or upgrading your device. I remember contacting Razer, Dell and Lenovo before ordering a laptop a while back and got confirmation emails from both Dell and Lenovo stating that so long as I don't damage the device, opening and adding an SSD will NOT void my warranty. Razer basically never answered and opted for the "we don't advise users to open their devices" response.
@boltoway, @itsage, I agree. My comment was influenced by the recent out-of-warranty failure of the soldered-in SSD in my '18 Mac mini. It's challenging to choke back my disgust at those types of design decisions. So when I saw the photos of @itsage upgrading his new Surface Laptop Studio SSD, I guess I was overly-positive. Not only is his new SLS an innovative design, it can be repaired and upgraded! As for the SLS warranty policy, I hope it changes for the better soon. If not voluntarily, then by public pressure, "right-to-repair" legislation or some other means.