Sunday, August 5, 2012

Vostro V13 USB SSD Hack

As a mechanical engineer I tend to need Windows software, especially during the days of my masters degree, which is when I actually did this hack. I did however want to try Ubuntu. So what’s my options, partition off the drive and – wait a minute, that seems like a terrible idea when I’m in the middle of a degree and all my work is on that drive.


So I went to ebay and got a mini pci-e to USB adapter and NCIX and got a Cosair Voyager GTR 32GB usb memory stick.

For anyone who doesn’t know, the Dell Vostro V13 was based on Adamo, and as a result is 1) super cheap 2) poorly built and 3) thinner than the original Macbook Air (well, the air is wedge shaped, this is not, so the v13 is thinner than the original Air’s thick end). So you can guess it’s cram packed inside. All is not lost, near the centre there is a slot for a full length mini pci-e card.


So here is the adapter, wired up to the adapter board. You’ll notice that there is a wire coming off the board. Mini-PCI-E does not have a 5V line to power the USB device, so an additional wire needs to run to a 5V source.


I had to break off the little connectors on the back and solder directly to the board in order to make it fit. I also shaved down the ends near the card edge connector as seen by the tapered angle. They didn’t have the right around of clearance.

Another view.


Another view.


So put that in the connector. I found the easiest place to get 5V was from the hard drive. There is a giant resistor in line with the 5V line to the hard drive, I assume this is a current limiting resistor. I soldered on and ran the thin wire back.


You can see the installed picture. The memory stick is on an angle. Several times I’ve removed and replace this as something like that on an angle is sure to alert airport security that something is amiss. I’ll fly domestic with it in, but I’ve pulled it for international flights. Wires and things on an angle might set someone off – then again, with all the peculiar shapes in new computers I might be just paranoid.


If you do have a V13 you will probably have a problem where someday your computer doesn’t start and Dell refuses to admit a design problem. The plastic edge by the card slot pinches the white ribbon cable shown above right at the SATA TX and RX lines and causes a break. Computer can’t detect the hard drive then. Mine has broken twice – the first one month out of warranty…. which is great because dell had the laptop for another reason, refusing to repair… for 1.5 months and refused to extend my warranty that time period. My cousin’s V13 cable broke 3 times, twice under warranty, once not. Shaving this away has kept the laptop working without problem.


Close it up!


Boot it up!


F12 and now you can see the USB drive has a ‘+’' by it!


I had already installed Ubuntu onto the stick, but now you can just boot on in. GRUB is on the USB stick, but detected Windows on the other drive, but the hard drive won’t see the GRUB bootloader which is what I want.





  1. Great writeup! I've had the cable fail in my v13 5 times now. I would love to just have primary boot drive (the usb in this case) to hold windows and my important applications, that way if the cable goes out again, I still have a working laptop until I can replace it again. Do you know if this would work with a faster usb 3.0 drive?

  2. Thanks. That cable is such a known problem that Dell refused to admit. Also, the screen is fragile, Lenovo did their industry standard press test and have a video of the V13 breaking in one press while their Thinkpad X series was fine. The V13 and V131 does not have USB 3.0 so as a result this isn't that fast. If you trim the plastic over the expresscard and have a new hard drive cable you should be fine. Mine hasn't failed in about a year now.