When humankind is presented with a black monolith, it raises questions. What does it want from us? What are we to do with it, to it, for it? Or, in the case of the Xbox Series X: can you replace or upgrade the solid-state storage inside?
We ask not just because the universe demands an answer, but our wallets, too. You can hook up any USB 3.1 external drive to the Xbox Series X (or S) to store games, or play older games directly from that drive. But if you want to take advantage of the Series X’s hyper-speed loading and fast-resuming powers, you need Microsoft’s chosen plug-in storage. And 1 TB of that costs $220 as of this writing. That’s a solid $100 above the price of most 1 TB solid-state storage options you can buy.
So, if you’re willing to get some thermal paste on your hands, can you work around Microsoft’s seemingly hefty premium? Right now, our answer is “Reply hazy, try again.”
First, the good news. As we tore down the Xbox Series X, we confirmed that:
The storage is a standard, albeit rare, format: 1 TB of m.2 2230 NVMe SSD
It’s likely running under a newer spec, PCIe Gen 4.0
It’s partitioned just like the storage in the Xbox One
That sounds good, at first glance. You could replace or upgrade the hard drive in the prior-generation Xbox One. It was not an easy procedure, involving Windows scripts and prayers that your Xbox accepts its transplant. But it was possible.
So, what about the Series X? For the time being, you should probably hold off, for a few good reasons.
For one thing, nobody has been brave enough to try and get an m.2 NVMe SSD drive working within Microsoft’s specific Xbox partition scheme. The terminal wizards need some time to brew their magic, and share their findings with the world.
Another consideration is that finding this non-retail, laptop-size drive is not easy. You can find a 2230 model half the capacity at Amazon, even smaller at Newegg, and none at Best Buy right now. It would be very easy to look at the more common option, the 2280, look at its connection pins, and think, “Hey, that might work.” Even if it worked, it would not fit on the motherboard. The last two numbers on m.2 storage refer to the drive’s length in millimeters—the 2280 is more than twice as long. Please don’t try to make it fit—but if you do, tag us on the socials.
It’s also a lot of disassembly to get to the storage in the Xbox Series X. And you’ll need to source and reapply some fairly specialized thermal putty to a whole layer cake of heat-dissipating components on your way back out. You’ll likely have to run some scripts to get the box to recognize a new drive. But it’s not soldered onto the board, as with the PlayStation 5. At some point, you could replace it if something bigger is available, or if it died.
Finally, and this is the most important point right now (made by Technical Writer Carsten Frauenheim during our teardown): there’s nothing you can really upgrade to at this point. It’s in an odd form factor, but Microsoft is not saddling you with cheap, slow storage that, if you were only brave enough, you could improve. One terabyte of storage, at these speeds, on a board this small, is the best you can fit into a $500 console (one Microsoft doesn’t make money on, no less). If you need more space, you can buy an external SSD and use it to store the games you’re not actively playing. Since you’re mostly playing backwards-compatible games right now, just after launch, there’s not much of a speed loss in using good external storage.
While we’d much prefer a readily modular solution, we can’t always win. Right now, though, the Series X contains the biggest, fastest single storage drive that is possible for it to have. Paying a premium for an easy-plugging expansion may make more sense than it first appears. If you want something to complain about, note that the optical drive is still paired to the motherboard, and a royal pain to replace.