Recently, we stumbled upon a video by [iBoff], Adding an M.2 NVMe port to a 2011-2013 MacBook. Apple laptops don’t come with the correct M.2 port, especially the A1278 – so what’s up? The strategy is to disassemble a PCIe-connected Thunderbolt controller, then solder a BGA-like interpozor PCB to where the chip was, and then pull a cable assembly to Drive Bay, where a custom adapter PCB is waiting. If you want to connect an external GPU instead of an NVMe SSD, that adapter lets you publish the PCIe link as a full size PCIe 4x slot!
The process is well documented in the video, serving as a guide manual for anyone trying to install this particular mode, but a collection of insights and ideas for anyone interested in imitating it. The interpozor board with the solder ball is reinforced on the ship so that it can be installed like a BGA chip – but the cable assembly connector is not installed in the interposer, since it has to be soldered to the mainboard with hot air, which will then melt the connector. The PCB that replaces the optical drive does not compromise, either, tapping the SATA connector pin and lets you add an additional 2.5mm SATA SSD.
Attaching an NVMe drive is an undeniable way to speed up your old laptop, and since they’re all under the PCIe hood, you can be really creative with the specific way you connect it. You’re not limited to replacing obscure parts like the Thunderbolt controller – given a laptop with a separate GPU and a CPU, you can get rid of the disconnected GPU and replace it with an adapter for one, or even two NVMe. The drive, and all you need is a PCB that has the same footprint as your GPU. Unfortunately, the PCB files for this adapter do not appear to be open-source, but developing a replacement for your own needs would be best started from scratch.
We’ve seen an adapter made for the Raspberry Pi 4 before, a QFN soldable in place of the USB 3.0 controller chip and transmits the PCIe signal to the USB 3 connector pin. However, this one takes it up a notch! Typically, without this type of adapter, if we want to get a PCIe link from a board that is never intended for publication, we need to carefully solder a properly covered cable. What’s happening with PCIe and why is it great? We talked deeply about that!