iPod Classic Compact Flash Upgrade
Updating an iPod Classic to use flash memory (a Compact Flash card specifically) rather than it’s typical hard drive can breathe new life into your dying device. Check out the rest of this post for descriptions and details of the process.
A few weeks ago a friend of mine gave me her dying iPod Classic. She noted that it had started acting erratic after being dropped one too many times. The device would skip playing parts of songs and lock up periodically. She noted that since I’m usually one to tinker with and hack on devices, she figured I might find a good use for it–more so than she had for it at least. Well, I’ve definitely found a good use for it by swapping out the original hard drive for flash-based solution. The device works (nearly) like new. Here’s how I did it.
I started the process just looking for a replacement disk. I found various sites that sold them, but they all ranged from $120+. I wasn’t looking to put too much money into this project. Also, I didn’t like the idea of having a moving-parts iPod anyway since the whole reason I obtained the device in the first place was because a non-solid-state disk had been dropped one too many times while in operation. For these reasons, I began searching for a solid-sate solution that would allow me to revive my broken iPod.
Some searching yielded the site of an interesting adapter that converts the ZIF interface of the original hard disk to one that accepts Compact Flash cards. Additionally, the adapter was designed for exactly this purpose: converting a hard disk iPod to a solid-state device. This was exactly what I was looking for! After spending ~$25 on the adapter, and picking up a 32GB Kingston CF card from amazon for ~$80, I had located all the hardware I would need for the project.
Before ordering the adapter and CF card, I did want to make sure I could take the iPod apart without ruining it. I found a few good tutorials, with the best being one at iFixIt.com. Also, I discovered other posts about doing exactly what I wanted to do. This site is a bit more hardcore than I was looking for (he was hand soldering connections, but the upgrades are for much older generation iPods). I used ideas for taking apart the iPod from this post (rather than specialized tools, I used a razor blade and a few very small flat-head screw driver bits). Using all of this, I successfully managed to take the iPod apart (without breaking anything!) and was confident I could use the hardware to complete the upgrade, so I placed the orders.
Once both the adapter and CF card had arrived, actually doing the upgrade was pretty simple. The trickiest part of the process was actually taking apart the iPod. The very small ribbon cables are probably the most delicate parts and getting the out of their respective connectors and putting them back in required a little patience and gentle-handedness.
Once I had inserted the CF card into the ZIF to CF adapter, I placed the adapter into the iPod housing, hooked up the various ribbon cables, and snapped the two halves of the case back together. I connected the device up to iTunes and, after reformatting the new ~30GB volume, I had a working solid state iPod Classic!
After loading up the iPod with music and playing with it for a few weeks, I only have a few complaints. First, the device still locks up periodically when I’m using it. This is mostly when I first start playing a new set of songs. I suspect that this is due to the slower CF card that I picked up. Second, the CF card is only 32GB, so I can’t fit all of my music on it. However, I think in time CF card prices will come down and I’ll be able to swap the current card out with a 64GB or 128GB card. Other than these two complaints, I’m very happy with this hack. I ended up with a 32GB flash-based iPod classic for ~$100. Check out the full set of pictures below.