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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.

iPod, dead hard drive, ZIF to CF adapter, and 32GB CF card

iPod, dead hard drive, ZIF to CF adapter, and 32GB CF card

Dead (dying) hard drive

Dead (dying) hard drive

iPod Classic

iPod Classic

ZIF to CF adapter made by Tarkan Akdam (2)

ZIF to CF adapter made by Tarkan Akdam (2)

ZIF to CF adapter made by Tarkan Akdam

ZIF to CF adapter made by Tarkan Akdam (1)

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.

  1. Mason
    October 31st, 2010 at 18:49 | #1

    If possible, could you please do a test to see how many hours of continuous play the iPod gets with the flash memory? I am considering doing this mod myself, but I would like to find out if changing the drive in the sixth generation ipod will yield the same boost as it did in the fifth generation (as seen here: http://www.tarkan.info/20070826/tutorials/apple-video-ipod-battery-life-compact-flash/all/1)

    Alternatively, you could install the last.fm scrobbler and look at the start and end times of the first and last tracks on the iPod.

    The results would be very much appreciated :)

    • November 1st, 2010 at 05:47 | #2

      I’m guessing the results would be comparable to Tarkan’s results for mp3 playback. The difference between a spinning disk and a solid state disk is significant regardless of iPod model. If you’re doing this just to improve battery life, you’ll have to be willing to take a storage size hit (from 100+GB to something like 32GB or 64GB if you’re willing to pay more). That’s the biggest downside to this mod. Also, I don’t know that doing a long-playing battery life test on my iPod would be worth it as it’s fairly old and I’m guessing the battery has lost some of it’s capacity over the years of use.

  2. michele
    May 23rd, 2012 at 11:31 | #3

    I have taken all the steps but when I turn it on I say connect to itunes but contact the service center and after connecting it to itunes tells me wait very low battery. you have some advice to the problem?

  3. Jay
    March 9th, 2013 at 10:44 | #4

    I was looking at your replacement steps and was wondering: could i use the ZIF adapter to connect my removed hard drive and connect it to my mac to remove songs from it? I am looking for a way to connect just the hard drive and get the data off of it.

  4. December 24th, 2013 at 09:46 | #5

    Alan, were you able to confirm that CF flash card write speed was indeed the culprit and/or did you ever upgrade to a larger faster CF card? I’m attempting to fix a dying 80GB and this seems like a good option if it is reliable (unlike mech. disks) I believe 64GB flash prices have come down a bit since you posted this. Anyhow, let me know if there was any further data to add to this mod/upgrade. Thanks & happy holidays.

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