Geeks & their toys

By Nighty on 14 June 2009

This is a story about an adopted iPod, and how through love, dedication and care it grew up to be a respectable member of its species.

Have you ever been in a situation where you bought something, realized you weren't completely happy with it, and then went way out of control trying to improve it? Most geeks can probably answer in the affirmative here...

So, my latest itch: the iPod. For years I've shunned the damn things, prefering simple mp3 players with ogg/vorbis support over Apple's proprietary style-over-function iTunes lock-in device. That was, until I learned about Rockbox, a free replacement for the software that normally powers your iPod.

I discovered this piece of software trying to scratch another itch, being that all my mp3 players insert noticeable gaps between individual tracks. Which is extremely annoying when you're listening to CDs where the songs flow into each other with no silence between tracks. So I went looking for devices that could do gapless playback, and stumbled upon the Rockbox page which lists it as one of their features. Since it could also do ogg/vorbis, it seemed like the ideal piece of software for my iPod.

Only one problem though: I had no iPod. For years this situation did not change; I traded up my IOPS MFP-325 (256MB, korean, plays ogg/vorbis, can record voice, built-in radio) for an iRiver T30 (512MB, korean, plays ogg/vorbis, can record voice and uses standard AAA batteries). I looked at the compatibility list for Rockbox, but the supported devices were a bit too pricey for my taste. That was until I flashed a friend's 4th gen iPod with Rockbox, and saw (and heard) the software in action. I was sold. A quick hop over to the Rockbox site told me that the iPod 5th or 5.5th gen would give me the most bang for my buck, but being cheap I decided to score a used one on eBay.

Some time later it arrived. Went pick it up at the post office, played around with it. Tried to flash it with Rockbox, Rockbox wouldn't flash. Some research showed me that I'd simply bought the wrong iPod: there never was a 5th gen iPod with 80GB harddrive, those are 6th gen, aka Classics. It seems I should've done my homework instead of going for the biggest drive available. Oh well, I could still load it with songs under Linux (using Rhythmbox, Exaile, Amarok etc...), and after some tinkering around I even got the album art synched to the device.

And that's where the story should have ended. But being the obsessed geek I am, I still wasn't happy. After all, this was a used one. God knows how long it'd been used and what condition the battery was in. And it looked like the harddrive had some bad sectors too (clicking noises and delayed I/O during some operations), and heck, the back cover had a little dent. Time to restore this thing to its former glory.

Now I'm not gonna bore you all with the details of how to open up an iPod, replace the battery, replace the harddrive. There are enough articles and videos online for that. One thing to note though: the videos make opening up an iPod seem easy. Let me tell you, opening up a Classic is a bitch! These things are not made with the DIY enthousiast in mind. Should you ever decide to replace your iPod cover but want to make sure that you can service it again later, a tip would be to take some small pliers and bend the latches of the new case inward. Not completely flat, leave them sticking slightly out; experiment with the empty case before you mount the internals to make sure that you can open it easily by using your fingernails to pry the two halves apart. If you practice this while the iPod case is still empty, you can use the big hole in the front where the touchwheel goes to get extra leverage to open it up again so you can make more adjustments to the clips until you get them just right.

Another tip: get double-sided adhesive tape, and possibly heat glue. When moving the internals to a new case, you leave the double-sided adhesive tape behind. For most parts this doesn't matter since they're packed tight anyway, and it's overkill to tape down a thin ribbon cable. But if you replace the harddrive, you need to move the foam and rubber bumpers to the new drive, and they're held in place with double-sided adhesive tape as well. You could decide to use glue, but the foam doesn't react so well to glue. It absorbs liquid and liquid-like types of glue (wood glue for example) and then you end up with rock hard padding when the glue dries out, which kind of defies the purpose of padding.

At the end of the day, total costs including shipping & handling ran up to:
iPod Classic 80GB: €129.79
iPod 950mAH extended battery: €12.59
USB sync cable (turned out to be cheap defective crap): €3.79
USB sync cable replacement: €4.90
iPod 160GB cover, black: €15,08
Set of 10 non-marring iPod pry tools (you chew through these like they were a pack of doritos): €7.17
New 80GB harddrive connector cable (ruined mine, needed to backup data from device): €2.58
New 160GB harddrive connector cable (160GB drives have a different type of connector): €3.90
160GB replacement harddrive: €66.31
That makes for a total of €246.11...

Currently, the 160GB classic is no longer for sale on apple.be. But for comparison purposes: the 120GB classic costs €239 new and comes with the universal dock adapter (€9 for a 3-pack at the Apple store) which I don't have. So in the end, was it worth it? Heck, I've already bought a broken iPod 5g for my next project: replacing the harddrive with a CF card. And that one will run Rockbox...