First off, thanks to reader “Goats” for poking me.. I needed a kick up the arse to get back to this blog thing.
In August of last year I mentioned in passing that I fitted a solid state drive to an old 2006 iPod Video (aka 5th generation). So I guess the first question is, why would anyone in their right mind want to be using an iPod which is nine years old!? Its bigger than an iPhone, has no touch screen, and small kids would probably point at it and laugh, if they weren’t too busy staring at the device in their hands to actually notice the real world go by.
I did it because I care that when listening to music, I can enjoy the deep bass and high highs of the music, which are thrown out with the bathwater by your average mp3. I spent a while back in 2008 ripping every single CD I owned to FLAC loss-less audio format, and then promptly started to curse every car stereo maker in the world for the lack of FLAC support for 6 freaking years, until some finally started appearing on the market. Home hifi wasn’t an issue as our HTPC could play FLAC out via its digital interface through the receiver, and much good quality music listening was done, but portable audio wasn’t happening.
When we finally bought a car with a native usb iPod interface, I decided that instead of more cursing about FLAC, it was time to investigate ALAC, the Apple loss-less format – so I batch-converted all my FLACs into ALAC format too, and tried them out on an old iPod I bought. Great, except your average 30GB iPod’s capacity is just not adequate, and neither are all the current iPhones, iPads etc. are just as inadequate. I dug through some forums and discovered that people were installing bigger hard drives (yes, actual spinny mechanical drives, crazy, I know!) into old iPods for extra capacity. I snorted, and figured there would be a better way, and came across people putting Compact Flash cards into early iPod Mini’s. Have you seen the price of Compact Flash cards lately? Oh Em Gee. So I wisely decided to go with SSD… $100 and a used 250GB mSATA drive later, I was ready to roll.
Remember, the goal here is to make an iPod I could just chuck in the glove box and leave there attached permanently via umbilical to the car’s stereo, so cheap was the way to go.
So why the 5th Gen iPod?
Advantages of these old iPods is twofold.
First, their electronics. They’re actually the last generation of iPod to use the acclaimed Wolfson DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter – the chip which turns 1’s and 0’s into beautiful harmony). If you’re an audio nerd, you might even appreciate the numbers on the device, SNR 94dB and THD 0.0034% (courtesy of this site here). The various iPhones can’t hold a candle to it. Plus, the 5th gen. is also (just) new enough to also support direct digital-out through the connector, so that when using them in high-quality dock’s, they work as a digital source, leaving your fancy external DAC (or AV receiver for most of us) to do the decoding using its Burr Brown DACs or whatever the marketing says is super whiz-bang!
Secondly, 5th gen iPods are old enough that the storage in them is a good old-fashioned spinny disk (hard drive if you’re fussy), which means not only is there a lot of space inside there, but the interface has to conform to one of the industry standards, and you can therefore buy cheap adapters to convert their interface to other formats, in the case of these iPods, ZIF (Zero-Insertion Force) connectors to the mSATA of the SSD.
Thirdly – its an iPod “VIDEO”! Yes, we actually use them as a video source too – saves carting DVD’s on holiday, and pretty much any tv at rented beach houses will take composite video and RCA audio input. Oh wait, that’s three things – see, this post has 50% more value already!
Stop making me read, show me the mod!
So without further
waffle ado, here’s the simple process:
Step 1 – Assemble ingredients
So here’s what I assembled…
- iPod 5.5 generation
- ZIF to mSATA adapter via ebay
- 250GB mSATA solid state drive (Lite-on in this case, but I prefer touse Samsung ones as they have better power consumption)
- Cheap ebay replacement battery because 9 year old LiPo are capacityless (recycle responsibly!)
- Replacement headphone socket (I won’t go into this replacement here – its just a bunch of small screws and fiddly stuff – most won’t need this)
Step 2 – Format the SSD
Stick the SSD into a handy mSATA to SATA adapter board, and format it to FAT32 using your PC.
Open the iPod with your spudger (thats a thing, apparently), or the cheap plastic one-time-use things that come with your cheap iPod battery.
Then get the SSD and put it into the mSATA-ZIF adapter – they usually have screws, so they’re nice and secure and won’t shake out.
ZIF connectors have a locking flap which hinges upwards at one end. Just hinge it upwards, and the flat ribbon connector comes right out.
Work out which way up the connector goes (the ribbon will also go in upside down -in which case you’ll get a sad iPod when you try powering it up.. just open up again and flip it over).
If you’re like me, you can also cut some bits of thin foam to fill the voids around the SSD so that it doesn’t move or rattle, and there’s a little shock protection.
Swap in the ebay battery at this stage, and before clipping the iPod back together, try powering it up to check.
If all goes well, it’ll tell you to restore the iPod. If it doesn’t say that, somethings not seated right.
Step 7 – Restore the iPod
Yup, plug it into your iComputer, and use iTunes to iRestore the iPod.