Rising from the Ashes

On September 2nd I plugged my iPod Mini into my computer thinking I would listen to some music but was treated to this instead:

All I could divine from that image was that my iPod was not very happy. My first thought was “Maybe the battery is extremely low” since it had been a while since I had last plugged it in. But despite letting it “charge” for a couple of hours, I never saw any change. Next I Googled the symptoms to try and troubleshoot the problem. Most sites suggested either restoring the firmware via iTunes or putting the iPod into a special diagnostics mode. Neither of those worked because I could never get the iPod to be recognized by the PC as being attached and despite repeated attempts to restart it into the diagnostics mode I would only receive the sick iPod screen. As I cradled my beloved Mini in my arms I noticed a strange clicking sound.

The sound that my highly trained mind immediately recognized as the feeble attempts of a perishing harddrive to spin up. Clearly this was serious: my iPod was no more. I was very sad.

Now you may be thinking to yourself, “Ian is a highly paid engineer. Why doesn’t he just buy a new iPod. The Mini is like a thousand years old. The new Nanos are slim, have color screens, play movies, and cost less than $200. What’s the big deal?” Well I’ll tell you. First, my iPod Mini has extreme sentimental value to me. It was a gift from one of my favorite college professors for working gratis on a summer project. Second, it’s a great design. It’s small but still easy and comfortable to hold and the anodized aluminum case is attractive and sturdy. Third, it’s one of the few iPod models (for now) that can run Rockbox, an alternative firmware that let’s me play audio formats other than MP3s. This is handy since I’ve switched my audio library over to the FLAC format.

So I decided I would look into fixing my iPod. I knew people had successfully replaced iPod batteries before, but I wasn’t sure how easy it would be to fix the harddrive. As it turns out, it wasn’t hard at all. Not only can you replace the harddrive, you can replace it with a CompactFlash memory card and even increase the storage capacity of your device. There’s even a company, iFixit.com, dedicated to provided spare parts and guides for fixing Apple products. For $100 I was able to order a 32GB CompactFlash card, a new battery with a higher capacity, and the tools necessary to disassemble my iPod.

This is the setup I used (the hair dryer is to soften up the adhesive that holds the end caps on):

The first step is to remove the bottom cap and then pull out the internal metal bracket:

Once the bottom bracket is out you have access to the Click Wheel connector (the orange cable on the left). After you carefully disconnect it you go up to the top and remove the top cap:

Another reason why I want to keep my iPod is because of the custom engraving on the back. Once you unscrew the two tiny Philips head screws, you can remove the guts of the iPod from the casing by gently pushing up on the bottom. Here you can see views of the internals of an iPod Mini from the front and the back:

Here’s a shot comparing the two batteries:

The one on the left is the old iPod battery, the one on the right is the replacement.

Here’s a shot of the microdrive:

And a comparison of the old 4GB microdrive vs the 32GB CompactFlash card:

Here’s the new parts installed and the iPod reassembled:

And last but certainly not least, a shot showing my new and improved 32GB iPod Mini in action:

The whole process was pretty painless. The guides from iFixit clearly explained how to do everything. It took me two hours to do everything, but most of that was getting iTunes to recognize the iPod so I could reinstall the firmware.