Thursday, December 26, 2013

iPod Mini flash memory upgrade



Although most have moved on to iPhones or Androids to play their music today, many still use iPods in speaker docks or cars to play music.  I have a 2006 Nissan that has a dedicated iPod dock connector that displays the iPod menus on the center console display.  Recently my hard drive failed in my iPod 3rd gen and I needed a Firewire version because my Nissan won’t charge the USB iPods. 

So after reading some articles I discovered it’s easier to buy an iPod mini because it uses a CF Type II hard drive.  These hard drives can easily be replaced with CF flash cards which are commonly found in older SLR digital cameras.  I decided to buy an iPod Mini on eBay and try a 32gig flash card I had laying around. 

First getting the iPod mini open is the most difficult part of this project.  I used the blue tool that comes with iPod battery replacement kits.  You need to remove the top and bottom on the mini.  By working the tool between the metal and plastic edge you eventually will break the glue apart that holds them in place. There are also some plastic snaps and if you are not careful they can break. 

Once you have the top and bottom off you remove two Phillips head screws on the top of the iPod.  Then from the bottom you must remove a metal plate that has four holes.  I believe a C-clip plier could make this step easier but the set I had would not fit in those tiny holes so I worked it loose with a screwdriver blade.  Then you must pop off a small connector on the bottom left side that is attached to a ribbon cable that connects the click wheel to the main board. 

Now you are ready to slide the main board out of the iPod casing.  Be very careful, if it feels like there is too much friction make sure nothing is snagging.  A LED flashlight is handy to see what’s going on in there.  Once you have the board out you must remove the tape around the drive near the edge connector.  Then using a screwdriver blade you can work the drive off the connector. 

Now you can install your CF flash drive.  It goes label side up.  Although in my video I show reassembling the iPod at this point you can fire up iTunes and connect the sync cable to see if the upgrade is working.  The iPod does not need the click wheel cable hooked up to restore the iPod.  iTunes should see the drive and display a message that it is corrupt.  This is totally normal, do not panic.  Follow the steps to restore your iPod.  It will take about a two minutes for the whole process to finish. 

Usually the first restore will work as expected.  In one case I had a 32gb flash card show up as 6gb.  All I did was restore the iPod mini a 2nd time and it then recognized the full 32gb CF card. 

As of this writing a 32 CF card is about $35-$40 bucks.  A replacement battery is about $5.  Then scoring a cheap iPod mini on eBay is the trick.  Look for one where they say it shows the Apple logo and then displays an error.  That means the hard drive is bad and we don’t care about that, so bid on it.  If one does not power on at all stay away from it.  On average they are going for $15-$35 dollars.  Ones in perfect condition will go for way more.  You can even buy a replacement shell if you are fussy over the scratches that many have. 

It’s too bad Apple has crippled the Nano with only 16gb of storage.  That’s not enough for many people like myself.  And I don’t want a 32gb iPod touch that costs $300!! And if you need a Firewire interface for some old product you have none of the current iPods will work.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Convert your old iPod to flash memory



My old 3rd gen iPod hard drive failed recently.  I had this iPod installed in my 2006 Nissan with a converter from Nissan that made my iPod work via the XM cable that was pre-installed in the car from the factory.   I found a cheap adapter on eBay that would convert a CF card to IDE.  The item description said it would not work on iPod Video or Classic 80gb.  It was around $4 with shipping.  I then used a Transcend CF card 32gb, 400x, part #TS32GCF400.  Make sure you shop for a CF to IDE adapter for Toshiba hard drive. 


The most difficult part of this fix is getting the iPod open.  I have opened a few already to replace batteries so I was fully ready for another fun few minutes.  I used a utility knife.  By scoring the edge of the iPod several times over will help release it.  Best bet is to jump on YouTube and watch a video, there are plenty out there.  But be super careful using a knife, you can cut yourself or scratch your iPod if you slip!

After the iPod is open remove the battery plug in the corner.  Then remove the hard drive with a gentle pull from the edge connector.  Install the CF card in the adapter and then plug it into the edge connector on the iPod.  I suggest you leave the iPod open until you know iTunes can restore the hard drive.  Plug the battery connector back in.

Next you need the dual cable that I think came with the iPod.  It has a Firewire and USB cables on it.  You also need the Firewire power brick.  For some reason iTunes will not restore over the Firewire cable and it won’t restore it via the USB port unless the iPod has power via the Firewire port!

I used Windows 7 x64 and iTunes 11.1.3.8.  On my first attempt iTunes locked up solid.  I had to power cycle the iPod by pulling the battery connector and reboot Windows.  Pressing the menu and play buttons at the same time did not help.  On the 2nd attempt I got a message that my iPod has been restored to factory settings!  The 32gig flash card shows as 29.77GB of usable space.

After I synced my music back to the iPod all appeared ok until I tried to play some music.  The iPod quickly started cycling through songs about 1 per second.  I went through the menu setup and changed a few settings but it did not fix it.  Once I rebooted the iPod (Hold the pause and play buttons together) everything worked as expected. 

So for about $40 you can fix that old iPod.  It’s also a nice upgrade if you keep it in the car like I do.  The flash drive won’t get damaged when going over potholes.  I also had a problem when the temperature was below 20 degrees with the hard drive, it would take about 30 minutes before it would start working.  With the flash memory that won’t be an issue.


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Convert FLAC to MP3 for free




DVDVideoSoft offers a free standalone utility to convert FLAC files to MP3 format.  It’s called “FreeAudio Converter”.  You do not need to download or install the suite to get this standalone utility.  I tested v 5.0.30 with several albums I had in FLAC format and it works well and is very easy to use. 

A big warning, their installer is riddled with extra installs.  Be very careful while installing to select the custom options to avoid installing some bloatware on your computer. 

I did find a bug while converting two albums.  The output filenames were truncated.  After examining in detail I finally found the issue.  The files names had a period after the track number which truncated the converted MP3 filenames.  I had to use my favorite tool, Total Commander, to delete the period after the track names so that the converter would properly carry over the full file name. 

Once I converted the files, the list of files remains in the window.  It took me second to discover if you right click in the window there is a selection called “Remove all” from the selection window.

There are options to change the output filename, but I found no need to use that feature.  There is a wide variety of output quality formats to choose from.  VBR, 32-320kbit and VBR Lame.  It also supports a wide variety of formats besides MP3 like Wav, M4A and M4A.  You can also create a M3U playlist during the conversion.