Replace iPod Classic HDD with SSD

The iPod is one of those devices that made Apple what it is today and are still widely regarded as the best portable media player on the market. Unfortunately, a few years ago Apple dropped the iPod Classic models in favour of their iPod Touch devices meaning its no longer possible to buy a brand new iPod Classic. Personaly, I don’t like the iPod Touch. If I wanted one, I’d buy an iPhone as it can do much more and makes more sense, but if I’m buying an iPod, I want a media player, so I don’t want it to be bogged down with all these apps that I don’t want nor need on my media player. Add that to the fact the capacity available in an iPod Touch isn’t enough for me. Hell, even the 160GB in the iPod Classic isn’t enough for me but its good enough for going out and about!

I had an iPod Classic about 7 years ago and it was a great device. Unfortunately, it got stolen with my car stereo and I’ve never seen it since. Years later, I’ve been aching to get another and I recently found a bargain 160GB iPod Classic Late 2009 model (7th Generation I believe) on Gumtree. I picked it up and it was all in good nick, but after some playing around trying to get iTunes to read it. I determined after a while that the hard disk drive (HDD) was shot, a common problem with these devices. They use a 1.8″ HDD which, as you’d expect with a spinning disk, doesn’t like getting shocked or moved about… which is going to happen quite often in a portable device!

I’d paid a fair big of money for the device, although I’d managed to get it for a fair chunk cheaper than any others I’d seen so I wasn’t that bothered. It gave me an excuse to upgrade the disk and have an almost new iPod.

Why would someone else want to do this upgrade? There are plenty of people out there like me who don’t like the modern iPods and would much rather use an iPod Classic. As the drives are prone to failure, why throw it away when you can replace it? And even better, why not upgrade it at the same time?

The 1.8″ HDDs are hard to come by these days and are equally as prone to failure as the original disk. It’s a spinning disk after all, it’s not going to last forever, especially in a portable. A solid state disk (SSD) is a much better upgrade for your iPod Classic. It’s faster, it’s lighter and if you pay enough money and have a compatible iPod, they’re bigger capacity too! From reports I’ve seen, the battery life is still great as well. I’ve not had mine installed long enough to judge the battery life just yet though.

Sounds good! What do I need to do this? You’ll need a few components to make this work and a bit of effort and patience, but overall, it isn’t a hard job to do. I have years of experience playing with bigger hardware like desktop PCs, laptops, servers and the like, but I’d never opened up a portable device. Never opened a phone, iPod or similar. In total, the job took me about an hour and that was learning and taking photos along the way.

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The first component you’re going to need will be a ZIF converter board. The 1.8″ HDD fitted in the iPod Classic uses a ZIF (zero insertion force) connector, which is essentially a ribbon cable with a tiny plastic clamp connector. We can’t get a suitable disk with this connector, so we need to convert it to something else. There are loads of boards available on the market, but be aware that, even though some uneducated sellers may advertise them as, they’re not all suitable for the iPod Classic. You can also purchase ZIF boards for different types of media. I have come across CompactFlash (CF) boards, SD card boards, microSD boards and mSATA boards. All of them have their advantages and disadvantages, but purely over the speed and space aspect, I opted for an mSATA board to handle an SSD, rather than piling microSD cards in there. After a bit of research, I opted for a Tarkan iFlash-SATA board for £28. https://www.iflash.xyz/store/iflash-sata/

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The second component you’re going to need will be, obviously, a solid state disk. This might sound obvious, but the ZIF board above is just a converter. You’ll still need a disk to plug into it. On the page for the iFlash-SATA, there is a compatibility list of known working disks and there are plenty to choose from. I’ve not found a review yet that suggests the iFlash-SATA cannot read any specific drives, but I’d personally try to keep away from the cheap crap. There also seems to be a limitation on how large the disk can be depending on your iPod device. The iFlash website lists that the 6G, 6.5G and 7G are only capable of detecting 128GB in iTunes, while the 5G, 5.5G and 7.5G do not appear to have limitations. I opted for a SanDisk X110 256GB mSATA disk for £64.99 which works perfectly in my 7.5G. https://www.aria.co.uk/Products/Storage/SSDs/mSATA+SSD/Sandisk+256GB+mSATA+SSD+Solid+State+Drive+-+SD6SF1M-256G-1022I+?productId=66241

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Lastly, you’ll need some tools to open the device. I bought the tools from iFlash along with the ZIF boards. I purchased a Flexible Pry Tool, Metal Spudger and their 4pcs Opening Toolkit, however I did find that the 4psc Opening Toolkit was useless and broke very easily. I don’t know if they’re just cheap crap or if I was using them incorrectly, but I found the Flexible Pry Tool was more than enough to open up the case and the Metal Spudger helped with the tricky ZIF connectors.

https://www.iflash.xyz/store/flexible-pry-tool/
https://www.iflash.xyz/store/metal-spudger/
https://www.iflash.xyz/store/4pcs-opening-toolkit/

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Optionally, you may also want to look at purchasing a new battery and new rear cover. Some people find they need to put too much force into removing the rear covers that they’re no longer useable and they are usually pretty battle scarred. I haven’t bothered yet as I didn’t immediately think about it when ordering parts, but I also managed to open the case with no damage. I may replace it at a later date. As the devices are quite old, the batteries may not be holding their optimal charge, and while battery useage does not appear to be hugely impacted, a fresh battery might be a good idea. I also didn’t bother doing this as reviews of third party batteries seem to be mixed and the life of the current battery seemed decent anyway.

So we’ve got the components and we’ve got the tools. Let’s get started!

Step 1: Opening the iPod Classic

This step is by far the hardest bit to do. Take your Flexible Pry Tool and start working from the right hand side of the device. Slot the tool into the gap between the metal front cover and the silver rear cover. Lever it inside and start to push away from the iPod. There are a number of clips (4 along each long side and I think 2 along each short side) that need to be released. You’ll start to hear them click as you go.

I worked from the right side, up to the top, along the top between the headphone jack and lock switch, then down the left hand side. Once they all the clips are released, the clips on the bottom of the case should just act like a hinge to release everything.

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Be careful here are there are some metal rails that run along this side and you don’t want to pull too hard when it does release as you could snap the battery or headphone ribbon cables inside. The below photo shows the clips along the side of an opened case so you’ve got some idea where they are:

20160616_201340Once the case is loose, start to remove it just enough to reveal the battery ribbon cable in the bottom corner. This will need to be unplugged before we can split the rear case away completely.

Take your spudger and carefully lift up the black plastic tab holding the ribbon cable down.

20160616_201153Once released, you can unfold the cover to reveal the internal components of the iPod.

Note: There are still ribbon cables attached to the rear cover, so it will open like a book, but it won’t completely come away until you remove these cables. For the purpose of replacing the HDD components, we don’t need to remove these cables so don’t put too much force on taking the cover off.

You should now be looking at something like this:

20160616_201201Step 2: Remove the HDD

This is where things start to look scary but it gets really easy! Next thing we need to do is obviously remove the old HDD to make way for our new SSD and ZIF board. The hard drive is the big silver component with the blue padding on it. Grab it from the top and flip it down. It is attached by a very small ribbon cable at the bottom and the connector is on the other side of the disk  Be careful with this as it can be easy to snap the ribbon cable.

You should now be looking at something like this:

20160616_201415Take your spudger and careful open the catch on the HDD. This is the small black bar on the white connector at the bottom of the HDD. This will release the ribbon cable and allow you to remove the HDD completely.

20160616_201437Once removed, you will see there are two small rubber bumpers either side of the USB cable plug. These are no longer requires and are just glued in. Peel these off and discard:

20160616_20145920160616_201646Step 3: Prepare and install the ZIF converter board & SSD

Now we can install the ZIF board and the mSATA disk. I found it easier to install the disk before installing the ZIF board, but it shouldn’t matter which order you do this in.

There is a diagram on the iFlash-SATA ZIF board that shows the insertion of the mSATA board. Insert the mSATA board at a 45 degree angle until all the pins are home, then gently push down on the other end until it clips into the board. Most mSATA disks will have two screw holes and are expected to be screwed down, but the iFlash gets around this by using a clever clip system. If you have a different board, you may need to screw it down to ensure it is secure.

20160616_201559 20160616_201606Next, take your spudger and gently release the black bar on the ZIF connector. This will allow you to insert the ribbon cable securely.

20160616_201753Now lay the board in position. The mSATA disk should be facing up and the ZIF connector at the bottom. As the iFlash-SATA board is designed for the iPod Classic, it has all the necessary cut outs to sit perfectly.

Once in position, gently insert the ribbon cable and use your spudger to lock the black bar on the ZIF connector.

20160616_201839The disk is now installed.

Step 4: Testing

I highly recommend that you test your new setup before closing everything up again. This way, if there is a problem, you don’t have to open up the case again.

Loosely place the rear cover in place. Position the battery cable and using your spudger, push the black locking tab back down to secure it.

20160616_203208The device should now turn on and will display a message saying “Use iTunes to restore”

20160616_202008Lift up the back cover enough to reveal the dock connector and plug your USB cable in:

20160616_202052The device should now go into disk recovery mode with a “Do not disconnect” message:

20160616_202143Open up iTunes on your PC (I’m using Windows for this. It will probably work on a Mac, but while I own a Mac, I haven’t tried it as all my music is on my Windows PC).

iTunes will detect the iPod and display the following message:

ipod-it1Click OK, then from the main iTunes window, click Restore iPod… as highlighted below:

ipod-it2A confirmation window will appear asking if you are sure you want to continue. Click Restore to continue:

ipod-it3iTunes will now start to restore the iPod and confirm when completed:

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The iPod will now restart and show a loading firmware screen. Allow this to complete and the iPod should boot up and reconnect itself to iTunes:

20160616_202301iTunes should now pop up with the Welcome to your new iPod screen. Click Continue and then Get Started to complete the setup

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You should now be taken to the summary screen and will see the new capacity of your iPod. In my case, the formatted available space from my 256GB SSD is 238.17GB.

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Open up your music tab, find a track or two you like and copy them over to your iPod. Only do a few tracks to start with as we’re just testing that it actually works first!

ipod-it9Once synchronised, eject the iPod from iTunes and disconnect the cable. The iPod will likely now ask you to select a language. Now try to play some music!

20160616_202754Success! We’re up and running! You can also confirm in Settings -> About that the device is picking up the full capacity:

20160616_203449Step 5: Finalising installation and closing back up

Now that we’ve proven the new disk is working, we can finish off and close it al back up. Flip the device back over and remove the battery cable once more. The iFlash-SATA board comes with two thermal pads that are to help with heat dissipation and padding as the board is thinner than the original HDD.

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Take these pads and stick them over the top of your SSD. For the older, thicker iPods, you may need to lay one on top of the other to stop it rattling, but mine being the thinner models, I placed them side by side:

20160616_203044Finally, reconnect the battery cable for the last time, ensure it still turns back on and close up the case! To close up, simply line the case up and apply pressure. The clips should clamp back into place with a small amount of pressure.

Your SSD upgrade is now complete and you can sync all your music as normal!

The tips that came with my iFlash-SATA board mention that under syncing, the disk can get hot, so be aware of this when syncing a lot of music. I did notice a very minimal amount of warmth during sync but nothing too major.

Good luck and enjoy your refreshed iPod!

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2 thoughts on “Replace iPod Classic HDD with SSD

  1. Paul

    I have just come across this lifeline after my iPod (identical to one above) quit on a car journey back from Scotland yesterday. Whatever I try in order to restore or get to disk mode I just get the red X and the device is not seen by iTunes or my PC.
    Thanks to this clear description I think I’ll give it a go. My only problem is that I can’t find the SSD recommended and do not have the technical ability to be sure of finding an equivalent item for a similar price. Any ideas?
    Paul.

    Reply

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