iPod Video Modification: Rockbox and Better Hardware
The fifth generation (and 5.5G) of iPod (known fully as the iPod video 5G) is a favorite amongst Rockbox users and audio enthusiasts due to the Wolfson internals. The Rockbox firmware therefore gets a lot of development love. Even better you can find this iPod for relatively cheap locally and online but beware that you are probably going to get an item with years of wear that might not fully function. Our friends in Shenzhen can help fix that problem as you will see below.
So you have one of these iPods lying around or have sourced one for cheap. What can you do to make one a very good player?
- add solid state storage (we will be adding an msata ssd but if you want you can use SD cards, compact flash, or larger capacity hard drives)
- add a large capacity aftermarket battery
- change broken or worn casings and parts (click-wheel, front and back plates, LCD, headphone jack and lock switch ribbon cables)
DISCLAIMER: I am not responsible for damage to your device or any harm resulting from the accuracy of these instructions or any other reason. There has been no extensive fact checking or guarantee for the accuracy of these instructions.
Introduction & Process
My body was a 30G iPod 5G with original working hardware. I will refer to my iPod interchangibly as a unit in this article.
Some advice on purchasing:
- I would pay no more than 30USD for a booting one in the US market
- You can get a unit for cheaper if it's broken but make sure you know it's the right type of broken. The right type of broken is a failed HDD or failing battery. The owner will often say that it boots but does not stay on, or boots into the support screen indicating an error. I would advise getting a unit that turns on where you can verify a working LCD. It's a bigger gamble to buy something that does not power on at all because you're betting that it's a bad battery when it can be damaged mainboard that is not worth the time or effort to fix or a damaged LCD that will cost more money. If it at least partially boots then you know that the core parts are operable.
- A damaged enclosure can be replaced with new after market parts that you can get for pennies on fleabay
- you shouldn't care too much about the battery, just replace it with an aftermarket since the one you're getting is most likely depleted. I've read that the SSD setup takes a larger power draw but don't have citations of technical details.
- be patient and look for local sales where people don't care how much they sell their old hardware for
I tried to include an exhaustive shopping list of items you will need with pictures. Obviously this depends on the state of the unit you get and how many modifications you want. I am basing this off my project. I suggest reading the notes as they will prevent you from buying the wrong items and wasting money.
- OPTIONAL:iPod video front casing (mine was scratched to the point of making it hard to read the screen)
- 3000 mAh aftermarket battery
Notes: Make sure it's compatible with your model. If you buy the 3000 mAh capacity pictured (or any other larger form factor) YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE TO FIT IT in the 30GB slim casing along with the msata assembly.
- 256 gb msata ssd (IMPORTANT see notes below) Notes: I've read on the forums that the patched firmware that supports SSDs in Rockbox can have problems with certain models. However, I have seen people do this mod with no name Chinese SSDs and less popular brands. I used a Hynix brand SSD. Others on the forums have used Crucial.
- OPTIONAL: iPod video 5G back casing (IMPORTANT see notes below) Notes: As stated, make sure that if you are buying the larger battery to buy the larger back casing. What do I mean by this? I mean that the 80GB iPod had a larger backplate because it had a fatter HDD in it compared to the 30GB version. I made a mistake here.
- OPTIONAL:If headphone jack or holdswitch broken: buy the appropriate ribbon cable part Notes: One ribbon cable part has the headphone jack and hold switch
- msata to ZIF adapter (eBay) (IMPORTANT see notes below) Notes: You can get away with buying a cheap generic China sourced adapter. It has worked for me and others. I've read that they all pretty much use the same chipset and design but it's hard to verify. Search for something along the lines of: Mini PCI-E SSD Solid State Drive To 40 Pin ZIF Adapter Card Converter. There is some hobbyist that has custom boards online with more storage options. They are probably way better quality but are going to cost a lot.
Make sure that all other parts work like click-wheel and screen so you have a fully functioning unit
Overview: We are going to disassemble the unit, connect the new parts, reassemble, then restore in iTunes (this formats the ssd so we don't have to do it manually), then we will install Rockbox the automated way through the utility. Finally, we will delete the stock Rockbox OS and write a modified version to our device manually.
Step 1: Take apart the unit so it looks like the FIRST picture below. Please note that the first picture only has the casing off. There is no reason to further dissasemble like in the second picture unless you are replacing other parts.For example, if you are not replacing the front faceplate then there is no need to take it off. You can try to neatly pry open the casing where metal meets plastic but this can prove frustrating. There are joints where the separation will come apart easily. A guitar pick or other thin device will help. Make sure to pay attention to how things are connected so it's easier when it comes time to reassemble. These are general tips. Reference a dissasembly video if necessary and use your head.
Disconnect the ribbon cable connecting the HDD to the mainboard. Keep the pin orientation in mind. There is no reason to disassemble more than necessary. You generally shouldn't touch the other ribbon cables unless you are replacing other components.
IMPORTANT: the unit will NOT BOOT if you flip the pin orientation when installing the ZIF to MSATA connector. The pin orientation should be UP when connecting the cable to the adapter end. This means that you should be able to see the pins as you insert them into the adapter.
Next connect the new battery where the old connector was. This is that slide on the bottom right of the unit. You can pop the slide up from the brown plastic to remove the ribbon cable and then press it back down with the ribbon cable in place between the brown and white plastic pieces.
If you have a new backplate you will need to transplant the headphone jack+hold switch ribbon cable onto the new plating. You will need a very small Philips screwdriver and patience. If you have a new frontplate you will need to unscrew the old one. There are small Philips screws on the side. I had to do this because mine was damaged and made it difficult to read the screen.
*(above)if you're replacing the front faceplate like me be careful about the loose clickwheel. Also, protect the exposed LCD from dust and fingerprints. It's very difficult to restore to the clean state once contaminated.
Step 2: At this point you will have an unit with a new connected msata and a new battery. You can sandwich these components together temporarily but be gentle and make sure not to place any components in places that would cause a short. Do not seal up the unit until you can make sure that you get a restore on iTunes and get Rockbox installed.
Boot up the iPod holding the menu or center button. If successful you should get a screen that says in multiple languages to connect your iPod to iTunes to restore. POINT WHERE MOST PEOPLE SCREW UP: If you connected the msata adapter wrong you will likely get a boot up to an iPod support page with the iPod dead face. You might also experience bootloops.Get the orientation of that ZIF ribbon cable right and everything should go smoothly.
Connect the iPod to iTunes and allow it to restore the iPod with the new SSD. This will partion and load data onto the SSD that makes it possible to use the automated installation of Rockbox.
Now you should have an iPod on the stock OS with the new components installed. Rockbox is more stable and free as in freedom so I strongly advise using it over the stock OS. The stock OS was only designed to operate with the stock hard drives and you're stuck with the cancer that is iTunes.
Step 3: Simply connect the iPod to the computer with the Rockbox utility installed. It's easy to do this on GNU/Linux but binaries also exist for Windows. Make sure that the iPod is mounted. You can check whether the device is picked up by your OS with these commands. Then mount. The instructions below are for GNU/Linux but Windows should work with the same logic.
ls /dev/ | grep sd
When you connect the ipod you will get new devices in /dev/. For example, If your ipod is /dev/sdb then mount /dev/sdb2
Open the Rockbox utility and make sure to select your model and mountpoint. Then just do the full installation of Rockbox (everything checked including bootloader)
At this point you will have an ipod with a BROKEN Rockbox installation that will panic. This is because SSD functionality has not been merged into the official Rockbox utility.
The picture below is an example of a failed boot with the stock firmware
Step 3: Download patched Rockbox that supports SSD connectivity.
It is located here. http://beyondwind.duckdns.org/downloads/rockbox.zip
(I need to find who I can credit for this patch. It's great work. I wonder why it hasn't been merged upstream.)
It is a zip file containing the Rockbox operating system. It is a hidden file called .rockbox
Step 4: With your ipod mounted cd into the root of its file system.
will show that there is a .rockbox file. This is the original firmware the utility flashed that does not work with ssds. Remove it with:
rm -rf .rockbox
Now unzip the modified firmware we downloaded in the previous step. Move that firmware to the root of your device.
mv .rockbox /mnt/pmp
Your mount location will vary with whatever you used.
At this point you have an ipod with a modified Rockbox installation capable of supporting SSDs.
I advise to power it on and transfer some music. Test all functionality before reassembly to prevent screw ups. Remember how hard it was to rip it open the first time?
Step 5 You should have a fully functional unit at this point.
These steps aren't down to the exact detail because I'm confident you know the general process. Please let me know if you have any questions (email via contact page in top right) and I can hopefully answer them. I hope this helps someone.