Skip to content

Apple iPod 3rd and 4th Gen

If you have more than one pocket, why not have more than 1,000 songs in each? After building confidence restoring the 6th and final version of the iPod Classic, I was ready to take on a dual restoration of a 3rd and a 4th generation iPod.

The 3rd generation iPod belonged to a good friend who insisted on only including full albums from different genres and shuffling between them with abandon.
The 4th generation iPod was my first. A gift from my wife given shortly after we were married. This iPod was my daily companion for many years, allowing me to enjoy custom playlists and introducing me to a steady rotation of podcasts.

Apple’s 3rd generation iPod was the first to come with the soon-to-be ubiquitous 30-pin dock connector and the second with a “touch wheel” interface, though its glowing red control buttons make it unique to this day. By replacing the Firewire port, the new dock connector enabled connections via USB to PCs. First offered in 2003 and revised in 2004, this iPod has a two-inch grayscale 160 x 120 display, 8 hours of battery life, and was available in 10GB through 40GB configurations.

The 4th generation iPod was the first with the iconic “click wheel” interface and the last to come with a grayscale display. This generation launched in July 2004 with an updated but similarly spec’d display, increased battery life, and was available in 20GB or 40GB configurations. In October 2004, a “Special U2 Edition” was released in black and red–providing the first non-white iPod option. This generation was also the base for the iPod Photo, with its 60GB hard drive and a 220 x 176 display providing 65,536 colors.

To begin this restoration, I knew the batteries needed to be replaced. The 4th generation model was in decent shape with a functioning hard drive, but I was uncertain about the 3rd generation’s drive. At first, I thought the battery was completely dead and would not take charge, but I later learned this model can only be powered via Firewire, and I was connecting it to a USB charger.

I visited iFixIt and picked up new batteries for both. Regardless of the drive condition, I planned to replace both spinning drives with solid-state options. A few months ago, I installed an SD card in a 6th generation iPod, but I decided to use Compact Flash for these older models.

I selected 64GB SanDisk Extreme Compact Flash cards. offers an inexpensive iFlash-CF card, but I also needed an adapter to interface with the pin connector used on the older model iPods.

Prying open the 3rd generation iPod case.
Inspecting the internals.

Opening the 3rd generation iPod was not particularly challenging. While I was careful and used plastic picks and multiple tools to work the clips free slowly, it seems I was not careful enough. After getting the top and bottom apart, I discovered the headphone connector had separated from its cable. That was a problem!

The 4th generation unit opened fairly easily and without damage. Both units were clean and had the same 20GB 3.3V Toshiba MK2004GAL ATA-100 series hard drive running at 4200 RPM, but they were housed in somewhat different blue protective bumpers.

Opening the 4th generation iPod
Clean on the inside

After removing the hard drives, both batteries were easily accessible and replaced. The 3rd generation hard drive connection cable had to be removed from the logic board to access the battery while the 4th generation pin connector remained attached.

3rd generation battery replacement
New 4th generation battery installed.

The iFlash card was easily installed in the 3rd generation enclosure. However, the 4th generation’s fit was more complicated. The card rested on the iPod’s internal battery connector with the adapter installed. Unfortunately, the diagonal on the iFlash card went the wrong way to accommodate the conflict. So, after confirming no traces were impacted, I trimmed the top of the iFlash card.

3rd generation adapter and iFlash installation
Trimming the iFlash card to fit comfortably within the 4th generation enclosure
Completed 4th generation card installation

I was now ready to address the broken headphone connector. I first tried gluing the 10-point connector in place using 1mm double-sided tape. I hoped the connector’s legs would make satisfactory contact once the case was securely closed, but that was wishful thinking. I considered soldering the legs in place, but given the very small size, I suspected the solder would stretch across and short the legs together. Also, while the tape held the connector if treated gingerly, once it was inserted into the plug, the slightest movement pulled it free of the cable. So, I headed to eBay. I found a seller with a handful of 3rd generation headphone assemblies at a reasonable price. After receiving delivery, it was trivial to replace.

New headphone/hold switch assembly in place with a functional connector

As usual, gremlins affected the software installation. For the 4th generation model, the 64GB Compact Flash card was formatted using FAT32 Format, and it was setup with as a master boot record (MBR) partition. Once the card was inserted into the iPod and powered on, I plugged the iPod into a PC. iTunes downloaded a package onto the iPod, and then the iPod was disconnected and plugged into a wall charger. After a restart, a progress bar appeared under the Apple logo, and a few moments later, the iPod was ready to go. Returning to the PC, the unit synced and played music without issue.

After the initial iTunes restoration, the iPod needed to be plugged into a wall charge to complete the software installation.
Setup and ready to go

The 3rd generation restoration was not as smooth. After following the same format process, the iPod entered disk mode but was not recognized by iTunes or Windows. While troubleshooting the problem, the unit’s battery died. As noted above, this is when I discovered the iPod would only charge if connected to a Firewire cable. After letting it sit overnight, plugged into a Firewire wall charger, I returned to the software problem. Now realizing the importance of Firewire, I thought perhaps things would work better if the iPod was connected to a Macintosh using a Firewire cable, and luckily, I had a mid-2007 iMac with a Firewire 400 port.

Since the iPod was going into disk mode, the Mac’s disk utility could see the drive. I decided to reformat it as an OS X Extended volume, and I was thrilled to see the drive pop up in the Finder. I was even more excited when iTunes launched. The system sat for several minutes, and then amazingly, iTunes recognized the iPod, and the restoration process began. I assumed I was home free, but no.

Once restored, the iPod connected with the Mac, but upon disconnection, it would freeze. I soon learned that the unit never went to sleep, and the battery eventually died. I had to regularly reboot the iPod by holding down the menu and play buttons. So, obviously, there were problems. I entered diagnostic mode by holding down the previous, center select, and next buttons, but none of the tests were helpful.

Unsatisfied, I decided to try a smaller and slower Compact Flash card. I selected a 32GB SanDisk running at 60MBps instead of 120MBps this time. This slower speed was still twice as fast as the Toshiba drive’s 31.6MBps. Once the new card arrived, I formatted it to FAT32 using Linux, but Window’s iTunes still did not recognize it, and the iPod was constantly rebooting and showing the folder icon with an exclamation mark. So, I returned to the Mac and reformatted it for OS X, but that did not work either, and the iPod still showed the folder and exclamation mark. Perplexed, I eventually used a utility that showed me the card’s partition table. I discovered that an EFI system partition was created on the drive somewhere along the way (likely when using Linux). My subsequent formatting attempts did not impact the hidden EFI partition. After deleting it, I used Windows to format the entire drive, and everything fell into place. iTunes recognized the iPod, loaded the restoration package, and after plugging into a Firewire external charger and rebooting, the restoration was completed, and the iPod could sync without issue to iTunes on both Windows and Macintosh. The strangeness also disappeared. The drive disconnected without hanging, and the battery now appears to behave normally.

3rd generation iPod after its software problems were resolved

I enjoyed this dual restoration. Such projects are a mental puzzle, forcing me to recall long-forgotten tech memories. The 3rd generation iPod will go back to my friend, and I will enjoy a second life for my 4th generation iPod. I hoped to use it in my car, but at some point, Ford’s SYNC removed iPod integration. Nevertheless, it is good to have my music library once again packed into a sleek white silver box–available to me anytime with the click of a wheel.

Published inAccessories


  1. Zach Zach

    Awesome restoration! So, just to clarify, after erasing the EFI partition on the 3rd Gen (and restoring it successfully), you’re able to sync through FireWire, or just USB?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2023