iPod 3rd and 4th Generation

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 makes 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 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 a 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 for these older models, I decided to use Compact Flash.

I selected 64GB SanDisk Extreme Compact Flash cards. iFlash.xyz 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 slowly work the clips free, 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. With the adapter installed, the card rested on the iPod’s internal battery connector. 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 solder would stretch across and short the legs together. Also, while the tape held the connector if treated gingerly, once the connector was inserted into the plug, the slightest movement pulled it free of the cable. So, I headed to eBay. I was able to find 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 the iPod was recognized by iTunes 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. This time, I selected a 32GB SanDisk running at 60MBps instead of 120MBps. This slower speed was still twice as fast 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 headed back 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, and I discovered that somewhere along the way (likely when using Linux), an EFI system partition was created on the drive. My subsequent formatting attempts did not impact the hidden EFI partition. After deleting it, I used Windows to format the entire drive, and everything feel into place. iTunes recognized the iPod, loaded the restoration package, and after plugging into a Firewire external charger and rebooting, the restoration 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, and it forces 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 a silver box–available to me anytime with the click of a wheel.

iPod Classic – 6th Generation (2nd Revision)

The iPod fueled Apple’s resurgence. While the iMac and iBook indicated change was underway, it was the iPod that made Apple a household name again. It was also the classic iPod that pivoted Apple from a computer company to a consumer electronics behemoth.

This iPod belongs to my mother. For many years she carried it everywhere she went. It was rare to see her without an ear bud inserted as she enjoyed having her complete music library conveniently tucked in her pocket .

This model is the last of a historic line. Unofficially knows as the 7th generation iPod Classic, this 2nd revision of the 6th version maxed the storage to 160GB and sold from 2009 to 2014. This final Classic sports a 2.5-inch color LCD display providing 320 x 240 resolution with an LED backlight.

This particular iPod clearly endured several drops and scrapes. The aluminum cover held up fairly well despite its dings and dents. It’s the battery that wore down with steady use. Luckily, a replacement was readily available thanks to iFixIt.

When restoring an iPod, the first step is the most difficult: opening the darn thing. After watching several useful videos, I secured the right tools and manhandled my way into the device.

The painful opening process
Opened without lasting damage.

Once the iPod was opened, I was decided to do as much as I could to preserve the unit before sealing it back in its aluminum vault. While the 160GB 4200RPM ATA-66 spinning drive still worked, one day entropy would ensure its demise. So I went online and discovered the useful iFlash product line. There are a variety of solid state drive replacements available, and I selected the iFlash Solo. This customized device allows a wide variety of SD/SDHC/SDXC cards to replace the stock hard drive. I purchased a compatible Samsung 128GB U3 Micro SDXC, but in hindsight, I could have gone with an iFlash Dual and installed a 32GB card along with the 128GB to keep the iPod at its original 160GB of storage.

Removing the delicate ribbon cable attaching the existing hard drive
Prepping the new storage solution
New battery and iFlash Solo installed

The screen was functional, but it had taken damage. A crack and dents in the plastic cover, along with a corresponding fuzzy blob on the display, were scars left from something impacting the screen. After some eBay searches, I found a low-cost replacement. Installing the new display required unscrewing the side brackets and peeling away the front cover from the main board and click wheel mechanism. Once in place, it was as good as new.

Accessing the front of the iPod to replace the screen

Before closing the case, I plugged in the 30-pin connector and made sure it would power up and screen functioned properly. I was greeted with a “Restore iPod” message and the battery began charging. Luckily, I happened to notice a post on the iFlash website detailing an issue with large capacity SDXC cards resulting in slow music transfers, odd syncing errors, song skipping, and even system crashes. The cross-platform iPod’s were formatted using FAT32, and modern SDXC cards come formatted with exFAT. Therefore, I needed to reformat the card before buttoning up the iPod.

Ready for testing

Reformatting the SDXC to FAT32 was more complicated than I expected. FAT32 accompanied Windows 95 and replaced the venerable FAT16 as Windows’ default drive format. Microsoft has not allowed drives larger than 32GB to utilize FAT32 for some time, though the format can support drives up to 2TB. Many believe Microsoft created this barrier to force users to accept the more robust Windows NT-inspired NTFS file system. Later, the capable exFAT format became a cross-platform standard. However, I could still utilize FAT32 thanks to a handy third-party tool: FAT32 Format. I wiped and setup a clean partition and then used FAT32 Format to ready the drive for iTunes.

While this last of the iPod Classics may not be considered retro technology by some, it is a discontinued product from a bygone era. An era where portable digital music became the norm, and we grew to expect access to any song at any time with the click of a wheel.