iPod harddisk replacement

Despite there probably are plenty of instructions like this out there, I figured I’ll do one anyway. The reason: A few weeks ago, I managed to drop my iPod from the height of about 1,5m while the harddisk was spinning.. *Click-whirr* bye bye hd and a round of applause for me \o/. Knowing I’m gonna replace the part myself, why not also document while I’m at it.

Sooo.. Sourcing a spare, no problem. The one I bought is a 240Gb Toshiba (model MK2431GAH) I found on eBay. Even the shipping turned out super-fast; spare part on my desk in less than a week after paying for the order!

In case you’re about to perform a similar routine, there are a few things to check for before we start:

  1. You are working on a ESD-protected surface, right?
  2. If not, you do at least have a properly grounded ESD wristband, don’t you?
  3. You do realize that anything inside the iPod connected to a cable shouldn’t be pulled/moved forcefully enough to apply excess tension to the cable(s) or their connectors, right?
  4. You are able to open the cable locking clips _carefully_ enough not to break them, aren’t you?
  5. You are aware that everything mentioned here applies to a 5.5G iPod Classic as in the pictures below, right? If you have anything other, you should check for model-specific info elsewhere.
  6. ESD protection all clear? :)

Ok step 1, open the case. Some “special” tools exist for this, but I’m not really convinced whether they’re necessary for anything. At least with my iPod, they’d be a total waste of money. Opening the case is as simple as inserting a fingernail (or two) between the front and rear cover halves and gently prying the side of the rear cover outwards. This releases the locking clips. You probably get a better idea from the next two pictures..:

Step 1: Open the case, locking clips are on the long edges. You can see their counterparts better on the following picture.

Step 2a: Locate the battery cable to be detached.

Step 2b: To detach the cable, release its locking clip.

Step 3a: Flip the rear cover on to the desk

Step 3b: Flip the harddisk over to expose its connector. Note the installation direction of the grey shock absorbers prior to removing them.

Step 4a: release the hd cable locking clip.

Lifting the locking clip from multiple points is recommended. This evens out the amount of pressure applied on the mechanism. Something wide (like a fingernail) works too, but try not to smear any of the chips or cable contact surfaces with your greasy fingers! The hd enclosure provides decent enough lever support.

Step 4b: Connector open, gently pull the hd to disconnect.

Make note of the position of the white line on the cable before disconnecting the hd. When attaching the new one, the cable should align with the connector in a similar fashion. If the alignment looks like anything else, return to step 4a and re-align.

Step 5a: Detach lower cushion foam from the old hd..

Step 5b: ..and repeat the same procedure for the one on the upper side.

As you can see from the pictures above, there are thin sheets of cushion foam on both sides of the hd. These are fastened with a few strips of double-sided tape, so they can’t be simply pulled off (foam will tear). So a hobby knife, piece of fishing line or whatever thin (and slideable over the surface) is called for. After both sheets have been removed, I see no point in adding new bits of tape. Simply insert the foam sheets inside the iPod in proper order when assembling.

Inserting the hd cable can be a bit tricky if you’re not used to these kind of cables and their fragile locking clips. My approach was to place the new hd as in picture 3b and then connect it by using a finger to gently hold the cable in place against the front cover (between the two blue parts). Once inserted, the hd+cable combination can be kept in place with the other hand, freeing the “cable” hand to secure the locking clip. Oh and did I mention these clips are way too easy to break? :)

When assembling, DON’T snap on the rear cover fully until you’ve checked that the new hd works. In my opinion, partitioning and formatting to the whatever-iPod-format is enough as we only want to check for proper connection. You’ll do the surface check anyway once you start copying files over ;)

First power-up after installing the hd, partitions missing.

During partitioning, two partitions are created; one presumably for some system stuff (call it the super-secret-Apple-thing) and one for the user files (whatever remaining space). On Windows, the latter is formatted to FAT32 whereas on OSX I assume it to be HFS.


I spent a good while looking into options for performing the partitioning _any other way_ than infecting my computer with the disease called ‘iTunes’. No luck there, so had to resort to it anyway. I mean; iTunes, Bonjour, Apple Application Support, Apple Mobile Device Support, Quicktime and Apple Software Update.. (wtf). I know something like a standalone hd formatting app doesn’t fit the Apple “ecosystem” (or “experience”?), but this still is a ridiculous amount of crap just to get one disk partitioned properly :)

Lesson learned here: I took a MBR dump from the freshly partitioned harddisk using dd. Should the need arise to replace the hd sometime later, the iTunes chores can at least be avoided at that time. And, to partially answer “why not use iTunes?”:


Knowing I’m going to run a alternate firmware on the damn thing, it’s just totally pointless! Oh how I’m SO not going to miss having have to transfer every single audio file through iTunes in order to listen to them.

As a sidenote, in case you ever need to format the FAT32 partition, do note that at least on WinXP, the maximum allowed FAT32 partition size is limited to 32Gb. Thus, in order to format a bigger one, a separate tool (f.ex. fat32format by Ridgecrop Consultants Ltd.) has to be used. Afaik, iPods with a HD bigger than 60Gb use a blocksize of 2048 for the partitions.

That’s all, thanks for reading!

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