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Teach your old iPod new tricks: Six unauthorized upgrades

Breathe new life into your classic iPod

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Got an old iPod sitting around gathering dust? (In fact, maybe you even have three or four of them.) If so, here are 7 fun things you can do with yesterday’s classic iPods to give them new life.

In an age where large quantities of older iPods flood public causeways and spill out of closets, cabinets, and containers with abundance, not all of these suggestions are practical or cost-effective. But that’s not always the point. Suggestions for other points include tinkering and experimenting, impressing your nerd friends, or giving an old electronic companion a new lease on life.

New battery

The first thing to go kaput in an old iPod is usually its battery, which loses capacity over time until it can hardly hold a charge. iPod users can purchase replacement batteries for any model of iPod online. Some sites (like iFixit also carry tools and offer online tutorials that help you disassemble your iPod without damage.

Keep in mind that iPod battery replacement is a delicate operation, so it’s not for the impatient or ham-fisted. Don’t force anything if it doesn’t seem to fit, and never, ever throw your iPod against a wall if you get frustrated—it will hurt the wall. Apple does offer a battery replacement service for $49 to $79, depending on your iPad model.

New or bigger hard drive

Many long-time iPod owners know the pain of dropping an iPod on a hard surface, triggering both profanities and the “click of death,” which means the iPod’s internal hard disk is on its last legs. Failure is imminent, if it hasn’t happened already, and there’s no iCloud here to back you up.

Luckily, like batteries, you can also purchase replacement iPod hard drives online from places such as iFixit or PDASmart.com. While you’re at it, you can even find a larger capacity hard disk than the one originally installed and give your iPod a storage upgrade.

Convert hard drive to flash drive

In some models of iPod, it is possible to go one step further in a hard drive replacement and install a solid state flash drive instead. The advantages are clear: shock resistance and increased battery life. (That way, if you do throw your iPod against a wall while replacing the battery, it is much less likely to break.)

Most flash card mods require a Compact Flash card and a CF to IDE adapter board to function. I’d tell you where to find them, but the scavenger hunt required to find obscure and often obsolete parts is actually the most fun part of this mod. I will tell you that the DIY instructions can be found all ove the Internet at sites like Apartment Therapy ar GEEKtechnique.org.

Change backlight color

For certain older monochrome iPods with bluish-white backlights, it’s possible to modify the color of the backlight colors like purple, red, blue, or orange. It’s done by removing and replacing the iPod’s backlight LEDs with those of a different color, but it’s a very difficult process.

If you’re not up for the challenge, RapidRepair.com offers a $25 service to do the backlight color switch for you. (Or they say they do—they may not have updated that page in a decade, so it’s best to double check first.)

Install Rockbox Firmware

After you’ve given your old iPod a hardware upgrade, it’s time to focus on the software. Apple’s iPod firmware—the internal software that actually plays the music and moderates the user experience—serves most users’ needs quite well. But you aren’t most users, are you?

For those longing for more, one can replace Apple’s software with Rockbox, a firmware replacement that adds many new features, including the ability to play music encoded in non-Apple-supported audio codecs (think Ogg Vorbis and FLAC), image file viewing and video playback on older iPods, gapless audio playback, and a 5-band fully-parametric equalizer.

You can also install a plugin that lets you play id Software’s classic FPS Doom. Not that the game is particularly easy to control on a click wheel, but it’s still novel enough to try.

Install Linux

To truly unlock the latent computational power of your iPod, look no further than iPod Linux, a port of the famous open source operating system that runs on Apple’s early music players. Using Linux, you can run Linux-based iPod games, classic video game system emulators, image viewers, or even poke around on a Linux command prompt. It also allows users to play music files encoded in non-Apple-Supported codecs, similar to Rockbox.

There are a few different versions of fan-made iPod Linux installations, including the Linux on iPod project and the iPod-Linux Installer.

Neither project is currently active, so you may need a PowerPC Mac to get the installers to work. But heck, if that were a problem, you wouldn’t be installing Linux on a ten year-old iPod, now would you?

[Photo: iPod-Linux Installer project]