Breathe new life into an old iPod

Has the battery of your faithful second-generation iPod recently given up the ghost? Have you been neglecting that iPod mini because you’ve bought a newer model? Or have you succumbed to the attractions of the iPod video, leaving your iPod photo without very much to do? Instead of writing these old iPods off as useless, why not find new occupations for them? They can even do some jobs they weren’t necessarily meant to do. Here are a few ways to make your old iPod new again.

Set up a portable hard drive

You can use any iPod as an external hard drive, either for backing up your files or for transporting files between, say, your home and your office. Even if its battery is dead, an old iPod (or a newer one) can store files. As soon as you connect it to your Mac, it will get power from the Mac’s USB 2.0 or FireWire port, and you can begin transferring files to or from it.

To start using the iPod as a portable drive, connect it to your computer and open iTunes 7 (if it’s not already open). Click on the iPod icon in the Source list’s Devices area; then select the Enable Disk Use option in the Summary tab’s Options area. From now on, your iPod will mount on the desktop as a hard drive (represented by the familiar iPod icon).

If you’re setting up an old iPod to be used only as a hard drive—if its battery is dead, or if it’s an iPod you won’t be using to listen to music anymore—deselect the Open iTunes When This iPod Is Connected option so you won’t be bothered by iTunes launching every time you connect it. If there are still files on the old iPod, click on Restore in the Summary tab’s Version area. Of course, first make sure that you either have copies of the files or don’t need them—Restore will erase and reformat the iPod.

Depending on your iPod model, you may have room for only a handful of files—or you may have room for many gigabytes of photos, music, and videos. An iPod may not be able to compete with a dedicated, automated backup system, but it’s a great use for old hardware.

Create a portable tool kit

Since an iPod can function as a hard drive, it can do things that other hard drives can do. One way to extend the life of an old iPod (or enhance your current model) is to turn it into a maintenance tool. You can do so either by copying your favorite utilities onto the iPod so you can have them with you at all times, or by using special maintenance or repair software that lets you boot your computer from an iPod and that you can then run from the iPod. This can be a boon if your Mac needs emergency repairs, or it can save you a lot of time if you manage multiple Macs.

The following two utilities install an OS that can boot both PowerPC and Intel Macs. You can boot an Intel Mac via either a FireWire cable or a USB cable, but keep in mind that if you have a PowerPC Mac, you’ll need an iPod that works with a FireWire cable. First- and second-generation iPods work only with FireWire; third- and fourth-generation iPods and first- and second-generation iPod minis work with FireWire or USB 2.0. And first-generation iPod nanos and all later iPod models—as well as all iPod shuffles—work only with USB 2.0.

DasBoot If you already have disk-maintenance or -repair software that comes with a bootable CD—such as Alsoft’s $100 DiskWarrior 4 (   ) or Micromat’s $98 TechTool Pro 4.5 —you can use’s free DasBoot 1.0.2. This program lets you install most third-party bootable CDs onto an iPod (or a portable hard drive or flash drive) so you can use the iPod as a bootable diagnostic and repair tool. Check out for a complete list of the software that works with DasBoot.

Using DasBoot to set up your iPod is easy: launch the program, insert a bootable disc (CD or DVD) that came with disk-maintenance software, select the disc as your source, and select the iPod as the destination. In addition to installing the disc’s contents, you can choose to install other handy maintenance programs or utilities that you have on your Mac, including basic tools such as Terminal, Console, Disk Utility, and Preview. (Note that if you install these tools from an Intel Mac, you won’t be able to use all of them on PowerPC Macs; some of the programs in Intel versions of OS X aren’t Universal. If you have several Macs to maintain, perform the installation from a PowerPC Mac so all the utilities will run on all Macs.)

Protogo For people who don’t already have disk-repair or -maintenance software, Micromat’s $135 TechTool Protogo 1.0.3 (   ) works like DasBoot but includes two versatile maintenance and repair programs, TechTool Pro 4 and DiskStudio. Protogo turns your old iPod into a full-featured tool kit for your Mac. And like DasBoot, it lets you install other utilities and programs that you can access.

Booting Up When you’re all set up, connect your iPod to a shut-down Mac, and then start up the Mac while holding down the option key—this lets you select the iPod as your startup device. After the Mac starts up, you’ll be able to use the utilities on the iPod; DasBoot and Protogo install launchers that give you quick access to the various programs. These tools run much faster from an iPod than from a CD or DVD, and the ability to add extra utilities gives you more repair and maintenance capabilities. (Both DasBoot and Protogo let you continue to use the iPod as usual, although Protogo must erase your iPod before it can install the necessary software, so you’ll have to resync your files afterward.)

Keep the juice flowing

All iPod batteries die eventually (iPod batteries generally last two to three years, depending on how often you use the iPod). A $59 AppleCare extended warranty will cover an iPod’s battery; however, AppleCare coverage for iPods lasts only two years, unlike the three-year coverage for computers, so your battery might last longer than your warranty. You can replace an iPod battery, of course, but that’s not for everyone. Apple will replace your battery for $66. And several companies, such as Sonnet Technologies and Other World Computing, sell battery-replacement kits that include tools and instructions. But changing the battery can be a daunting task for people who aren’t technically inclined.

If you don’t want to replace your iPod’s battery, you can still use your iPod as a music source, as long as it’s plugged into an electrical outlet—you can buy an AC adapter from Apple for $29. Or you can plug your iPod into a car charger and use it while you’re driving, either by connecting it to your car stereo or by using an FM transmitter. My favorite FM transmitter is Monster Cable Products’ $70 iCarPlay Wireless.

You may find that using an iPod just in the car or with your home stereo is very useful. You can connect an iPod with a dead battery to an iPod speaker system or to a powered dock and then to your stereo.

Another way to use a battery-less iPod is as a music source for iTunes on your computer at home or at work. You’ll need to copy music manually to the iPod (which you can do without a battery, as long as the iPod is connected to a power source), and you can then connect the iPod to any computer running iTunes (as long as the iPod is formatted for the computer you plan to use). When you’ve done this, the iPod will show up in iTunes’ Source list, and you can access its music exactly as if that music were in an iTunes music library on that computer or another hard drive.

[ Kirk McElhearn is the author of several books on the Mac and the iPod, including iPod and iTunes Garage (Prentice Hall, 2004). His blog, Kirkville, features articles about OS X, the iPod, iTunes, and much more. ]

DasBoot:’s free utility lets you use your disk-maintenance and -repair software to build your own bootable iPod.Protogo: Micromat’s $135 program includes everything you need in order to turn your iPod into a startup drive.
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