The Lazarus iPod

Posted by Mike Brittain on December 21, 2005

Over the last 3 weeks, I’ve been dealing with the fact that my iPod suddenly expired. It shouldn’t seem much of a surprise — the poor thing fell from about 4 feet onto a moving treadmill, then was whisked off the treadmill at 7.5 MPH. It didn’t die immediately, as it continued playing music for about 15 minutes after the incident. Though the hard drive had gone kaput, there were still a handful of songs buffered into memory. Just enough, in fact, to convince me that I hadn’t done that much damage to it.

My first attempt at repair was to contact Apple through their “award-winning” support web site. I like Apple a lot. I don’t own any Apple products, other than my iPod. But I do enjoy working on Macs when I have a chance, and would certainly like to own one. I can’t, however, give any raving reviews about the support I received from them on this product. I’m sure they have plenty of customers who are contacting them, however, for the same sort of support.

After spending a few nights researching my options, including Apple’s 10% discount for recycling a used or broken iPod, which can be put toward the purchase of a new one, I decided to look for replacement parts.

My assumption, based on research, was that a drop like this one would only affect the hard drive. So I began my search for a new drive. It turns out that Toshiba supplies Apple with hard drives for iPods, and only a few specific micro-drive models are in use for iPods. These are easiest to replace, from what I’ve read, in 3rd and 4th generation iPods. I happen to have a 3rd gen iPod, with a 20 GB drive.

The iPod, itself, is not that difficult to open. A slim knife, or other implement small enough to wedge between the metal and plastic case, can be used as a lever along the side of the iPod casing toward the top end, just around the corner from the “hold” switch. A little prying and the top begins to pop from the bottom. I happened to use an X-acto knife to start this process, followed by a flat-head screwdriver to finish the job.

After infiltrating the inner-sactum, I quickly discovered the model number of the drive; a Toshiba MK2004GAL. I made the assumption that if I couldn’t get one of these specific models, I could possibly find a newer, larger drive. So I began my search on eBay for replacement iPod hard drives. Along with some additional Googling, I found that 30 GB (MK3004GAH and MK3006GAL) hard drives would make a decent replacement.

Mistakenly, I also assumed that the 40 GB (MK4004GAH and MK4006GAH) would work as well. After purchasing the larger model, I found that it was 8 mm deep, as opposed to the slimmer 5 mm drives that my iPod required. I re-sold that model on eBay, and purchased the better-suited 30 GB drive.

Now, all of this searching, bidding, selling, and shipping – twice over – took some time. But, tonight I’m happy to report, that my iPod is back to life. I took the liberty of inscribing a name on the back, “Lazarus.”

I found quite a bit of information online for this entire procedure, which I’d like to share, should you find yourself in the same predicament and are willing to rip one of these suckers apart. I never found that I needed to deal with any of the formatting or partitioning issues for the hard drive as described on some of these sites, but it is worth knowing what pitfalls might be encountered along the road…

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