Bringing An IPod To The Modern NAND Era

Flash storage was a pretty big deal back in the mid ’00s, although the storage sizes that were available at the time seem laughable by today’s standards. For example, having an iPod that didn’t have a spinning, unreliable hard drive was huge even if the size was measured in single-digit gigabytes, since iPods tended to not be treated with the same amount of care as something like a laptop. Sadly, these small iPods aren’t available anymore, and if you want one with more than 8GB of storage you’ll have to upgrade an old one yourself.

This build comes to us from [Hugo] who made the painstaking effort of removing the old NAND flash storage chip from an iPod Nano by hand, soldering 0.15mm enameled magnet wire to an 0.5mm pitch footprint to attach a breakout board. Once the delicate work was done, he set about trying to figure out the software. In theory the iPod should have a maximum addressable space of 64 GB but trying to get custom firmware on this specific iPod is more of a challenge and the drives don’t simply plug-and-play. He is currently using the rig for testing a new 8GB and new 16GB chip though but it shows promise and hopefully he’ll be able to expand to that maximum drive size soon.

The build is really worth a look if you’re into breathing new life into old media players. Sometimes, though all these old iPods really need to get working again is just to be thrown into a refrigerator, as some genius engineer showed us many years ago.

21 thoughts on “Bringing An IPod To The Modern NAND Era

  1. I tried upgrading a 1st generation iPod Nano by adding a second chip, without success. I hope it’ll work out for him!

    I’ve since heard that it is possible to upgrade the flash on some iPhones, so in theory this can be possible.

    What I wouldn’t give for a larger iPhone 4S… if anyone’s willing to attempt BGA rework and firmware flashing then please get in touch!

      1. Yes, I have a 64GB iPhone 4S (in fact, I have two – one as my main phone, one as a spare).
        Visa issues mean my life isn’t stable enough for annual subscriptions.
        No subscriptions means no Spotify or cellular data.
        No cellular data means offline-everything. Maps (2 GB), Wikipedia (10+ GB), music (30+ GB), photos (10+ GB), apps… it quickly adds up.

        As far as I can tell, the 6S can only be upgraded to the maximum capacity that Apple sold it with. It just works out cheaper to get a low-capacity phone and pay for a flash memory upgrade. What I’d be hoping for is an upgrade beyond spec.

        Why the 4S? Physical size, a Third Rail battery case, and offline USB sync without needing iCloud. One of these years it would be nice to make the most of the dock connector serial port too.

        1. Sorry for being “this guy” but why not an android phone ?
          Migration is very easy these days and they come in all shape and size.
          Speaking of size, even iPhones like the 6 or 8 are not that big. Once you are used to it there is no going back.

          1. Also route a local google voice number to prepaid sims where ever you are traveling.
            I think I was spending like $80 USD a month for 3g in US, Europe, and North Africa about 5 or 6 years ago. Land, swap sim cards, run it until it’s dead then drop in another and update your call forwarding.

          2. “local google voice where ever you are traveling” – Google Voice is only for the US. I use prepaid SIM cards, but the credit expires at the end of the month, which means it’s actually a monthly subscription payment. In practice I just use it to receive calls, or top up the minimum if I foresee needing to use the phone in an emergency (e.g. a ski trip). I use an old beta version of Galileo Offline Maps (now Guru maps), with a tile store updated periodically using MOBAC. It doesn’t do turn-by-turn directions, but I can’t drive and can read a map, so that’s not really an issue for me.

            Why not an Android phone?
            User interface response (iOS 6 with Accelerate is super fast). Rooting is far more difficult and phone-specific than Jailbreaking. Spare parts are much harder to source for non-Apple devices. Removable battery thanks to the Third Rail case.

            But most of all: play counts and ratings.

        2. You can sync with iTunes via USB without iCloud on later devices as well. Physical size has changed unfortunately, and people are carrying huge bricks on oversized pockets.

          There’s serial on lightning as well, check the jailbreak community (the serial port is not accessible without jailbreaking anyway)

          What Map tool do you use for Offline Maps?

        3. Why do you need annual subscriptions? I’ve bought prepaid SIMs in the US, the UK, and Kenya. I pay for Spotify with gift cards… they don’t have my real name or credit card number, and I just buy another one every six months using cash.

  2. “For example, having an iPod that didn’t have a spinning, unreliable hard drive was huge”

    I never got the rationale on that, Apple was saying that flash was expensive and unproven, so lets go with something equally as expensive, and known to be finicky as f**k, especially when subjected to those knocks, bangs and vibrations while exercising that we recently called out CD MP3 players for…. I mean hard disks were proven tech, in much larger sizes, it was like saying “2 stroke motors have proven successful in chainsaws and small outboards for years, let’s put one in your wrist watch..” without the blind followers having the sense to say “Wait a second, that’s a totally different scale and usage pattern..”

    1. That would be quite the thing, a tiny stream of exhaust smoke and very faint smell of oil trailing from your wrist. I wonder how small a functional 2 cycle engine can be?

  3. Nice writeup. It reminds me of what vintage fans do since the late 90s/early 2000s:
    Replacing old IDE drives with Compact Flash, DOMs or DOCs.
    That being said, I still have my 64MB (Megabyte) USB pen drive that I bought for school years ago.
    But I never felt that the urge to laugh about the low capacity. :)

    1. Did that few times, take old 3rd gen iPod, replace HDD with CF, replace stock firmware with RockBox and you have decent player with good DAC and it plays FLAC files. Mod is quite simple and easily done.

    2. Smallest drive I have is 32MB with a write protect switch. It was a vendor give away.
      I had replaced the old 20GB HDD in my MP3 player with a 80GB and later on with a 120GB. It has recording and SPDIF In and out. They don’t make it like that these days.

  4. I don’t know much about the nanos but there has long been a “repair” for classics to replace the 160 GB drive with a card that takes SD and microSD… I’ve see a 1TB “classic”

  5. iPods were one of my first experiences learning that popular doesn’t always mean they’re the best.

    While everyone else was using mass storage, they insisted on their iTunes sync model that always seemed to be a little more of a hassle than needed.

    That and the lack of microSD support kinda made the cool hardware features a bit less exciting.

    The scroll wheel control was absolutely amazing for the time, but I’m glad we’ve moved on to touchscreens, and Android phones that can sync over WiFi with SyncThing and do Bluetooth.

    1. An iPod running Rockbox will happily play files you drag and dropped onto its internal drive. That said, what I would really like to see is an open hardware Rockbox player based on STM32 or similar, that uses a micro SD card for storage and whatever I2S DAC you prefer.

  6. I still use an iPod Classic 160gb (now with a 32GB CF card) with RockBox, I think the sound quality is hard to beat. Actually, the ‘video’ model before it had an even better sound, but I managed to kill it and working units cost more than they’re worth. Since the “Classic”, I’ve had probably at least 30 phones, tablets and laptops from various vendors and nothing managed to come close. I wonder what the magic sauce is, and if there is any phone on the market that can do it.

    My biggest surprise came from a cheap pair of TWI earphones from Amazon, so I guess the iPod is finally obsolete now. I want that sound that makes you think there’s a subwoofer in your headphones, somehow most driver chips cannot manage that.

    Anyway, just wished there was a list of things that can replace the old iPods, as in my mind they are not worth restoring for daily use.

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