An Epic Quest To Put More Music On An IPod Nano 3G

While many would argue that the original iPod is the most iconic entry in the long and diverse line of digital audio players that Apple released over the years, there must certainly be some consideration for the third generation (3G) iPod Nano. It’s a device that was ahead of its time in many ways, and is still perfectly usable today, although [Tucker Osman] does think it could stand to have its maximum flash storage doubled to 16 GB.

Now, we’d like to tell you that he’s already succeeded in this task. After all, in theory, it should be pretty straightforward: just remove the 8 GB flash chip and replace it with a pin-compatible 16 GB version. But of course, this is Apple we’re talking about. Nothing is ever quite that easy, and it seems that at every turn both the hardware and software in the thirteen-year-old iPod are fighting the change.

It took several attempts before the original flash chip could be swapped out, but eventually [Tucker] and his friend [Wesley] got one to survive the operation. Unfortunately, all they had to show for their effort was an unhelpful error screen.

From here on out the assumption was that they were dealing with a software problem. Luckily the Rockbox bootloader had previously been ported to the 3G Nano, which helped get the ball rolling. The next step would be to patch the Nano’s firmware to accept the ID of the new flash chip, but after a year of work, it’s turned out to be a bit more complicated than that.

[Tucker] hasn’t given up yet, and is actively looking for anyone who’d like to help out with his quest. He’s shared some information with a few like minded individuals on, and he’s also started a Discord server dedicated to Nano hacking. At this point, it sounds like he’s very close to actually reading data from the 16 GB chip, but there’s still a long way to go before the Nano’s firmware will actually play music from it.

Despite most people now using their smartphones to play music these days, we still see a lot of interest in upgrading and modernizing the iPod. From replacing their original hard drives with micro SD cards to installing a Raspberry Pi Zero in place of the original electronics, hackers are still infatuated with Apple’s legendary media player.

17 thoughts on “An Epic Quest To Put More Music On An IPod Nano 3G

  1. Find a GPX MW3836 with 1gb internal storage. Sold before SDHC was a thing, it somehow manages to read SDHC and SDXC cards up to 64 gig. Dunno if the SUFFIX NO.: E1 label has any bearing on that capability.

    If I had two of them I’d send one to someone who can dissect it to figure out how it was made so forward compatible.

    1. Its possible that the controller chip supported up to 64GB but software didn’t work properly.
      I’ve hacked GPS’s etc to use larger cards using the FAT32 tool but its dicey.
      Another method is to try several cards as some phones etc will work with certain brands but
      not others: have a 4GB that works with a few of them.
      Typically the phone won’t work with either a blank or exFAT but will if you format it FAT32 first, then
      *immediately* reformat in the phone using its onboard tool.

    2. I’m using a Sansa Clip E200R, modded with Rockbox. It reads anything I throw at it, currently 256GB of music in FLAC on there. It’s got a decent DAC and lasts quite a while on battery (swappable, new replacements still being sold). Rockbox is one of the best things that’s happened in the open source community in the past 20 years, if you ask me. Also Linux is pretty decent.

  2. The firmware is probably stored on a separate partition of the flash so you likely need to dump the original chip and burn to the new one and expand the partition that stores the music to consume the rest of the unallocated space. I recently did something very similar with the sansa clip sport plus, upgrading the original 16gb to 64gb without issue.

    1. if you access the ipod in disk mode on an linux machine, it can see and address all “sectors” of the ipod storage. i even checked the spec sheets, and the full storage *is* accessible.
      This means, you have full access to every bit of the built in flash chip and can use it as a regular USB-disk.
      Also, only after the itunes recovery, there is a partition on the flash chip and a 2nd partition as vfat as a remeinder of the disk.
      I would not assume the flash chip has to hold anthing, but it will get the “Operating system” after itunes recovers the Software onto it.

  3. The older iPod Mini Classic had an actual hard drive in, that was about 45mm square, exactly the dimensions of a CF card. It also happened to be pin compatible with CF cards!

    So I went and purchased a 64GB model (reeeeaaaaaly expensive at the time) and I modified my ipod and replaced the hard drive with the new card.

    After a reboot and factory recover via iTunes, I had a 64GB iPod classic with best in class battery life.

    Good times.

    1. I did this same hack. Those were fun times and it seemed magical that there was a spinning drive inside of the thing. I had purchased mine broken off of eBay and ended up having problems with the main circuitry after awhile. I still have it in the junk bin… should pull it out and use the clickwheel for something :-D

    2. It was a CompactFlash card. The hard disk in the early iPods was just a rebranded IBM MicroDrive, which is just a standard variant of CompactFlash that used the same connector and form factor, but was an HDD.

      Side note: CompactFlash is just regular 44-pin IDE with some extra lines for detection insertion and removal. Using a cable to adapt the connector size, you can plug in 2.5″ IDE disk. Or if you have an external power supply, you could even connect in a 3.5″ disk. My roommate in college did that to his iPod when he accidentally broke it (the damage was restricted to the battery and disk), he hooked up a 750 GB disk to it and built a docking station type thing for it.

      1. Yeah I’m aware of this one. I was refering to a hack that doesn’t require having to disassemble the damn thing. A software exploit (to port Rockbox or anything) of some sort.

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