If you’ve been kind enough to accompany me on these regular hardware explorations, you’ve likely recognized a trend with regards to the gadgets that go under the knife. Generally speaking, the devices I take apart for your viewing pleasure come to us from the clearance rack of a big box retailer, the thrift store, or the always generous “AS-IS” section on eBay. There’s something of a cost-benefit analysis performed each time I pick up a piece of gear for dissection, and it probably won’t surprise you to find that the least expensive doggy in the window is usually the one that secures its fifteen minutes of Internet fame.
But this month I present to you, Good Reader, something a bit different. This time I’m not taking something apart just for the simple joy of seeing PCB laid bare. I’ve been given the task of repairing an expensive piece of antiquated oddball equipment because, quite frankly, nobody else wanted to do it. If we happen to find ourselves learning about its inner workings in the process, that’s just the cost of doing business with a Hackaday writer.
The situation as explained to me is that in the late 1990’s, my brother’s employer purchased a Yamaha Mark II XG “Baby Grand” piano for somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000. This particular model was selected for its ability to play MIDI files from 3.5 inch floppy disks, complete with the rather ghostly effect of the keys moving by themselves. The idea was that you could set this piano up in your lobby with a floppy full of Barry Manilow’s greatest hits, and your establishment would instantly be dripping with automated class.
Unfortunately, about a month or so back, the piano’s Disklavier DKC500RW control unit stopped reading disks. The piano itself still worked, but now required a human to do the playing. Calls were made, but as you might expect, most repair centers politely declined around the time they heard the word “floppy” and anyone who stayed on the line quoted a price that simply wasn’t economical.
Before they resorted to hiring a pianist, perhaps a rare example of a human taking a robot’s job, my brother asked if he could remove the control unit and see if I could make any sense of it. So with that, let’s dig into this vintage piece of musical equipment and see what a five figure price tag got you at the turn of the millennium.
You’d be forgiven for not realizing there’s still a diehard group of people out there carrying around dedicated MP3 players. While they were all the rage a decade or so back, most consumers have since moved over to using their handy dandy pocket supercomputer for playing their music. Plus controlling every other aspect of their personal life and finances, of course. Though that’s another story entirely.
But as [Conno Brooks] explained to us, there’s a sizable group of open source fanatics who prefer to store their jams on devices running the Rockbox firmware. Only problem is, some of the desirable Rockbox-compatible players are from the Golden Age of dedicated players, and aren’t getting any younger. In a recent blog post, he briefly goes over his ultimately successful attempt to put a new-made battery into his Sansa Clip+, a particularly desirable player that was released in 2009.
There are a few problems with the procedure that has kept it from being very widespread, according to [Conno]. For one, the Sansa Clip+ is tiny and not easily disassembled without destroying it. Worse, the diminutive 30mm x 36mm x 3mm OEM battery is effectively unobtainium. But ironically he was able to find an even smaller battery which seemed like it should work, assuming he could get it wired up.
The OEM battery on the Clip+ uses three wires, which [Conno] presumed was part of some thermal protection system. He first tried to take the circuit board off the original dead battery and graft it onto the modern cell, but something must have tripped because the resulting Franken-pack didn’t output any voltage. On his second attempt he simply ignored the third wire, and luckily the Clip+ didn’t seem to complain and started up as expected.
[Conno] says there’s some careful flexing required to get the new pack installed and the Clip+ closed properly, and the device’s runtime is somewhat diminished by the new battery’s lower capacity. But if it means another few years of keeping Big Brother out of your digital media habits, he figures it’s a worthy trade.
It can be disheartening when a favoured device begins to break-down. Afflicted by an all-but-dead battery and a fritzing-out hard drive, Redditor [cswimc] sensed the imminent doom creeping up on their 6th generation iPod, and responded by reviving and upgrading the decrepit device instead!
It’s no easy task to crack open one of these things, so they found themselves taking their time and carefully wedging the pry tool between the front and back covers, working their way around the exterior. Once separated, gingerly disconnecting the few ribbon cables allowed the iPod to be opened fully. From there, they turned to swapping out the original hard drive for an iFlash dual SD card board — one of the cards turned out to be a dud, but 128GB is still a step up from 80GB — and a new 3000mAh battery. Combined with replacing the power-hungry HDD, the battery life has been overwhelmingly increased over the original’s 650mAh capacity!
DOOM, is there anything it won’t run on? Yes. Your front lawn cannot currently play DOOM. Pretty much everything else can though. It’s a testament to the game’s impact on society that it gets ported to virtually every platform with buttons and a graphical screen.
This video shows a Sansa Clip playing DOOM, but it’s only just barely recognizable. The Sansa Clip has a single color screen, with yellow pixels at the top and grey for the rest of the screen. The monochrome display makes things hard to see, so a dithering technique is used to try and make things more visible. Unfortunately it’s not particularly effective, and it’s difficult to make out little more than the gun at the bottom of the screen.
[OiD] had a dusty, old, forgotten Philips HDD1420 GoGear mp3 player kicking around his place. As you can imagine, the battery was dead. He had no charger or connector for the thing, but decided to try to resurrect it anyway.
He thought it would simply be a matter of providing alternative power, but the GoGear wasn’t having it and insisted on being connected to a computer. He had some luck consulting Pinouts.ru and found Philips’ own device manager software, but it still wasn’t easy. The device manager doesn’t work on Windows 7. He tried an XP box, but it didn’t detect the device.
Finally, he discovered that the hard drive was kaput and replaced it with an 8GB Microdrive. That helped, but he still had a hard row to hoe. [OiD] formatted the new HD and gave it the official firmware, but still had to replace some system files according to the Philips manual. He ended up using RockBox to reanimate it and decided to keep it on the device.
There was still an issue with charging, though. It has an IC that handles selection of either the proprietary external adapter or USB power, but the RockBox firmware doesn’t implement switching and defaults to the adapter. Several tweaks and a hacked-in mini USB later, the patient is in stable condition and cranking out the tunes.
The newest member of the PS3 jailbreaking tool crowd is the iPod family. More specifically, iPods running the open source media firmware Rockbox. Even better news, theoretically it should be possible to use this same method on any MP3 player running the Rockbox software. Right now the exploit package only works on select generations of the iPod Nano and iPod Classic line, but if the trend set by the PSX-scene forums continues, it would be worth checking back in the near future if your device is not already supported. Thanks to [shuffle2] for providing the hack, and [DanAdamKOF] for the heads up.
If Apple isn’t your device of choice, you can also check out some of your other jailbreaking options.