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Real-life adventures in technology: replacing an iPod hard drive

Real-life adventures in technology: replacing an iPod hard drive

About a week ago, my trusty fourth-gen iPod decided to kick the bucket. More accurately, it was the hard drive that died, seized by a sudden fit of clicking and grinding. Checking Apple's Web site, I saw that getting my out-of-warranty iPod serviced would cost $249 (plus $6.95 shipping and handling), clearly not a reasonable option. A little online research, however, turned up several detailed explanations on how to replace the hard drive.

Fourth-gen iPods use a fairly common, 1.8-inch Toshiba hard drive. It was easy to find a replacement for this drive; I chose a 20GB Toshiba MK2006GAL (the original drive in my iPod had a slightly different model number, MK2004GAL). Many retailers had the drive for around $90, but a few outlets were charging almost twice that, marketing it as a "replacement iPod hard drive."

It arrived a few days later, and I grabbed some bench space in the CNET Labs to perform a little digital-audio-player surgery. The hardest part was getting the case open without totally gouging the iPod, requiring a series of ever-smaller flat-head screwdrivers, until I managed to work one into the seal.

Once the cover was popped off (but still connected via a small ribbon cable), I gently removed the old hard drive and disconnected its IDE-style cable. It had blue rubber bumpers and a piece of blue foam attached to it, both of which I easily pulled off and attached to the new hard drive (I should have glued them on, but they seemed to stay in place on their own). The cover snapped back on and apart from a couple of tiny dings in the plastic, it looked good as new.

The biggest hurdle, and where the online tutorials I consulted fell apart, was in setting up the new drive. I plugged the iPod into my PC via a USB connection and attempted to run the latest iPod updater, which one tutorial said should have automatically set up the device for me. The updater ran a few times but never seemed to actually do anything.

I tried to format the drive through Windows but got an error. I tried again, this time using the "quick format" option, and it worked. Now I could run the iPod updater, and I finally got the option to "restore" my iPod to its factory settings. After that, it was just a matter of reloading my music onto the iPod, and I was back in business.

The moral of this story is that beyond knowing what part to order and being able to follow along with some illustrated directions, the level of technical expertise needed to replace a dead iPod hard drive is practically nil. Your mileage may vary, of course, so don't come crying to me if you fry your player.