iPod Mini Upgrade

This guide is a step-by-step record of how I upgraded my 2nd generation, 4 GB iPod Mini.  I replaced the stock battery (500 mAh) and microdrive (4 GB) with higher capacities (850 mAh and 16 GB Compact Flash, respectively).

Introduction:

The main reason I carried this project out was because my battery had died and rendered the iPod completely useless (would not even function when plugged in), but there are many benefits to keeping this device around:

  • It’s unique (and discontinued).
  • It was the first iPod to have an aluminum shell.
  • Its low power consumption and tactile control makes it ideal for use in the car or on long trips where emphasis lies on playing music only.

By replacing the microdrive with a CF card, there are no moving parts, and coupled with the aluminum body, you are left with an incredibly tough mp3 player.

At the time of this writing, the entire process cost me about 60 dollars, about the same price it would have cost for me to have the iPod battery replaced through authorized channels.

Preparation:

  • Format the Compact Flash (CF) card using a card reader on a computer.*
  • Create a clean, flat, well-lit working surface.

Tools/Materials:

  • Very small Phillips and slotted screwdrivers
  • Scotch tape (or anti-static tape)
  • iPodjuice tool (optional)
  • CF card
  • Battery

beginning

Here is the iPod in its original state.  I actually cheated and had already put the new battery in to take this picture, but as you can see this is the stock 4 GB mini.

I bought my extended life battery on eBay for 5 dollars.  I assume that people will eventually stop selling them, but for now they are readily available and cheap.

I purchased a RiDATA 16 GB CF card from Newegg.  Apparently the iPod will be able to handle any capacity card you can afford (up to 137 GB), this seemed the most reasonable to me for my listening habits and music collection.  At the time of writing this guide, the highest capacity CF cards are 32 GB, and targeted mainly for DSLR use; they can be quite expensive and stress fast write speeds (for taking multiple high-resolution pictures at a time).  The requirements for an mp3 player are not nearly as demanding, so I would assume most modern CF cards would function fine in this project.

I purchased the tool from Milliamp LTD, which also sells replacement batteries for all iPod models, as well as various accessories and the appropriate instructions and tools.

hold

Before starting, enable the hold switch and place a piece of tape to hold it in place; once the iPod is opened, the switch tends to move around, and you could have issues if you reattach it while it is in the wrong position.  You also want to prevent activating the iPod while working with it.  Properly ground yourself by touching a large metal object before progressing further.

juicetool

This is the optional tool I mentioned above; it is used to pry the plastic endcaps off the iPod.  This step can also be accomplished with a slotted screwdriver, but can put undue stress on the plastic and aluminum, leaving dents.  This tool is plastic and has a wider edge to pry the caps off.  I thought it was worth it for myself, as the tool, 2 small screwdrivers, 2 pieces of anti-static tape, and a set of instructions were 5 dollars; however, it is definitely possible to do the same job without it.

Force the particular tool of choice into the seam between the top plastic cap and the aluminum tube body.  Once the tool is about 2 mm down, use leverage to take the cap off; it may be tricky since an adhesive is used to keep the cap in place.  Repeat the process on the bottom cap.

topoff

Top cap removed.

bottomplate

Bottom cap.

Pay attention to the orientation of the cap after removal, as it is important when you reassemble the iPod.  You’ll notice 3 pairs of plastic prongs around they grey connector opening.  I did not break one pair off; it is made like that to prevent damage to a very delicate internal component which you will see in a few steps.  It is important to note the orientation (the side of the cap with only one clip should be toward the front of the iPod).

clipbottom

After removing the bottom cap, you’ll be able to see a metal clip.  The clip is held in place by those for ‘arms’ at each corner, resting in machined grooves on the inside of the aluminum body.  Use the small screwdriver to pop up each of the corners and the clip will come out.  Again, pay attention to which side is facing outwards for reassembly; this side will have adhesive on it, which helps attach the endcap.

postclip

After the bottom cap and clip are removed.

The brown ribbon connector at the left is the molex connector for the touchwheel; if this is damaged your iPod will just become a giant flash drive.  The ribbon has a plastic terminal that connects to the mainboard of the iPod.  Disconnect the molex connector by using the slotted screwdriver to gently separate the two plastic terminals.  Do not pull on the ribbon directly.

touchmolex

Bottom of the iPod with the molex connector disconnected.

topscrews

Finally, before you can remove the internals from the aluminum body, unscrew two Phillips screws at the top of the iPod.  Be careful not to strip them, otherwise they will need to be drilled out.  After removing the screws, the internal components are no longer anchored to the aluminum body.  Gently slide the iPod out of the aluminum tube by pushing from the bottom.  My fingers were a bit large so I used the back of one of my small screwdrivers to push it out until i could pull from the top.

stockin

The back of the iPod.  Notice the black spacing strips attached to the battery to prevent movement inside the aluminum body.

batterykit

The contents of the package for the battery I ordered on eBay.  It was nice of them to include the screwdrivers and a small set of instructions.

battnew

The new battery.

Replacing the battery is pretty straightforward; use the small slotted screwdriver to remove the plastic plug from the mainboard (avoid pulling on the wires to remove it).  Plug in the new battery with the right orientation and allow it to rest where the old battery was.  During reassembly you can choose to put something on top of battery to minimize empty space (and thus rattling during movement); a folded business card or other non-conducting material would work well.  I chose not to do so.

cf

The stock 4 GB microdrive and the new CF card.

Replacement of the microdrive is a bit more complicated; it is probably better to do this while the battery is removed for better access to the molex connector.  You can choose either to remove the drive with the connector attached (highly recommended) or remove the drive with the connector still attached to the mainboard.  If you choose the latter, you will only need to disconnect the drive from the connector, but you will find it extremely difficult.

If you remove the entire drive/connector from the mainboard, gently disconnect the mainboard terminal using the slotted screwdriver method, slowly separating it.  Now that you have the drive/connector separate from the iPod, it will be much easier to deal with.  The connector is attached to the drive not only via the pins but also with some rubber trim and anti-static tape.  Carefully take apart the tape and guides, and finally separate the drive from the molex connector without pulling on the ribbon.

molexcf

The molex connector.  Note how fine the contacts are on the mainboard terminal.

Attach the molex connector to the new CF card; as always, take note of the orientation of the card.  The pins are not keyed, so the connector will still go in if you have the card upside down.  The standard for CF cards is to have the logo and capacity sticker on the top of the card, and some kind of writable label on the back.  Make sure the top of the card is facing the outside of the iPod when reassembled, as seen below.

Reassemble the drive/connector, along with the rubber spacers and tape and gently reconnect it to the mainboard; be aware there may not be a distinct click to signify it is fully plugged in. Make sure all connections are set and the iPod internals are as streamlined as possible.  If you have anti-static tape, use it to cover the seam between drive and battery to ease the reinsertion of the iPod into the body.

upgraded

The fully upgraded iPod mini.

For reassembly, follow the disassembly steps backwards.  Some things to keep in mind:

  • Make sure both the screen surface and inner surface of the glass on the aluminum body are clean; any lint or dust on either surface will not be able to be cleaned once the iPod is put back together.
  • The entire iPod is a tight fit in the aluminum body; make sure there is proper clearance for the battery wires when sliding it back in, otherwise the aluminum case could strip the wires.
  • There are machined grooves on the inside of the body; be sure the mainboard is lined up appropriately.
  • Be careful not to strip the screws at the top of the iPod.
  • Pay attention to the orientation of the bottom plastic cap when reattaching it, as I noted earlier.
  • Do not force any of the steps.  If you feel resistance, stop, closely examine if anything is caught, and gently try again.

Once the iPod is reassembled, connect the it to the computer and open iTunes.  Upon detection, iTunes will prompt you that the iPod software is corrupt and will need to be restored; click Restore.  Once completed, the iPod should show up as it usually does in iTunes, but with a capacity of 14.89 GB instead of the usual 3.7 or so.

You can also opt to install a 3rd party firmware if you so desire, instead of the Apple default.

finished

The final product.

Links:

Side Notes:

The geek technique guide is the one I followed when doing my upgrade (it was originally written in 2007); it is very well written and you might find the pictures and description more helpful than my own.  I made this guide more as a record of my own project rather than to improve on his.  I would thank the writer, Mark Hoekstra, directly, but unfortunately he passed away in late 2008.

As I noted in the preparation section of this guide, it is important that you format the CF card on a computer before installing it into the iPod.  If you allow iTunes to format it during the firmware restoration, you will only be allowed to use 4 GB of your total capacity; iTunes creates only a 4 GB partition this way.  In Windows XP, it is not possible to delete partitions on removeable media, thus making repartitioning and formatting difficult.  I made this mistake in my over-eager state to upgrade the iPod as soon as my CF card arrived.


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