Ipod Mini Upgrade
ByAksel Satrom on May 25, 2022.
I’m starting a music collection and want to listen to music with more intent. I want to own the music, avoiding locked down music services like Spotify. These streaming services aren’t actually free and are bloated with ads and tracking. After some thought, I think it best to go with an mp3 player. I have decided to buy and upgrade an iPod mini.
I like the iPod because of its clickwheel and the general aesthetic, especially the monochrome models. I chose the Mini 2nd Gen because it is the cheapest iPod to modify. My plan was to replace the ancient battery and upgrade to 64 GB of flash storage. I also had to refinish the housing because the previous owner had to engrave their e-mail onto the back of the original. I bought the iPod online for $12 plus shipping, however I made sure to ask my relatives if they had one in their junk drawer first.
The teardown process was straight forward. I followed IFixit’s excellent disassembly guide which helped me through the process. The hardest part was determining the amount of force I could use to disconnect the cables. It went well except for one stripped screw. Reassembly was difficult because the battery cables were longer than the originals and got in the way. It was enjoyable removing the old components and plugging in the new.
After switching out all the parts and sliding them back into the housing, I decided to install RockBox. It is a custom firmware that enables you to add music directly to the iPod without iTunes; This alone was enough to sell me. It has custom themes and various software and games. Yes, with RockBox the iPod Mini runs Doom (although it’s terrible to look at).
At this point I began to experience trouble, the battery life was terrible! It lasted only four hours and the iPod was warm to the touch and wouldn’t charge. I found out that the stable release of RockBox I installed did not support flash storage efficiently, and furthermore that the $20 iflash CF to SD card did not have proper power management features that normal CF cards had. If you look online a 64 GB CF card costs around $70 eliminating it as an option. I was lucky and found an unused 4GB CF card in my Father’s shop that was originally used in a Tractor GPS system. Finally after updating RockBox to the dev version and installing a CF card, I now had 13 hours of battery life. A major battery life upgrade and major storage downgrade.
I was originally intending to design a 3D printed enclosure. However, after about six attempts of things not lining up quite right I became bored of trying. I ended up refinishing the original case and am quite happy with the result. During the refinishing process I read online that I could remove the anodized layer of aluminum with hydrochloric acid (toilet bowl cleaner). I’ll just say it didn’t work and left pock marks and dug in the engravings even further! I would have been way better off sanding the aluminum, but I guess it was worth a try. I used muffler spray paint and then sprayed a rubber automotive coating on top of it to hide the engravings.
I enjoy using it! Probably because of all that I did to get it working and looking the way I wanted (you know, fixing it until it breaks!). I’m still in the process of loading up my 4GB with music and having a fun time at it.
Altogether it was a fun project. It took me a few months longer than expected to finish it (and write this), but I’m glad it has come this far. Looking at the iPod I’m happy with the result, and think it looks and sounds very good. If someone else was in a similar situation as me wanting an mp3 player, I’d tell them to give it a shot. Thanks for reading!