iPod Super

What is this about?

Ultimately, I’d like to get a regular 3.5″ hard drive working with an iPod. The fact that it would be huge will simply be a novelty.

Why do this?

This project came about after I dropped my 40 GB 3rd generation iPod and killed the hard drive in it. I decided to open up the iPod and see what I could do with it. I could do so without fear of breaking it, since I’d already broken the most expensive part in it.

Disassembling the iPod

It’s not terribly hard to open the iPod if you know how. Since I had owned my iPod for some time, it had a little wear, and the seam where plastic and metal meet was open just enough to push my fingernail into. Sliding it down, I was able to stick in a nylon pry tool like the ones from RadTech. After getting the tool in there, you can pop the plastic catches and the top comes loose. OWC suggests squeezing the two halves of the iPod together at the side edge until it clicks. It looks a little scary to me, but I’ve never tried their method. I’m sure it’s perfectly valid, too. After that, detach the small white connector opposite the hold switch, and the two iPod halves separate. After moving all the loose items like the hard drive out of the way, they all disconnect without much of a problem — just be careful with those thin ribbon cables. Work slowly and don’t force things to come apart. If something’s resisting, it’s most likely because there’s a catch or screw that you overlooked.

Hard Drive Connections

After opening the iPod, I took a look at the hard drive that no longer worked. I had a 40GB Toshiba MK4004GAH. I looked up the drive on Toshiba’s site and found a pin diagram of the connector. The top-right pin in the following image is pin 1, and below it is pin 2 — the pattern continues in an up-and-down fashion. I remembered reading somewhere that 1.8″ hard drives used an ATA interface, but I wanted to confirm this. Another search yielded a diagram of a standard ATA/IDE connector. Except for four pins dedicated to logic and power, the two diagrams had the same connections.

Building the Adapter

Now that I knew the hardware would match up fairly well, I needed a way for the iPod to connect to a bigger drive. A post on the ipodhacks.com forums revealed a foreign company that sold an adapter similar to what I needed, but I couldn’t read German to figure out the site, much less order from them. Examinging the ribbon cable that connects the 1.8″ hard drive to the iPod, I saw that there was an open area at each pin where it connected to the actual pins that went into the hard drive. I spent the next several minutes cutting and stripping rather thin 30 gauge wrapping wire. I was going to simply solder wires onto each of those points and run them to a regular IDE connector. With the wire cut, I decided I should look into finding the other end of the connector before I began the tedious soldering task ahead of me.

It didn’t take long to dig up an old dead hard drive whose S.M.A.R.T. status indicated it was ready to go belly-up. I unscrewed the Torx screws on the drive’s circuit board and separated it from the metal housing. Desoldering all 44 pins would be a chore, so I took the easier route and just ripped through the circuit board with a Dremel. I also considered using an IDC connector from an IDE ribbon cable, but I figured that a female IDE connector would allow me more options when it came time to attach the iPod to other devices — I could use an IDE cable and run it to a hard drive, instead of requiring that two parts sit so close together. The next step was to spend some time soldering all 44 tiny wires and testing the connections with a continuity tester. A bead of hot glue was added to hold the wires more securely, and it was finished. Though not part of my plan, this adapter can also connect an iPod hard drive to an IDE bus if necessary.

Preparing the Hard Drive

At this point I read up on how the iPod’s hard drive is formatted. There are basically three partitions: the partition map, a 32 MB firmware partition, and the rest of the disk is where your music is kept. However, the first two aren’t normally visible. Even Disk Utility will only show you the third partition. I found a lot of good info on this page, including this explanation of the partitions:

1: The first partition of the hard drive (partition no. 1 above) is necessary to make the hard drive mountable, it contains the partition map for the disk. It’s size is 63-1 = 62 in blocks which equals 32 KB. This partition is known as ‘master boot record’.

2: The second partition ‘firmware’ from block 63 to 65599, 65536 blocks in total (equals exactly 32 MB), holds the firmware of your iPod. The type is ‘Apple_MDFW’.

3: Finally, the partition ‘disk’ is of type ‘Apple_HFS’ and is keeping the data on your iPod. The size of the last partition is [number of blocks] – [base of partition ‘disk’] which is 4.74 GB of the iPod used in this example.

Formatting the New Disk

Using the information about pdisk and dd on the page mentioned above, I was able to format a 3.5″ drive as the iPod would expect to see it.


With a 2.5 inch HD


Here are some iPod articles from Apple that might be of use:

iPod Super

182 thoughts on “iPod Super

  1. Ashwin says:

    What is hacking and how could make this.
    Because my system was received unnecessary mails from internet which have dosent any mean.
    Please help me!


  2. ci says:

    Great project Collin.

    Would u be able to email me the 512 boot sector of the 3rd gen ipod. I think that may solve my issue.

    After partitioning with fdisk an empty partition of 1-10 and a fat32 of 10-full i can get ipod restore to work on windows. but after a reboot it just hangs on the apple logo. i dd’d the boot sector from an ipod photo to the disk because that is what i had available. I’m not sure if that was necessary to get the ipod to restore. im thinking if i dd the 3rd gen boot sector to the disk that may make it work completely.

    The restore goes smoothly and finishes quickly. when it says to connect to an AC power source to flash firmware, i do that, but there is no additional response. After a reboot it just hangs on the apple logo where usually it would go to the folder and exclamation then shut off. in this condition i am unable to communicate via the usb, i have to connect the drive back to a pc to do anything to it. i have done this whole procedure twice with the same result.

    I’m using a maxtor drive of 400 MB and my hookup cable is almost identical to the one made by num. hope u can help.



  3. […] Why would anyone want 300GBs of space on their iPod? Someone has written a set of instruction on how to add a 3.5 inch hard drive to your iPod. Here they are. The 300GB iPod has been named the iPod Super and although it isn’t very portable you could wire it up to a set of speakers and use it instead of a hi-fi. Another suggestion is hooking it up to the speakers in your car and you can have 300GB of music for when your driving which is far more than you’ll ever need but nice to know that you have. […]


  4. Nice project !!! I found it because I am searching for a way to play MP3 files from my external hard disk, a Fujitsu 40GB USB 2.0. In other words, I would like to use such hard disk as the storage for my MP3, but I need an MP3 transmitter or something similar to read the files from the hard disk and play them (with folder selection capabilities). Do you know anything that can do this ? Thanks !!!!!!


  5. There are a number of great homemade MP3 players out there, including this one linked to via the Make blog:
    Most don’t use USB 2, though. Generally, they communicate using the drive’s native IDE/ATA bus. If you’re hoping to swap the drive between computer and MP3 player using USB 2, you’re probably just better off buying an off-the-shelf MP3 player like an iPod. Building one from scratch or even following a tutorial is quite a bit of electronics work and programming. Might be a fun project, though.


  6. Brian Best says:

    I finally figured it out (at least for Windows iPods). The Toshiba drives may (or may not) not come formatted. While windows recognizes the drive, it somehow can not access the drive to format it. The drive I bought came unformatted. My Gen 3 iPod will use the standard drive (Toshiba — Not iPod branded drive) MK2004GAL, but you must use a program such as Paragon Hard Disk Manager to access the drive to partition it. It will partition the drive through the USB cable while the drive is in the iPod. Of course the iPod will not boot properly if you just drop the drive in it and try to reset it, but if you plug the USB into the computer the iPod will go into disk mode so that windows can “see” the drive/iPod.

    The key everyone seems to be missing is to leave at the first 32 MB blank. If you format the whole drive iTunes has nowhere to put the iPod boot instructions.

    There is only one partition. The first 32 MB is unformatted “empty” space. You must partition the drive with at least 32 MB free for the iPod to put boot instructions. Set up to partition remaining drive as FAT 32. Once done mount the partition with Paragon Hard Disk Manager and it will assign a drive letter. Once this is done the Ipod updater will find it and you can run a restore on it. Once restored disconnect it and reconnect it. iTunes should pick it up and it should work as normal. It is true that FireWire connection will no longer work with the non apple drive.

    To power the drive while putting my music back on the new drive, I have the apple combo FireWire/USB wire. I plug the FireWire end into the power supply that came with the iPod (my USB connection does not provide power). Then I plug the USB end into the computer and so that you can load all your tunes without the battery dying.

    My iPod works great. I bought a reconditioned laptop drive for $75 (20 GB). You can buy new 20 GB Toshiba drives for $105 if you look around.
    Thanks for the website Collin.

    I am currently unemployed and am considering installing and formatting drives if you ship them both (ipod and drive) if there is any interest for such a service. Let me know. email: bbest10746@yahoo.com


  7. christian says:

    My computer dont recognize my ipod and in my ipod it appears a folder with and exclamation. I downloaded the updater and it dont recognize my ipod ether. What can i do? help me please!!this is my type of iPod (40 GB dock connector)


  8. […] Una notizia di qualche mese, ma l’ho letta solo ora. Ha smontato un suo vecchio iPod e lo ha collegato ad un Hard Disk esterno. Ha ottenuto un iPod da 300 GB ma inutilizzabile. Non fatelo! […]


  9. […] iPod Hacking – Post 1 I’m not an avid fan of Apple, as most people know; however, as a high school graduation present, my cousin bought me a 3rd generation iPod.  The 3rd generation iPods only had a battery life of about 18 months.  So as of now, the iPod’s full battery charge is 10 minutes.  That made it a useless portable music player.During the winter break, my roomate brought over a girl with sticky fingers.  My iPod vanished for two months until his (my roomate’s) best friend found the girl and found my iPod.  When I got it back, I got this error screen.I thought to myself, “that can’t be good.”  After some online investigating and running some tests from the iPod’s BIOS, I found that the hard-drive had been damaged beyond repair.  How this happened, I can only speculate.  Did she hit it against a desk when it wouldn’t turn on?  Who knows.  Never-the-less, I’m not going to get the $400 it was worth, so I might as well fix it.I surfed the web, looking for people with the same problem.  Blamo, after about an hour I found this Blog post.http://www.command-tab.com/index.php/ipod-superThis guy hooked up a 3.5″ hard-drive to the iPod 3g.  This is exactly what I could do.I have the spare hard-drives, I have my iPod, and I have spring break.  Here’s my new project. :)Extra Images: Ipod in pieces.Old Hard-Drive. […]


  10. […] 60gb is the biggest you can get from Apple. Toshiba makes the same drive in 80gb I think. You could hack a new ipod together if you’ve got the skills, willingness, and time. Then again this guy hacked a desktop hard drive into his ipod, so I’m guessing you could have a 750gb ipod. Command-Tab » iPod Super __________________ ImpulseResponse […]


  11. […] Command-Tab » iPod Super Like this, only hardwire the buttons to the front of the panel, and use some bondo to make the front panel rather interesting. Either that or do it in metal. Or do it in bondo then vacuum form it. Tons of options really. Maybe I’ll build one sometime. […]


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