iPod 5G Hard Drives

iPod 5G Hard DriveLately I’ve been working with some 5th generation iPods trying to come up with a way to really test the hard drives in them. Unlike the previous full-size iPod models (excluding the mini and shuffle), the 5th gen uses a hard drive with a different connector. Generations 1 through 4 used a Toshiba drive with a 1.8″ IDE connector. The new drives are still manufactured by Toshiba, however they use a ZIF (Zero Insertion Force) connector instead of pins which were big enough to solder to. The new ZIF connector they’ve employed works exactly like the LCD connector on the 4th generation iPods, holding the thin ribbon cable tightly until the plastic lever is flipped up parallel to one of its long edges. Designing a connector this way — as opposed to the previous version with pluggable pins — not only allows electronics to get much smaller, but significantly reduces the amount of physical stress created when plugging and unplugging cables. Unfortunately for us, this makes current adapters useless for testing 5th gen iPod hard drives. With a new way to connect hard drives, what can be done to adapt them to IDE just as before? Up to this point, it’s all theory until I can get my hands on some more hardware, but I have a plan.

The first step in determining whether adapting is even a viable option was to read Toshiba’s data sheet on the new hard drives, which details the signals of each miniscule pin. I was hoping that, like the 2.5″ to 1.8″ shrink, nothing major had changed. Indeed, nothing but the new connector had been modified, making future work that much easier. The IDE pins remain intact, just…much smaller. The new drives run on 3.3v, but like other adapters, the drop from 5v to 3.3v is trivial compared to the task of finding or making an adapter to scale down the size of the pins.

Hitachi AdapterKnowing that the signals are the same, I started hunting for a pre-made adapter to see if something that fit my needs already existed. It seems the topic of adapting these new Toshiba drives is one hardly touched upon. The only useful result was an expensive adapter from YEC, which is intended for Hitachi ZIF hard drives and includes a ribbon cable to connect the drive to the board. It looked close enough, so I investigated some more by emailing the company and posting on their message boards. As it turns out, the Hitachi hard drives use the same pin configuration as the Toshiba drives, but the ribbon cable that ships with the adapter is too thick. Hitachi drives are designed to take a slightly thicker cable than the Toshiba models. YEC’s adapter board is pin-compatible with the Toshiba drives, but they don’t yet offer the all-important thin ribbon cable. Curious, I asked if the Hitachi cable would be thin enough to work, perhaps even with some modification, but they responded that it is simply too thick to work with the Toshiba drives. YEC plans to offer a Toshiba ribbon cable in the near future, but as of this writing they have no availability date. (I should note at this point that I already intended to buy an adapter from them if it would fit, as I was amazed to find myself communicating with one of the engineers at the company — unheard of in today’s corporate environments!) Short of a fully functional adapter that I could buy now, I thought I was out of luck, since finding a compatible ribbon cable in a random electronic device is a pretty slim chance. Or is it?

Mere hours after I had scoured Toshiba’s website for pinouts, I found that engineer and Xbox hacker extraordinaire Andrew “bunnie” Huang had received and disassembled a new Zune (as I noted on MacUser). Looking at his pictures, you’ll note that the Zune uses a new Toshiba ZIF hard drive, just like Apple’s 5th Gen iPods. No surprise there. The drives are reliable and small enough to accomodate most handheld players. However, the ribbon cable Microsoft uses appears to be the exact piece required to adapt the YEC adapter to the Toshiba ZIF hard drives:

Zune Logic board

Gathering all the pices to assemble a Toshiba ZIF adapter looks to be quite costly at the moment — $120 for the board (which is nothing more than a few cheap components) plus $249 for a Zune. My hope is that I can find a broken one on eBay to scavenge for parts. Unless I find a better alternative in the meantime, I think I may be forced to wait for YEC’s ribbon cable to be made available. I’ll keep this post updated with any future findings.

(I also feel compelled to make a note of bunnie’s book, Hacking the Xbox, an affordable and incredibly detailed look at the work that went into reverse engineering all the security mechanisms of the original Xbox. If you’re interested in reverse engineering and want to get a feel for what it takes, or are curious exactly how the Xbox was cracked, check it out.)

12/30/2006 Update
The folks at Addonics replied to my email and reported that they will offer a 1.8″ ZIF to IDE adapter in January 2007, so be sure to look for one very soon.

3/11/2007 Update
The adapter from Span works, but it still a little pricey, and — like the iPod 5G itself — fragile. It gets the job done, though. I’ve yet to try a Zune hard drive cable with it, as the included cable is a little thick for Toshiba drives. For interested hardware hackers, here’s a very high res image of the Zune hard drive cable I scanned (about 1.1MB in size).
Zune Hard Drive cable

iPod 5G Hard Drives

52 thoughts on “iPod 5G Hard Drives

  1. Unforuntately, no. That cable is the actual ribbon from inside the 5G iPod, designed to connect the hard drive to the logic board of the iPod. One end fits the drive, obviously, but the other end is much too small for the YEC adapter. The correct cable needs to have the wider connector on both ends to fit properly.


  2. mndnm says:

    As the ZIF drives are getting cheaper (and larger) would it be possible to adapt the cables such that you can insert a ZIF drive in a G4 Ipod? As both 1.8″ drives are 3.3V, it’s basically just the cabling. How difficult would it be?


  3. There’s no technical reason that newer ZIF drives couldn’t be used with older iPods, but the cabling is so small that it would require custom engineering like that already found in iPods. I suppose if you had access to the right equipment, it could be done — the only obstacle is size, as the wiring is pin-for-pin identical.


  4. 2bord says:

    Well mndnm that’s exactly what I need right now! My 4th gen. iPod’s HDD just died and the only ‘reasonably’ priced 1.8″ hard drives in Germany are ZIF drives! If anybody hears something please post! thx


  5. Unfortunately, you can’t use a 5G cable in a 4G iPod or vice versa. Both ends of the 5G cable are different, and so are the hard drives. The end of the cable that meets the logic board is about half the width of the 4G connector.


  6. behappy says:

    There will be another cheap 1.8″ zif adapter coming soon(possibly eaily June 2007). Try to find it on ebay later.

    I have a few sample on hand, anyone want it.


  7. David says:


    Please let me know about this zif adapter. I want to upgrade my Toshiba PCG-TR3A, which used the Hitachi Travelstar 40GB ATA drive with the pins on the side . . . the 60GB seems to be unavailable now.



  8. behappy says:

    The adapter will include two FFC cables, one is for Toshiba hard drive(made within the thickness required by Toshiba 1.8 zif connector) and the other is for Hitachi hard drive. There should be a few pieces sample available in France ebay next week.

    There are another type of adapters on ebay available now — “zif to 1.8 ide” for toshiba only. Only have 5 pcs left. Maybe someone can make 1.8 zif hard drive inside a 4th gen ipod with it.


  9. behappy,

    Are you aware of any compact flash to zif adapter? thIS allows the use of compact flash cards instead of Toshiba ZIF drives converting the devices in which the Toshiba drives where used into solid state devices. Even better, if such an adapter existed that allowed the use of 2 CF cards, something like the Addonics dual CF adapter:


    Many UMPCs are offering SSD options, but at astronomic premiums. With such an adapter it would be possible to convert UMPCs and subnotebooks/devices that use Toshiba ZIF drives into solid state devices on the cheap.


  10. behappy says:


    Thank you for your inspirational idea. It seems possible and only require simple modification of our existing adapter.

    However, we are still waiting for the PCB manufacturer for the ZIF board and we can only make single side CF to ZIF adapter with our existing adatpers.


  11. imfunny says:

    My friend dropped my thin 5G iPod and i thought it was a hard drive problem (because when i try to start it it gives a click sound inside) and so i took the whole iPod apart and just played around with it, then put it back together and it still won’t work (no surprises) but i was wondering if i bought one of those Toshiba harddrives that i would just put it in place of the current hard drive would the ipod work fine? btw when i try to turn it on now it doesn’t make a clicking noise but still acts like it did before the opertation. can anyone help?


  12. Yep, replacing the hard drive and doing a Restore in iTunes should bring it back to working order — assuming nothing else is broken. The number one component on hard drive based iPods that fails is the hard drive itself, and the clicking noise is/was a good indicator that the HD has died.


  13. James says:


    Will you be selling any more “zif to 1.8 ide” adaptors in the future? I’m trying to install a 5th gen. hard drive in a Fujitsu P1510 Lifebook and this adaptor appears to be exactly what I’ve been searching for.


  14. David A says:

    Hi guys, im REALLY interested on this subject… im trying to fit also a toshiba ZIF hard drive on my NW-HD5 mp3.. well it happens to be that i was looking on some ipog 4gen dissasembly videos, and i saw this adapter form the disk, (that has an ide 50pin interface) and translate it into a pretty muy alike ZIF belt. http://www.rapidrepair.com/shop/1425-4g-ide-cable.html i dont know how right or wrong could i be, but, perhaps someone could give it a look.


  15. dubbydub says:

    Hi There,

    Icy Box has a USB Enclosure for Toshiba ZIFF
    Drives….It sells here in Germany for
    30 Euros….maybe it can be cannibalized.

    For Those who simply need access to The HDD
    only, it should work perfectly right now,

    The USB Cable is integrated,,,,nice!

    European Reseller List

    Unfortunately it semms that they did not sell it outside Europe or even outside Germany…..



  16. haxxor says:

    hi guys, iv been browsing around this site, and its looking very interesting.

    what im trying to do is,

    format a 2GB micro SD card the same as an ipods hard drive is formatted, with all the partitions etc, so i can trick itunes into thinking that its an ipod so it will sync it.

    The Micro SD card is for my Nokia N95, and i also have a 5G 60gb ipod.

    im just wanting to know if there is any thing out there capable of doing such things to a flash card and where to find the data for the partitions.

    any help much appreciated.


  17. Todd says:

    Hi, I just bought a brand new mk2006gal toshiba to put in a 4g ipod. Now I think I can get a deal on a “broken” 5g and I want to put the new drive in that. Will it fit and Is there a pin to zif cable available for that? Does anyone know where I can buy one?


  18. James says:

    What drive are you using that adapter for from Hong Kong? Is it Toshiba or Hitachi? How long did it take to receive it in the mail?
    I was thinking about ordering one but not sure. I need it for a Toshiba 1.8″ Zif


  19. Rafer says:

    Please do let us know about the cables – I’ve searched around and it looks like that is the easiest way to track them down (i’m trying to source 20 cables at the moment).


  20. Smitty says:

    Any luck with the adaptor from DealExtreme? It looks a little too good to be true. But, like you (Tim) said, at less than US$5, you can’t really go wrong.


  21. patrick says:

    Yeah i have one of the first IPOD’s and it has a HITACHI travelstar harddrive in it now my ipod says that it is corrupted and that all i can do is format it to original factory settings but i got 5 12 GB of music on there is there any way to buy an adapter ribbon some were or womething like that i could send u a pic or something that might work i am lost here and dont wanna loose all that time and money


  22. Sandman says:

    Check out DealExtreme dot com I bought a 1.8″ zif from them. People there say it works. I haven’t been able to make it work for me yet. Still trying things, gonna take the hint of Xplay and see if that helps. Device Manager recognizes the drive, but neither My Computer or Itunes shows it. When you go to disk management its there and says that it needs to be initialized, and fails.


  23. I just got a Samsung HS161JQ 160 GB 1.8″ hard drive off ebay for $90 and was hoping to stuff it in a 5th gen 30 GB ipod but the connector is about half as wide and has 18 pins, I am hunting for some kind of adapter for it, does anybody have any info on this subject? Thanks in advance



    1. @poncival From my recent research, I’ve found that that half-width connector on the drive is “CE-ATA”, which is different than ZIF (though I thought they were the same for some time). Apparently the newer (greater than 80 GB) capacity iPod Classics take these CE-ATA drives, but the 5G iPods take ZIF only. I’ve not seen an adapter ribbon cable, so I’m thinking that your best bet is to turn it around and buy a straight ZIF.


  24. n00ner says:

    I bought a Seagate ST760211DE 60GB. My original drive was 30GB.
    All I get is the “dead” iPod symbol. Anything I missed???

    If I have it in one mode, I get the “dead” symbol.
    If I put it in the other mode, I get “Connect to iTunes…”

    When I plug into USB, I get “Please wait. Very low battery”. I’ve left it charging all day. And I even tried a different battery!


  25. Husam says:

    First of all, thank you for providing me with the above information. However, I’m interested in connecting my iPod HD to my PC through USB. Sounds silly, but my iPod, well, let’s just say that the Hard disk is the only thing that works, and I need to make some use of it. Does anyone has any info related to this? A DIY would be better. Thank you,


  26. Neil says:

    I have a 30 Gb 5G iPod Video, and was wondering about upgrading to an 80Gb hard drive/battery and rear case.

    I have been told that some of the earlier 5G logic boards can’t support the 80Gb Hdd. Any one know if this is true, and if it is how to identify if my board will support 80Gb or not.



  27. a10112 says:

    Well… i ordered one of them ZIF to 3.5″ converters, let’s hope it works- will report back in about 2 weeks’ time or less.


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