Gorgon’s Choice Chisels and Files

My usual setup for listening to music is an iPod connected through a line out dock cable to a Fiio headphone amplifier, which powers AKG Q701s. So there’s certain limitations. Because LOD cables only work with the old 30-pin port, you have to use an older iPod; likewise, because I like to listen to music at night, in the dark, an older iPod is necessary to have physical buttons, so you don’t have to look at a bright screen. So you get a choice between the iPod Classic, which has a noisy, slow hard drive, and an iPod Nano, which tops out at 16 GB. I’ve used the Nano for a long time.

But I have a lot more music than the Nano holds, which has gotten a little annoying. I was thinking about getting an iPod Classic, but didn’t want a hard drive, or the really laggy interface the post-2007 iPods have used. Putting in a 1.8″ SSD fixes the first problem, but leaves the second, and adds a lot of cost (since you’re talking new iPod, then new SSD). And using an old used iPod (with the good B&W interface) is hard because they are universally beat to hell by now.

I remembered that, around the time I got my first DSLR, one of the cool things you could get was a Microdrive CompactFlash card, which held four gigs compared to 128 or 256 MB on a regular CF card. And because of Apple’s bulk purchasing, the cheapest way to get the Microdrive was actually to buy an iPod Mini, then harvest the Microdrive from it and throw away the rest. Given that iPod Minis were more robust than the big iPods, and that I had a spare 64 GB UHS-1 Micro SD card that I bought to use with an Nvidia Shield and forgot about, I decided to do the opposite, and throw away the Microdrive in favor of the SD card. Then you get the best of everything — fast OS, big solid-state storage, robust enclosure, 30-pin out with the good DSP, and a big click wheel.

There’s several guides to putting a CF card in an iPod Mini, but I wasn’t sure what would happen with this; the iPod uses CF cards natively, but I needed to go through a CF-to-SD adapter, then an SD-to-µSD adapter. So it’s a little hacky.

The only thing to really watch out for is to make sure you get the second-generation Mini, because the first-generation can’t play lossless audio.

That’s how you open them — spudge off the top and bottom covers, undo two screws and unplug the click wheel, then the rest just slides out. The last picture is the stock Microdrive and ancient battery in place.

…and there’s the adapter-pile and new battery in place, with some half-hearted tape to make sure it doesn’t jiggle inside. The new battery has 157% of the original’s capacity; given that the original could run the iPod for 18 hours, and given that the Microdrive probably uses a lot more power than the Micro SD card, I think this thing should give pretty awesome battery life.

Plugged in for testing before reassembly.

Aw yuss. Works perfectly, holds all my music, sounds great with the Fiio. Total cost was $90 — $65 for the Micro SD card (Sandisk Extreme Plus), $15 for the iPod, $10 for the new battery. All I want to do now is get a dark red gel filter and slip it between the screen and the screen-hole, to make the backlight nicer to use in the dark.

As a sidenote, me-of-ten-years-ago was really happy to peel a Microdrive apart. It is indeed a micro drive.

Spectacool

I thought this was mildly-interesting enough to write about. I bought a third-party-refurbished fifth-generation iPod Nano from Woot.com. They’re the last Nano with real buttons, which is a lot better for using while driving or at night. Anyway. It got here, and it’s pretty curious. The company that refurbished it seems to have dropped it in a plastic case which is pretty close to the original metal one. However, the interface is unusably slow. It just won’t scroll, or anything. My first thought was that it was a fake Chinese iPod, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It plays Apple Store DRM’ed files, it takes Apple software updates, and it talks fine to iTunes.

 

So, I wondered why it was so junky. These things are so simple that there isn’t much to break. There’s a Samsung ARM processor, a Cirrus audio chip, an Apple-branded power manager, and most of the rest of the space is occupied by a single chunk of Toshiba memory. The depressing hypothesis I came to was that there’s some corner of China where money is made by buying iPod Nanos, burning off the Toshiba memory and sticking some crap on there, sliding it into a new case and selling it and the Toshiba memory on. Cutting edge butt-based science.

One way or another, the only way to tell is to pull the thing apart. But then I’d be out eighty bucks. So I benchmarked it instead. Here’s what the Woot Refurb iPod got:

Okay then. There are two more 5G Nanos in the house — I have one, which I use with my headphone amp, and R. Monkeys has another. So I tested them both. Here’s mine:

 

They’re similar in some ways, but check out how much slower the refurb’s reads are. Of particular interest are those 4k random reads. Little random reads are what make any computer system feel snappy, and the Woot iPod’s 4k random reads are majorly off the OEM Apple one. Let’s see the same category on R. Monkeys’ iPod:

 

It’s not quite as fast as mine, but it’s close — and way ahead of the Woot iPod. It seems as if the Woot iPod’s memory is just too slow to keep up with system functions.

I wish I had the $80 to pull it apart, though.