Front veiw on my 5th Generation iPod U2 edition & original packaging

iPod 5th Generation SSD Upgrade with iFlash and Sandisk SD cards

I love my old school technology. While I love all the new developments in tech, I’m still one of these people who wont replace something which is perfectly good just to upgrade to the latest model. My 5th Generation iPod is no exception. I bought this iPod in 2006 from the Apple store in San Francisco. It was my first new Apple device & I opted for the special U2 edition, not because I particularly like U2, but because I loved the black with red click wheel.

This iPod has seen heavy usage since the day I bought it. It has travelled with me around the world, still in its original Belkin hard case & it has never EVER failed me.

I had to replace the battery a few years back as it was holding less & less charge, but apart from that it just keeps going. I think the Wolfson DAC in this generation iPod offers the greatest sound output from any of the Apple music players before or since. It knocks the socks off even my iPhone 6 and all of my previous iPhones.

From the iPhone 3G onwards I’ve been tempted to switch my music to the iPhone only but I have various gripes with that. Firstly, it has limited storage space & is quite a clunky experience. I don’t like streaming as it relies on Connectivity, which eats battery, its useless for international travel and generally gives an interrupted user experience. Secondly, I find myself constantly interrupted by push notifications, calls, texts & distractions. Walking around a city in my own world listening to my extensive music library used to be my way of disconnecting and chilling out. Since using smart phones this is less & less viable.

So I’ve switched back to the iPod. My problem now is since using iTunes match, my entire library is now of a higher bitrate. My music is mostly now in 256kbps AAC. My MP3 collection used to be predominately 160kbps or 192kbps which was pretty normal in mid to late 2000’s. Couple that with my ever-growing library & I’ve found myself needing to be selective about the music I carry on the iPod. I hate that! If I think of a tune I would like to listen to on the go, I like to have it to hand. I therefore decided to upgrade the old iPod, not by replacing it, but by enhancing it.




I researched putting in an SSD and doing an iPod SSD upgrade, which seemed a good prospect, but not very flexible. I then looked at the possibility of using SD or Compact Flash cards to expand the memory & stumbled across the iFlash website & boards. iFlash make boards which allow you to swap out the internal ZIF hard drive on the iPod 5th Gen and replace it with a small PCB supporting SD cards. You have the option of a board supporting one card, a dual SD board or a quad board. To future proof I went for the quad board meaning I could expand it easily in the future.

iFlash Quad back view with 2 x Sandisk 64GB SDXC cards ready to go for iPod SSD upgrade
iFlash Quad back view with 2 x Sandisk 64GB SDXC cards ready to go for iPod SSD upgrade
iFlash Quad front view with 2 x Sandisk 64GB SDXC cards ready to go.
iFlash Quad front view with 2 x Sandisk 64GB SDXC cards ready to go.

The iFlash essentially replaces your hard drive with a board running SD cards which acts as a virtual HDD using JBOD (Just a Bunch Of Disks) mode allowing you to mix and match SD cards to create one large volume. I ordered the iFlash Quad & two fresh Sandisk Ultra Micro SDXC Class 10 cards. Both cards are 64GB giving me a combined 128GB of flash storage in the old iPod. Compared to the standard 30GB this is a massive improvement, & I can add some more SD cards in the future if needs be.

iPod opening tools. Tweezers, Small screwdriver & iPod opening tool (soft tool or spudger)
iPod opening tools. Tweezers, Small screwdriver & iPod opening tool (soft tool or spudger)

I used the iFixit tear down guide to dismantle my iPod, bearing in mind that I’ve stripped it down in the past to replace the battery. Dismantling is fairly easy, I’d recommend an iPod opening soft tool to open the case. The back cover is metal but the front is plastic so you don’t want to damage the clips or the casing. Make sure to turn the iPod off and use the lock switch to lock the iPod before starting. I find it best to insert the removal tool in the case gap on each side and run it the full length a few times to pop the clips open. I don’t lever it at all, the simple back and forth sliding is normally enough. One is pops open, don’t just pull it apart as the battery ribbon cable needs to be removed. I use a small pair of tweezers to lift up the brown ribbon latch a few mm. Go really easy with this, it only needs to raise slightly to release the cable. Once the cable is removed you can open the case like a book, leaving the other ribbon untouched.

The next thing you need to do is flip the hard drive 180 degrees towards the bottom edge of the case to expose the ZIF cable & connector. You then need to lightly flip-up the black connector at the HDD end, it doesn’t lift up, it flips up through 90 degrees or so to release the cable.. Once that is lifted you can slowly ease the ribbon cable out.

iPod 5th Gen Hard Drive removed
iPod 5th Gen Hard Drive removed

Next you need to take your iFlash board & insert your SD cards. In my case I inserted both 64GB cards into slow 1 & 2. Make sure you have removed all of the grey HDD bumpers, I found an extra little bumper at the bottom edge which had to come out to seat the iFlash properly. Slip the HDD ribbon into the ZIF connector on the iFlash and close the lock bar. It works exactly the same as the one you just opened on your HDD. I used tweezers again to make sure the ribbon was fully seated int he connector, be careful not to kink the ribbon. Light pressure only. You can then seat the iFlash and stick one of the supplied sticky pads to the chipset to keep it snug when the case is closed.

iFlash quad with SD cards inserted & ready to go
iFlash quad with SD cards inserted & ready to go
iFlash Quad replaces HDD and sites neatly inside the case.
iFlash Quad replaces HDD and sites neatly inside the case.

Before clipping the case back together, reinsert the battery ribbon and click the lock shut. Place the top case onto the bottom case but don’t clip the case back together yet. First plug your iPod into your computer and check that you can restore it with iTunes and that it boots up & reports your new storage capacity both in iTunes and on the iPod in the settings menu. Once you are happy & have restored the iPod using iTunes, clip back together & enjoy.

iPod switched on after iFlash installed, showing recovery required screen
iPod switched on after iFlash installed, showing recovery required screen
my iPod is now 128GB thanks to iFlash
my iPod is now 128GB thanks to iFlash

So far I’m loving this mod. Battery life is much improved as the iFlash doesn’t have a platter to move like the old HDD. Also I found syncing to be much faster, song seeking much faster and the ability to sync my entire library in 256kbps AAC means vastly improved audio quality. Better clarity and less fuzz.

New capacity on my 5th Gen iPod is 128GB
New capacity on my 5th Gen iPod is 128GB

This mod should be do-able by most competent DIY-ers and hardware hackers. Just be careful when releasing cable release latches, the plastic is now 10 years old in mine & no doubt more brittle with age. Take your time with these parts, treat it as if it where precious. No force, just patience.

I now have a smart phone killer in the mobile music battle. I expect this iPod will keep travelling the world with me for many years. I’m also looking onto running an even higher capacity battery, but right now I can just run it off my Anker PowerCore 20100 power bank if required.

Below is a picture of my upgraded iPod & my original packaging. This is now 10 years old (was 10 in June this year) and I still treasure it like the day I bought it.

Front view of my 5th Generation iPod U2 edition & original packaging
Front view of my 5th Generation iPod U2 edition & original packaging
Back view of my 5th Generation iPod U2 edition & original packaging
Back view of my 5th Generation iPod U2 edition & original packaging

If you have carried out any hardware hacks on old iPod do let me know & as always if you need help, just ask me in the comments.

John Large

John Large - Uber Techie!

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