Drive Failure: Culprit May Not Be the Drive, Fix May Be Free
by Alan Zisman (c) 2006 First
published in Low
11 September 2006
Zis Mac column
Apple's iPod has been wildly successful; even though it was neither the
first handheld MP3 player (models such as the Diamond Rio were first
with flash players) nor the first to feature hard drive storage
(Creative's Discman-sized Nomad Jukebox predated it), the iPod's
combination of clean design, easy to use software both on the player
and the computer, and the growing ecosystem of third-party add-ons have
all contributed to Apple's 80+% market share.
Still, the iPod has come in for its share of complaints.
The polished chrome backs and the plastic screen scratch too easily.
The rechargeable batteries only last a few years and then fail to hold
a charge (and are not easily user-replaceable).
These complaints have gotten lots of media attention - some might even
say too much media attention. All lithium-ion batteries fail to hold a
charge after a couple of years, and while the iPods are hard to open,
the batteries can be replaced.
Another issue is lurking in the background, however. I don't have any
statistics on how widespread it is, but my personal experience suggests
that it may be affecting huge numbers of owners of hard drive-based
The symptoms appear to be a hard drive failure; the iPod tries to start
up, but part way through there are several clicking sounds, like a
computer hard drive that has crashed, and finally a "sad iPod" icon
appears on screen.
is not a rare occurrence. I know five people who bought 40 GB
fourth-generation ("click wheel") iPods. Three of the five have had
this happen to their iPod; one person had it happen while her iPod was
still under warranty. Apple replaced it; later, the same thing happened
with the replacement unit.
The other two iPod's failed after the standard warranty ran out,
suggesting that it may be worthwhile to budget for the extended
AppleCare warranty, at least for hard drive iPods.
gives steps users can try if their iPod doesn't start; maybe they work
for some users, but they haven't helped the people I've known with
these problems. Contacting Apple's tech support about an out of
warranty iPod can be frustrating. Their advice: Pay to ship it back to
Apple and pay to have them replace it with a reconditioned replacement.
That's too expensive; you might as well just ditch it and buy a new one
- and I suspect many people have done just that. Unnecessarily.
Certainly hard drive failure might seem like a possible explanation -
like laptop hard drives, the iPod's 1.8" Toshiba drive certainly gets
bounced around a lot. These drives are available from computer shops; I
was quoted a price of C$155 for a 40 GB 1.8" Toshiba drive from my
local computer store. And replacing the hard drive wouldn't be much
more work than replacing the battery.
||For both repairs, prying open the case is the
fact, I tried replacing the hard drive in one of these problematic
iPods; the new drive didn't seem to make any difference. Nicely, my
vendor let me return it. Instead, the problem often lies elsewhere -
and is less expensive to fix. But it still requires opening the case.
had earlier replaced a battery on another iPod; the replacement battery
(from Newer Technology) included instructions for opening the iPod case
and a couple of nylon tools to pry the case open without scratching it.
I've never been able to make the nylon tools work for me. Instead, a
small slot-head screwdriver works, though I have to admit to leaving a
few scratches on the chrome. I've had the best results starting on the
side to the right of the display panel, and with one hand squeezing the
top and bottom while trying to slip the screwdriver between the plastic
and the metal shell.
||Once you've got the screwdriver in at one
point, you can move it around
the case, gradually prying it open (as in these illustrations from
Newer Technology's battery replacement manual).
Once you pry the case open, gently turn everything face down; you'll
see the iPod's hard drive in the plastic shell.
can (again gentle and carefully) lift out the hard drive, turning it
upside down. You'll note that there's a wide ribbon cable that plugs
into one end of the hard drive. Check to make sure the connector is
firmly plugged into the drive - but that's not usually the problem.
Look at the other end of the cable, underneath the hard drive.
||There a piece of black tape presumably holding
the other end of the
cable in place. Lift the tape; the end of the cable fits into a
connector. There are no pins plugging into sockets - the cable just
sits, more or less snugly in a connector on the iPod's logic board.
times I've found that just pressing the cable-end in a bit was all it
took to bring the iPod back to life. Then replace the black tape, put
the hard drive back in place, snap the back on again, and you're back
Total time: under five minutes. Cost in materials: zero.
It doesn't always work; when it didn't work on my daughter's iPod, I
brought the iPod to Eric Dressler (firstname.lastname@example.org
a local freelance iPod repairperson. He did the same thing I had tried,
but completely removed the cable and reinserted it in the connector.
His touch was better than mine, and the iPod has worked ever since.
A loose connector. Or given the number of people I've run into with the
same problem, a plague of loose connectors.
According to Dressler, "I see a lot of iPods that I have to reseat or
replace the cable. I am unsure if this is a 'product flaw' or if this
problem is happening mainly due to people dropping their iPods."
He adds, "The black tape inside does not really do all that much, I
think it is meant to hold down the arm that holds the cable down, but
usually the arm is not raised when I open the iPod. In fact, the cable
even looks as if it is seated properly.
"I honestly find Apple's repair strategy on these to be comical, as I
work for an Apple service provider as well and am a fully certified
tech. I think Apple has really dropped the ball on any warranty issues
customers have. This is a common problem, but at least nothing actually
fails inside of the iPod when this happens"
He warns, however, "iPods are very sensitive devices. I see a lot of
people who attempt to repair their iPod or replace a battery only to
damage it. I do not recommend opening the iPod if you are not familiar
with taking small sensitive stuff like this apart. I worry that a lot
of people may try to repair their iPod themselves and damage them."
Has your iPod failed to start up? It could be a minor and easily
correctable problem as a loose connector.
And Apple may not be much help if you have this sort of problem.