Really Testing iPod Hard Drives

Published on April 5, 2006

If you’ve worked inside an iPod before or were simply curious how the little white devices work, you’re already aware of the smaller than usual hard drives used to store your music, videos, and other media. What you may not know is how to determine if one of these hard drives is functioning 100%, or on its last legs. Damage to the hard drive can result from any of a number of ways, but may not be immediately apparent.

All iPods except the Shuffle have a hidden diagnostic menu which includes, among other tools, the ability to run a full disk scan and report the status of the its hard drive.

The absolute best way I’ve found to test iPod hard drives is to actually open it up, attach the drive to a desktop computer using it’s native IDE interface, and run a full suite of disk tests on it. A while ago, I mentioned an adapter from Addonics which converts the iPod’s 1.8″ connector (seen here) to a standard 2.5″ laptop drive connector. (Several people commented on my iPod Super hack that any old laptop to desktop hard drive adapter will do, but the iPod does not use a standard laptop drive). From there, a second adapter will bring your iPod drive in line with a regular 3.5″ computer hard drive connector, ready for testing.

Once everything is hooked up, the assembly looks like a serious hack, but there’s no trickery involved other than the changing of connector sizes. The iPod’s drive is pin-for-pin and signal compatible with the hard drive in your computer right now, and is easily recognized like any other hard drive. At this point, you can run any disk scan on it you prefer. Personally, I swear by Hitachi’s Drive Fitness Test, which can be easily run as part of the Ultimate Boot CD (PC required; sorry Mac-only buddies!). DFT will run a quick interface test, a S.M.A.R.T. report, and then do a lengthy surface scan for bad sectors and other errors which could mangle your music or cause your iPod to fail at startup. I’ve tested dozens upon dozens of iPod and desktop drives with DFT, and I’ve never had a single false positive report. As such, DFT is my gold standard for all iPod, laptop, desktop, and SCSI hard drive tests. Best of all, it finishes with a concise and colorful status screen — green is good, red is bad.

With some fundamental technical skills, a couple of adapters, and some free software, you too can easily determine the health of your iPod’s hard drive… IF you’re willing to void its warranty by opening the case. However, if your iPod is already out of warranty and having issues, this procedure will put an end to questions about the most expensive part of your favorite music player.