CSi(Pod)

Newly dubbed forensics expert Geoffrey Morrison performs an iPod autopsy.

Whatever you do, no matter what limb or child you have to jeopardize, do not drop your iPod. It's easy to let small, slippery, shiny things loose, but, in this case, bad things will happen.

Why Hard Drives Suck
The hard drive in most products, like your computer or iPod (nano and shuffle excepted), consists of thin, spinning platters shaped kind of like pancakes or pizza dough—but spinning at a few thousand revolutions per minute. These platters are read by something that resembles—and pretty much functions like—a record player's tone arm and needle. This head rides just above the surface of the platter, and it isn't supposed to touch. If you drop the hard drive, you'll likely make that head smack into the platter. Head smacking is bad. Now you've either wrecked that section of the drive (the impact crater, so to speak), or, if you're unlucky enough, you've wrecked the head itself (and therefore that entire platter). It doesn't take much. If your hard drive is spinning, a fall from your pocket to the floor will probably do it. If the hard drive isn't spinning, it will take a bigger fall, but why try it? Just don't drop your iPod.

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Genius
I dropped my iPod. After I received a fourth-generation iPod as a gift last May, I quickly became addicted to the greatness that is the iPod. As someone who owns somewhere between 600 and 700 CDs, having the ability to put most of them all in one place with instant access was a revelation. Accidents, of course, happen. The iPod made it through a few small falls mostly intact. Then, one fateful day, it slid out of my full hands as I was locking my door. It was a fall of about 4 feet, while it was running. It wasn't the same again. Frequent lockups, skipped songs, and an inability to sync to iTunes followed. It's dead, Jim. Sure, I could have sent it to Apple to be fixed or replaced, but, being the curious type, I wanted to see what was inside. That, and I really wanted one of the new video iPods. I know—I'm a geek.

Pry Bar
In theory, you can replace your iPod's battery and hard drive. I won't recommend this, but, if you want to, this autopsy should at least show you how to get to it and where everything is.

The first step is to pry open the case. This isn't that easy, as it's not something Apple wants you to do (duh). You need at least a thin piece of hard plastic or a small screwdriver to squeeze in between the metal back plate and the white plastic front cover. It's a lot easier if you do what I did: use a chisel. Cosmetically, this isn't the best option. As I struggled to get the iPod apart, it kept rebooting, going to the same error screen it's been showing for about a month now, and then rebooting again. It almost seemed like it was crying out for me to stop. "Look, I'm trying...." If that bit of anthropomorphizing doesn't bring a tear to your eye, I don't know what's wrong with you.

I finally got the back and front pieces separated (Figures 1 and 2). There is no glue, just plastic clips. It was at this point, with its insides nearly flayed open, that the iPod started working again. I'm serious. After it hadn't been able to access anything but an unhappy iPod logo for the better part of a month, it started playing. Mozart's Requiem would have been fitting, but instead it played Hootie and the Blowfish. There is something to be made of that, but I'm not sure what. "This won't hurt a bit" went through my mind as I eviscerated the defenseless, playing iPod. To its credit, it went on to the next track.

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Figure 1

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Figure 2

The iPod's back plate holds some of the headphone and control circuitry (left side of Figure 3). On the right side of Figure 3 and in Figure 4, you can see the hard drive. It's surrounded by a bit of rubber, which is most likely there to help with small jolts. Behind the hard drive (Figure 5) is the brains, the main circuit board. This is where it all happens—ROM, RAM, and the processor that gets your MP3s from the hard drive to your ears.

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Figure 3

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Figure 4

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Figure 5

Separating the front plate involves removing six minuscule TORX screws. Then the circuit board and the front plastic shell lift apart (Figure 6) to reveal the monochrome LCD screen (Figure 7). This also provides a good look at the lithium-ion battery (the silver block surrounded with black edging in Figure 7). The click-wheel electronics are located behind the battery, which, now that this poor iPod seemed to be working again, I had no intention of prying off.

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Figure 6

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Figure 7

That's it. Each generation and style of iPod varies slightly in terms of battery and hard-drive sizes and locations, but, for the most part, that's all there is to this amazing device.

Mostly Dead
Surprisingly, the iPod booted right back up after I pieced it back together. I tried to sync it up with iTunes, and, with half disappointment and half relief, it didn't sync—nor would it talk to the computer in hard-drive mode. Without the ability to add or remove songs (and presumably lacking full capacity where the hard drive had been damaged from the fall), this iPod had limited use, and, once again, a limited life. With its friends and relatives looking on, we buried it in a small, private ceremony in the yard in front of the studio.

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Realizing how stupid this was, I dug it back up 2 minutes later. I mean, come on, it's an iPod, and it sort of works. I guess that makes it...undead?

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