Dec 222009

So in the interests of science (ok, I wanted a new toy with a large amount of storage for music), I bought a pre-upgraded iPod 5.5 with a 240Gbyte hard disk in it. Loaded up Rockbox as soon as it arrived with the special version for upgraded iPods and everything was working …

Well … sort of. I could copy most of my music onto it, but nothing with a filename that broke the rules of pure FAT … no long extensions (so no FLAC files!!), no UTF-8 filenames (and “f#a#oo” isn’t quite a catchy a name as “f♯a♯∞”). So I rebuild the filesystem with the standard Linux tool mkfs.vfat

Bad move! Whilst all the files now copied onto the iPod, the Rockbox bootloader was now unable to load the main rockbox binary (“rockbox.ipod”). Seems that Rockbox’s idea of FAT32 on large disks isn’t quite the same as Linux’s version (or to be fair OSX either). So I spend ages hunting around to see how to create an appropriate filesystem on the iPod to allow things to work, without success.

Thus this page.

First of all, connect up the iPod and determine what device it is (mine showed up as /dev/sdh). The command fdisk -l is quite helpful here particularly as we use that next.

Once you find the iPod’s device, use that to display the partition table using fdisk :-

# fdisk /dev/sdh
# fdisk /dev/sdh
Note: sector size is 2048 (not 512)

The number of cylinders for this disk is set to 22506.
There is nothing wrong with that, but this is larger than 1024,
and could in certain setups cause problems with:
1) software that runs at boot time (e.g., old versions of LILO)
2) booting and partitioning software from other OSs
 (e.g., DOS FDISK, OS/2 FDISK)

Command (m for help): p

Disk /dev/sdh: 240.1 GB, 240057409536 bytes
84 heads, 62 sectors/track, 22506 cylinders
Units = cylinders of 5208 * 2048 = 10665984 bytes
Disk identifier: 0x20202020

 Device Boot      Start         End      Blocks   Id  System
/dev/sdh1               1          13      128394    0  Empty
Partition 1 does not end on cylinder boundary.
/dev/sdh2              13       22507   234302542    b  W95 FAT32

Command (m for help): q

Here we use the “p” command to list the partition table, and “q” to quit. The key bit of information we are looking for are the number of cylinders, heads and sectors per track (22506, 84, 62). For the number of cylinders, we need to subtract the number of cylinders used by the first partition … or perhaps easier the value of the cylinder that the second partition starts on (13). This gives the values we use for mformat to format the filesystem.

Next we need to create a “drive letter” (!! – why doesn’t mtools allow you to specify a device to work with in the proper Unix fashion?) by editing /etc/mtools.conf and adding a line at the end like “drive z: file=”/dev/sdh2″”.

Finally we need to use mformat to create the filesystem :-

mformat -t 22493 -h 84 -n 62 -S 4 -M 2048 -F -v FATBOX -N deadcafe z:

The “-v” and “-N” options are unnecessary, but at least the “-v” option is kind of handy to allow the iPod to be automatically mounted in an appropriate place. And I usually take every opportunity to assign some funky hex value 🙂

Sep 212007

Well this is not so much a letter as just a rant because I’m very doubtful that anyone from Apple never mind Steve Jobs is likely to read this. But it is good to get a good rant off your chest and out there (which basically explains this whole site … it is not for you … it is for me). Especially after a few glasses of port!

I currently own an iPod video and have been thinking about buying a Macbook, but I have been doing some rethinking after the announcment of the iPod Classic. It seems that Apple have encrypted the iPod Classic firmware again (the Nano 2g firmware is also encrypted) and have added a hash to iTunes just to make things a little more difficult for those who like to do “unusual” things with their iPods.

I am a Rockbox user (I haven’t even used the normal firmware on my iPod except when I’ve booted it by mistake) mostly because most of my CDs have been encoded in OGG format and I really did not want to re-encode them in any other format because of how long it would take. So Apple have made money out of me because I purchased an iPod; I’m beginning to regret that because Apple seems to be determined to be the kind of business that I don’t want to fund.

First of all there is the encryption of the firmware. I am sure that Apple is aware that hackers have produced not only alternative firmwares but also a utility to patch the default firmware to make interesting changes. So why the encryption ? Obviously to make things difficult for the hackers. In some situations smaller companies may be forced to do something similar because larger companies want to “protect their intellectual property rights”, but Apple is in a dominant position in the portable music player music market … they are the ones who will be dictating the contract terms.

Secondly Apple changed iTunes in an attempt to lock out other music managers. The fact that this protection has been hacked and is no longer a problem is irrelevant … Apple showed their colours by making it difficult to use anything other than iTunes.

A few years ago when it was trendy, Apple embraced the open source model by releasing some of their operating system as open source. Despite apparently trying to improve their operating system by incorporating a open source filesystem (ZFS), they seem to be rapidly retreating from this position. Or at least giving the appearance of doing so. So perhaps their earlier embracement of open source was just a marketing move … something you might expect from Microsoft.

Apple is giving the impression of trying to become a company as user-hostile as Microsoft.

Sep 092007

Rather than look at what is right about the new iPod Touch as everyone else seems to be doing, what about looking at what is wrong with the new device ? There is apparently plenty to like about it, but there are a few problems. Some of which only apply to certain kinds of possible customer of course.

Where Are The Higher Capacity iTouches ?

8Gbytes and 16Gbytes are quite large for a flash-based device, but this is Apple’s flagship media player … compare the price with the iPod classic! So what options are there for something a bit more usable for those who like to carry all (or nearly all) of their music with them ? Obviously making a 32Gb or 128Gb model would require more flash chips than the single-chip based iTouch, and would cost a bit more. But why not give consumers the choice ?

Several years ago I said that the lowest capacity flash-player I would be interested in would be 32Gbytes or more. With an appropriate choice of encoding format I could still fit my full CD collection into a 32Gbyte player; not much chance of getting it into a 16Gbyte player!

What About SDHC Slot(s) ?

Apple seems to concentrate on the market segment who replaces their media player every couple of years, and their products show this … no easily replaceable battery, and no expandable storage. Now there are plenty of people who will buy new iPods as soon as they are announced, but there are also plenty of people who are more inclined to buy a player and stick with it until it breaks. This includes the poor who cannot afford to replace their player every two years.

Adding a bit of ‘future proofing’ to the iTouch is hardly going to stop the gadget freaks from replacing their player regularly, but will make things a bit better for those who do not (or cannot). Why not have a screw fastened case that allows the user to get at 2-4 SDHC slots (perhaps one or two already filled with the standard flash memory) so that they can grow the player themselves ?

Where Are The Audio Codecs?

Apple’s firmware for the iPods (and presumably iTouches) supports a very limited set of audio codecs; just compare with the list of codecs supported by Rockbox (an opensource firmware that runs on many Apple iPod players and many others as well). If a bunch of hackers working part-time can produce software that can support so many audio codecs, why can’t Apple?

Most people do not care (or even know) about audio codecs, but some do. As an example, I usually use the OGG format which is widely believed by audiophiles to offer the best quality at the lowest bitrate. In non-geek terms, that means I can fit more tracks on my iBox (a rockboxed-ipod) without compromising on quality. If I were to switch to an iTouch I would have to re-encode all my audio files to MP3 (or AAC) which would take an age and I would be able to fit even less on the player.

Jun 212007

I have been stimulated into writing this by a slashdot article (not worth linking to) where people were arguing about the merits of installing Rockbox onto a compatible audio player … such as the iPod. Some people seem to think that replacing the standard iPod software is heresy!!

Or at the very least are complaining that Rockbox does not work the same way as the standard firmware.

I am in a somewhat odd situation … I bought an iPod after I was aware that Rockbox supported the iPod (and specifically avoided the 80Gb Ipod as it wasn’t supported at the time) to replace a rockboxed iRiver iHP100 (more commonly known as an iHP110) that was suffering from a lack of battery “oomph” (and yes I had tried replacing the battery). I spent probably just a couple of minutes in the native firmware before switching to the Rockbox firmware because I did not want to re-encode several thousand OGG-encoded tracks.

Now obviously I cannot criticise Apple’s interface or functionality on the iPod because I have not really used it.

However I can say that the Rockbox firmware is a perfectly adequate interface to run on an iPod and is getting better every week. Some of the features the Rockbox has include :-

  • Multi-codec support to play MP3, OGG, FLAC, AAC, WAV, … encoded files. I haven’t pulled down the full list but you really cannot get an audio player offering more codec support on a portable device. Not everyone needs this of course, but it is nice to have the choice.
  • The default Rockbox interface is kind of ropy on the iPod, but it is “themable” and some of the themes are pretty good … just have a look at the Rockbox Themes website (I have linked to the iPod Video themes)
  • Numerous “plugins” for playing games, displaying photos and other miscellaneous things. I must admit I don’t use them too much, but being able to play Jewel whilst bored waiting somewhere does come in useful.
  • The standard mass storage method of storing audio tracks in a way that can be easily accessed outside of iTunes does mean it is easier to copy some tracks to another computer easily. Of course I mean the freely distributable tracks!

Rockbox does have some disadvantages … the battery life is relatively poor compared with the native firmware (but very much better than an iHP100 with a tired battery!), and if you have a lot of investment in iTunes you will suffer from the lack of support (although the Rockbox database will track down files stored on the iPod whether they were put there by iTunes or just copied).

The most sensible advice for an iPod user thinking about making the switch is just to try it out. You may like it or you may not, but you don’t have anything to lose as you can always go back to the standard firmware. In fact as you can easily switch from one to the other, you can try out Rockbox gradually over time … go back to the native firmware when you are lost, and go back when you are feeling adventurous.

Another advantage that the existent Rockbox provides, that many people miss is that it may just put some pressure on Apple to improve their native firmware. If Apple notices that many of their iPod customers install Rockbox, they may be inclined to take a look themselves and start implementing features in their native firmware to “keep” their customers … surely something that would be good for all iPod owners.

Feb 222007

I have “released” my simple shell script to keep a Rockboxed device in sync with a local filesystem copy. There are plenty of better ways to manage your media player, but this is mine. It :-

  1. Tries to upload a scrobbler.log to your account using someone else’s script.
  2. Copies several files from the mounted device to the filesystem copy (various settings files)
  3. Uses Rsync to update the copy on the mounted device.

No deep magic here, but it may be useful as a starting point for others.

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