Renew Your Old iPod Nano With Some Software Mods [How-To]

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The main menu of Rockbox.
The main menu of Rockbox.

Have an old iPod Nano? Want to spruce up its interface and software a bit? You’re in luck! This post is going to tell you how to really Pimp Your Pod! It’s rather straightfoward, and shouldn’t take more than 10-15 minutes to complete from start to finish. Please be aware that the iPodWizard portion is using software that’s Windows only, so you should get that virtual machine or Boot Camp install cookin’ for a little while. Read the rest of the post for more information.

Note: The iPod Nano that I used for this tutorial is the first generation 1GB iPod Nano running firmware 1.3.1 and is formatted for use on Windows machines. If your iPod is formatted for use on a Mac, then you’re most likely going to run into issues with iPodWizard recognizing it. BUT, if all you’d like is Rockbox and iPodLoader, then go to step 4.

What We’ll Be Doing

So, what exactly will you be doing? First, we’ll be sprucing up the iPod OS by applying a really slick and completely custom theme. It replaces your main menu with a nice dock (as found in Mac OS X). It also adds a wallpaper (also found in Mac OS X 10.5). And finally, it changes the overall layout of your Now Playing screen.

Next, we’ll be installing Rockbox, which is pretty much an automated installation process via the Rockbox Utility. What Rockbox is is an open-source operating system for portable media players (which has also been made into a stand-alone Android application). It can do all sorts of things, such as play MPEG-4 videos, play games (such as Doom and various GameBoy ROMs), run applications (calculator, metronome, etc), and a lot more. While you’re at the Rockbox Utility, you can use it to install themes, Doom, and other goodies.

And finally, we’ll be installing a custom bootloader that will easily let you boot between the iPod OS and Rockbox. It’ll also include some extra options, such as doing into disk mode and completely shutting down your iPod.

Download

I’ve went ahead and put all of the files that’s needed for all of this into a single 22MB~ .ZIP file. You can download it directly here.

1. iPod OS

First, the iPod OS! For this, we’ll be using iPodWizard, a simple application for Windows that allows you to make down-and-dirty tweaks to the firmware, such as replacing the images, editing layouts and strings, and more.

Make sure your iPod Nano 1G is plugged into your computer, and open up iPodWizard. In the “Edit Mode” drop-down, choose “Firmware File”. In the “Open” dialog box, click on the downloaded “V-Hack_2_icon_size” file, and click on open.

Next, click on the “Write to iPod” button. In the “Warning” dialog box, click on the “Yes” button. iPodWizard will then copy this custom firmware file onto your iPod Nano. When it’s completed, simply click on the “Eject” button under the “iPodWizard Essentials” area, and your iPod will reboot. Once it’s finished booting up, you’ll instantly see your new Leopard-ish iPod theme.

2. Rockbox

Installing Rockbox is a very simple process. We’re not going to be using the “Complete Installation”, though. Instead, we’ll be going to the “Installation” tab and using the “Install Rockbox” button.

It’s recommended to stick with the “Rockbox stable” version of Rockbox. Backup before installing isn’t necessary, but feel free to check that option if it makes you feel better.

Once you’re done installing Rockbox, you can then go to the “Extras” tab so that you can install cool themes, fonts, and various files to make Doom work.

3. iPodLoader2

The final thing that we’ll be installing is a custom bootloader called “iPod Loader” version 2.6. As mentioned above, it will allow you to boot into multiple operating systems. The background colors, text labels, and background beep noises, are all customizable. This is probably the most difficult element to install, but as long as you run the proper command, you’ll be fine.

Fire up the Command Prompt as an administrator. You’ll basically be cd-ing into the Nano_Mods folder (that you have downloaded), and running a simple command:

ipodpatcher.exe -ab loader.bin

It will then install iPodLoader to your device. After it’s complete, eject your iPod, and you’ll see the loader as soon as your iPod turns on. To change the colors, simply create a blank file (using Notepad) called “loader.cfg”, and copy & paste the following into it:

# iPodLoader 2.6 config file

backlight = 1

timeout = 0

default = 1

# colors

bg_color = (255,0,0)

hilight_color = (0,174,255)

bg_gradient = 1

# here come the menu choices:

iPod OS @ ramimg

Rockbox @ [win]/.rockbox/rockbox.ipod

Disk Mode @ diskmode

Reboot @ reboot

Power Off @ standby

Save the file, and copy it to the root of your iPod Nano. When you get back into the loader, it should look exactly like you see it in the picture above.

4. Mac OS X Only

If you really don’t want to use Windows for the iPodWizard portion (which themes the iPod OS), then you can still use Mac OS X to install Rockbox and the iPodLoader.

For Rockbox, simply download the latest build from here. After that, extract all of the files to the root of your iPod Nano (just drag the .rockbox folder into your iPod Nano on your desktop or through Finder). You’ll then need a custom bootloader so that you can actually boot Rockbox.

For the iPodLoader, download this, and follow portion 3 above. But, instead of using ipodpatcher.exe in the Command Prompt, use ipodpatcher from Terminal. You can download just the loader.bin file here.The command should look like this:

ipodpatcher -ab loader.bin

Make sure your cd into the directory that has both ipodpatcher and loader.bin.

Conclusion

So there you go! You’ve now customized that old iPod of yours into something slightly more recent. If you have any questions, feel free to leave them below and I’ll try to answer whatever I can.

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