Rev Up Your iPod with Rockbox
Compatible with: All iPods
Years in the making, open-source firmware Rockbox turns your iPod into a tweakable, customisable audio powerhouse for creating on-the-fly playlists, normalising track volume, and playing just about any audio file on the planet (including FLAC, Ogg Vorbis, and unprotected WMA). It comes with a five-band equaliser, custom fonts and themes, a real-time clock, and tons of iPod-compatible games and applications. In addition, you can choose from a huge library of plug-ins, including everything from a battery benchmark to a chess game to a Matrix-style screen saver.
Before you install Rockbox, which can be a tricky operation, bear in mind that the program's cool new features come at a price: At least temporarily, you trade in the iPod's friendly, straightforward interface for one that's noticeably Linux-like in appearance and function. Navigating the Rockbox interface is a little awkward at first, and it doesn't recognise songs, videos, or audiobooks purchased from iTunes. Furthermore, the Rockbox support forums contain the occasional scary post declaring "Rockbox ruined my iPod!" In our tests, however, Rockbox proved to be a fun and easily reversible modification.
Start by grabbing the manual for your specific iPod model. We'll assume here that you have a fifth-generation iPod Video and a Windows PC. Download and unzip the latest stable build of the Rockbox Utility, connect your iPod (making sure that it's enabled for disk use), select its drive letter, and then run the Complete Installation from the Quick Start tab. Follow the prompts until you've selected and installed some themes, at which point the utility will appear to stop working. No worries: It's just Rockbox's way of telling you that the installation is (almost) complete.
Your final preliminary task is to install the Rockbox bootloader, by way of a small utility called iPodPatcher. After running it, your iPod should reboot itself and fire up the Rockbox firmware. If that doesn't happen, reboot it yourself by holding down the Menu and Select buttons simultaneously for a few seconds.
Rockbox doesn't permanently alter your iPod. To revert to the original firmware, simply reset the player and immediately flip the Hold switch. (You can reset most iPod models by holding down the Menu button and the center Select button for a few seconds.) After it boots back to the Apple firmware, slide the Hold switch back again and use the iPod as you normally would.