Still loving my AV500E after all these years and it still works reliably and well, but I just didn't have any hack projects going on for a while, so I decided it was time to dive in and go for a little upgrade. It's pretty much just my daily MP3 that I plug into the car or into my homebuilt portable(sort of) sound system when I'm grilling on the deck. It also serves as a media server for the kids LCD screens in the car when we're on long trips. But at 30 gigs and having kids with ever changing taste in what they want to watch, I always find myself doing a mad last minute dash to transfer some video files before a trip. So I decided to upgrade the hard drive.
I've seen the upgrades useing a 160 gig drive, but I wanted something better. I decided to put in a 128 gig SSD. Maximum volume without any waste (LBA limit), lower power use, faster response and no moving parts makes it super shock proof! It didn't take me long to find one in a 1.8" format with a zif connector that was within a few mm of the correct size, so I went ahead and ordered it up. When it arrived I went ahead and disassemble the unit and took out the HDD for comparison. The zif connector was centered instead of offset like the original, but the ribbon that came with it was long enough that I could fold it in a "W" at a slight angle and get it to line up. Since the SSD was slimmer than the HDD there was plenty of room under it for the folded ribbon to fit. The length of the chassis, however, was an issue. In order to make it fit I had to first remove some of the material inside the bay at the corners where the mount screws go. Pretty much all of the extra plastic around the mounts had to go until it was flush with the rest of the interior. This was done slowly and carefully with an Exacto blade. But the SSD was still a hair to long. Fortunately, after removing the cover on the SSD I found that it's aluminum body had enough thickness that I could remove quite a bit without compromising the drive itself. Unfortunately the board was permanently bonded to the aluminum, so power tools were out of the question. I ended up just using a hand file and it didn't take long to shave of enough length til it fit snugly inside the bay. Next was the mounting screw issue. The original HDD had threaded holes at the corners which accepted the screws when you fastened the back cover on, making it, in effect, part of the chassis. The SSD had none. And since it was slimmer than the original, there was no way I could tap holes as big as the original screws. Fortunately, being a proper hardware hacker means that I'm a bit of a packrat. Without even leaving my seat, I reached over and grabbed an assortment of tiny screws that had been scavenged (along with many other interesting bits) from broken cameras. Finding a set of four that were small enough and one for the battery compartment screw was done in a matter of minutes. I put the drive in the bay and used the holes in the chassis to mark there positions with a scribe. Using a Dremel tool I drilled the holes with the lid off the drive to make sure I didn't go into the board. I then took another screw of the same diameter and using a very fine diamond cutting disc on the Dremel, I cut a slot on each side of the shank of the tiny screw, making it into an ad hoc tap of the correct size for my screws! It worked perfectly, cutting threads into the holes that the screws firmly engaged. All of this completed the physical modification.
Next came the tricky part. I put it all together, plugged it in and turned it on. The splash screen came up and then the expected "disc read error". I selected the format utility which appeared in the lower right corner and watched as the progress bar reported it's work. Disappointment followed as it again showed "disc read error". After trying this a couple of times I decided to plug in the USB cable and see what I could from Windows. It did indeed recognize the drive, but only as "0 bytes" raw format. Never having had to format a FAT32 volume from XP I foolishly right clicked and selected "format" only to find the single choice of NTFS. Recalling my Win2k days (Win98, Win95, DOS 3.1 etc.), I instinctively opened a command prompt and was happy to find I could still use the format command for FAT32 there. It happily chugged along in all it's white text on black field glory and completed it's task only to leave me with the message "THIS VOLUME IS TO LARGE FOR FAT32". Ok. This is going to take some digging in the old software disc bin and some trial and error. I rolled up my sleeves and proceeded to blow the dust off of CDs and floppies. Seagate, Maxtor, WD. I gathered up all the disc utilities I had accumulated over the years and started examining each for it's features but none seemed able to accomplish anything over USB. Then, I found something obscure. "Verbatim SmartDisk FAT32 tool" (you can still find it downloadable). I loaded it up, didn't even need to select the drive. It was already chosen. I clicked "Format Drive" and within seconds it's progress bar sweeped across the field and it finished with no error messages. I unplugged the USB cable and watched as the "Updating Arclibrary" message displayed. I was soon greeted with the original default themed Archos menu that I first (and last) saw back in 2005. I quickly thumbed over to the "System" menu and there it was. The full 128 gigs. Hallelujah. It was late and I had to work the next day but I just couldn't help myself. I loaded up the image I had saved from the old drive and proceeded to load it up with even more media.
Is it much better? Of course! Bootup doesn't seem much different, but navigating is much snappier. Music files switch tracks much quicker. I let it play music all day with the screen saver at 10 seconds, just checking the display for battery power occasionally, and after 12 hours it still hadn't reached red before I got tired of it and turned it off. This is the original battery, mind you. Video played about 6 hours before it died.
I also had an AV420 that I gave to my wife when I got this one, so I went ahead and got a 128Gb SSD 1.8" with 40pin IDE and upgraded it as well. Now that one was a drop in replacement! No mods required and the unit formatted it itself. So now we go on trips with 256 gigs ready to play. Plus you can add another CF card in the slot on the AV420 or whatever to the USB on either.
I'm stoked with a hack well done. I always loved the look and feel of the AV500. I never upgraded to the newer units for that and several other reasons. Everything after it seemed plasticky and cheap. And all the inputs and outputs became proprietary and not included in the package. It was a well focused device. It didn't try to be a web surfer or GPS and I didn't want it to be. I have other things for that, and they too, are focused and do there jobs well. I surf the web on my Iphone only as a last resort. It's too small a screen and I find the touch interface annoying and finicky. Tactile buttons are best on something this size. And visually, it has the best metal to screen ratio that I like. Substance.
Wonder if I can get another 8 years out of it? Hell, I've still got a Walkman WM-10, so why not?