AV500E SSD upgrade accomplished
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Author:  piecutter [ Fri May 17, 2013 5:45 am ]
Post subject:  AV500E SSD upgrade accomplished

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?

Author:  fredc [ Sat May 18, 2013 11:06 am ]
Post subject:  Re: AV500E SSD upgrade accomplished

Very interesting, congratulations!

I take it the 500E did not have the locked drives - or you are on an early firmware?

Unfortunately you can't swap drives on late firmware 500s without changing the drive internal serial number. I upgraded from an original 100G drive to a 160G drive (to use the max 137GB avaialble) some years ago using these people ... hop_param=

I also have a gmini400, and years ago bought the 30G version of the 1.8in drive in that and upgraded because the 400 series was not locked to the drive. I also got a 1.8 toshiba to compact flash adaptor, intending one day to replace the drive with a 32G or 64G compact flash card (there should be enough room) but have not got around to it yet because it still works fine - you can still get batteries to fit.


Author:  fredc [ Sat May 18, 2013 11:13 am ]
Post subject:  Re: AV500E SSD upgrade accomplished


I use this little program to format fat32 greater than the 32G windows allows, very simple with a couple of dos commands. ... format.htm

or even simpler from windows ... format.htm


Author:  piecutter [ Sat May 18, 2013 2:23 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: AV500E SSD upgrade accomplished

Actually, my unit has the last firmware update that was posted for it. I wasn't worried too much about the locked drive issue because I figured I'd use the SSD in another project if it came to be a problem. I think I would've done this a long time ago if it were not for all the talk about the issue. But no one ever posted anything about trying it with an E model. As far as I can tell there is no hardware difference, only graphics and software that lets it interface with a Dish DVR. Anyway, it'll be nice to see if anyone else gets a little joy out of this.

Author:  fredc [ Sat May 18, 2013 7:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: AV500E SSD upgrade accomplished

Hi, there must be a difference with the E models then. I too have never seen an E upgrade discussed. I tried my 100G 500 with 2 different drives, with firmware back to lower levels but it did not work, so I could not take firmware back far enough by the look of it because of their lock on past firmwares. So the only way out was to buy a special drive with the internal pcb flash serial changed to the same as my original drive.

Author:  piecutter [ Sat May 18, 2013 9:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: AV500E SSD upgrade accomplished

What did it do when you booted up? Did you attempt to format it through the USB cable?

Author:  fredc [ Sat May 18, 2013 10:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: AV500E SSD upgrade accomplished

Naturally yes. It would not fully boot up. There's been tons of discussion and experiments on the locked drives over the years. Up until the 400 series there never was a problem. Then Archos wanted to stop people buying 40G models and turning them into 100G models so came up with the software lock out.

Author:  piecutter [ Sun May 19, 2013 4:00 am ]
Post subject:  Re: AV500E SSD upgrade accomplished

It's kind of odd that the PocketDish model wouldn't have had the same limitation. It seemed to get firmware updates on the heels of the regular model updates after all. I do know, however, the firmware downgrade trick as well as the MediOs boot hack never worked on mine, so there was something intrinsically different about the firmware other than the Dish DVR interface. Perhaps it was something to do with the product support going through Dish instead of Archos directly.
Anyway, it's a shame they went in the direction they did. The AV500 and especially the PMA400 were ahead of the curve when they first came out. Had they been more of a familiar household name at the time and the company more engageing with the hardware hacking community I can't imagine where we'd be right now. One has only to look at examples like the Western Digital WDTV HD where the company actively pursued letting the public show them what they wanted it to be and didn't try to lock things up. They even openly coresponded on the user created hacking forums and helped out to an extent which led them to produce several more advanced models based on the hacks that were created by the users. Or the Microsoft Kinect which would have been just another game system peripheral instead of a ubiquitous part of every robot vision or motion tracking project that's come down the pipes since it was introduced had they made the decision to lock up the firmware. Personally, I'm hoping these are examples of the future of product development. The general public will buy what's popular and not hack. The early adopting hackers are what can make the product popular in the first place. This is a powerful business model, taking advantage of free research by vastly more imaginitive developers than the company could possibly find on their own. Not only free, but the devs had to pay up to buy the product in the first place!

Author:  fredc [ Sun May 19, 2013 11:25 am ]
Post subject:  Re: AV500E SSD upgrade accomplished

Hi, I agree with everything you said. I tried all the firmware downgrades on the 500, but once you had gone past a middle one (can't remember the numbers), they locked you out of going further back to where the drive could be changed, and you were stuffed. Still buying 160G from my previous link was not really more expensive than buying a reliable make 160 elsewhere so I did not begrudge it for the ability to have all my music and plenty of good quality movies on holiday.
But I think Archos turned off a lot of customers with that locked drive decision and the increasingly rapid turn around of products and lack of bug fixes for old products after a relatively short time (and replacement batteries!). When they gave up on the video recording feature that was the last straw for me. Now there isn't really a reason to buy their product over anyone else's.

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