iPod Classic: Dealing with Sync Problems

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve become a regular reader of the iPod Classic support forum. I’ve also posted in the past some of my observations from reading that forum (which have been updated since they appeared on LiveJournal). With this post, I’d like to discuss one specific problem that seems quite common: people connect up their iPod Classic, and then iTunes report that it is corrupted and needs to be restored.  The occurance of this problem seems to have increased with iTunes 10.5, so my guess is that it is related to iTunes 10.5. Will Apple fix it? Unknown, as they don’t a lot of interest in the older iPod Classic.

What Appears To Cause the Problem. From reading lots and lots of posts and responses on this, it looks like the basic cause (not the specific culprit) is a timing issue. Basically, iTunes is expecting to talk to the iPod at a particular speed (probably the speed of the newer iOS devices based on the iPhone approach), and the older classics can’t keep up. This results in a corrupted file system. The culprit is harder to pinpoint, although there are a number of potentials:

  • Low power USB ports
  • Slow USB ports
  • Insufficient memory (iTunes is a memory pig)
  • Slower and older processors
  • Conflicts with USB hubs

Fixing the Problem. The variety of culprits makes it harder to fix the problem.  The first thing to be done is to ensure a strong and reliable connection to the iPod. If you have a Macbook, reported the rear USB port is on an internal hub and has lower power, so only plug the iPod into the front USB port. In general, you should avoid USB hubs if you can; if you must use one, make sure it is (a) powered, and (b) uses the newest fastest standard. I’d also try to avoid conflicting traffic on the hub.

Let’s assume now you have a good connection. From hereon, I’m going to be PC specific, simply because I don’t know the MAC. This post by Bilbo_Chesire on the forums describes how to check the disk from Windows.  You may want to run disk diagnostics on the iPod to confirm there isn’t a harddisk failure starting. More info can be found here, here, and here.

If you’ve just been disconnecting the iPod without formally ejecting it in iTunes, it could just have a Windows bit set wrong. This could result in Windows asking you to “Scan and Fix” the iPod. Here’s what to do if you get that message.

For some of this, you may need to put the iPod into Disk Mode. To do that,first turning it on then toggle the hold switch an then hold down the center and menu buttons. As soon as you see the Apple logo, hold down the center and play buttons. This should get you to disk mode. You may have to try this several times before it takes.  The Apple Support article on disk mode may be found here.

If the file system is really corrupted. this post explains how to erase and reformat it. Avoid that if you can.

By now, hopefully we’ve made sure the iPod itself is not the problem, and the connection is not the problem. Now to iTunes itself. Ask yourself: Was the product working with a previous version of iTunes? If it was you want to go back to that version.

Before you do any mucking with iTunes, make a copy of your iTunes library. Go to your music/iTunes directory, and make copy of the directory. Call it something like “safe.iTunes”. This way, if you need to recover your files or your music, you’ve got it. Better safe than sorry. (You should be backing up this directory regularly). BTW: If you don’t understand how your iTunes library is structured and how to back it up, then you should read The Complete Guide to Backing Up Your iTunes Library over at iLounge. This will tell you what all the files are and how to back things up. Go and read it now, I’ll wait….

Next you want to download an install file for an older version of iTunes. If you use Windows, you can try visiting the oldapps page for iTunes (they have both x32 and x64 versions). Oldapps doesn’t appear to have old Mac versions; I haven’t found them yet (if you have, let me know in the comments and I’ll update this post). Alternatively, you can visit the Apple Knowledgebase Search function, search for your version, and then restrict the search to “iTunes” and “Downloads”. For example, doing so I found the link to download iTunes 10.4.1 for Windows (64 bit).

Before you attempt to reinstall iTunes, you want to completely remove the old software. This is more than just uninstalling iTunes; you need to uninstall Apple Media Drivers, Quicktime, Bonjour, and such. After you’ve backed up your directory, follow these instructions from Apple. It probably wouldn’t hurt to have a complete backup of your music files as well, but I’m sure you do that already.

Note: Changes are made to the iTunes library between 10.4 and 10.5. This manifests itself as the error “Impossible to read iTunes Library because it was created with a earlier version of iTunes”. If you didn’t backup your library, you may need to recover a compatible version. If you look in your music/iTunes directory, there should be a subdirectory called “Previous iTunes Libraries”. The process is sorta-described in this Apple post or in this TechnicallyEasy post. You may be able to find a suitable archive copy of your iTunes library in that directory. After you’ve made the backup and reinstalled iTunes, but before you reconnect your iPod, copy the appropriate archive version into the the new music/iTunes directory and rename things appropriately. Start up iTunes and see if your library is there.

With the new iTunes, make sure your library is visible and works independently of the iPod. Reauthorize things as necessary. When you connect the iPod, restoring it if necessary, it is time to reload the iPod. Before you do, turn off automatic syncing. It is better not to load the entire iPod at once, especially if you have a large media library (for example, I’ve got almost 28,000 songs at present). Here is some advice on how to break up a transfer.

(3/13) Even after downgrading, the iPod may still not be recognized by iTunes. This discussion chain on the Apple Support Forum presents a possible solution to that problem.
I’ll be doing some other summary posts on other common questions. If you have any corrections to this, I welcome comments. Expect this post to be regularly updated.

Music [2/25 5:09p]: Aspects of Love (Original London Cast): Love Changes Everything
Music [2/26 3:14p]: Don’t Cry Now (Linda Ronstadt): The Fast One
Music [3/2]: Dark Side of the Moon (Pink Floyd): Money
Music [3/13]: The Best of Friends (Loggins & Messina): Be Free


7 Replies to “iPod Classic: Dealing with Sync Problems”

  1. i found and downloaded the 32 bit older itunes, but when i try opening it, it says the file “iTunes Library.itl” cannot be read because it was created by a newer version of iTunes.

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