Sunday, December 12, 2004

ipods+windows+firewire HOWTO

I just acquired an iPod. It's a great gadget, and I've been using it as TiVo for radio, via Ben Hammersley's fantastic RadioPod application. It took me a bit of effort to get it to work - judging by the volume of comments on the various iPod forums I was surfing, I wasn't the only one with a problem. What follows is a description of what you need to do to get the iPod to work on Windows with firewire; I thought I'd put it up for Google to archive and serve out to others in the future.

Using an iPod on a Mac is trivial (unsurprisingly). Sariel has already described how to get one to talk to Linux. It is surprisingly tricky to get one to work on windows though. The problem is not the operating system; it's that Firewire is much more common on Macs than on PCs. PCs of course have USB 2.0, which by spec is faster than firewire, but in practice is a lot slower. There are also some claims that USB 2.0 hangs on long transfers to an iPod (30 minutes or longer).
Why should I care ? The catch with iPods is that they drain a lot of power when syncing with a computer. You have to make sure the iPod is fully charged before syncing (if you transfer a lot of songs: this is not a problem that I have had yet).

Let's assume for the remainder of this discussion that you have decided (for speed/other reasons) that you want to use firewire to sync with an iPod. Now this is where things get interesting. There are two kinds of firewire cables; the 6 pin kind and the 4-pin kind. The extra 2 pins are power suppliers for the firewire device.

Many PCs come with a 4 pin socket, and so you can't charge the iPod while syncing it (which you can do with the 6 pin socket). The iPod itself (the 4G version at any rate) comes only with a 6 pin cable. At this point, here are the options:
  • You can get a 6-pin to 4-pin converter, and assume that you will not need to recharge.
  • You can get a 6-pin firewire PCMCIA card (for a laptop) or a PCI card (for a desktop)
  • You can give up and go with USB 2.0
The problem with the first option is this: it seems impossible to find a plug that has a female 6 pin end and a 4 pin male end (to fit into the 4 pin socket on the computer). If you're near Fry's in the Bay Area, this would not be a problem, but for me this wasn't an option, and I drew a blank at the places I tried (Radio Shack very huffily informed me: "We don't do firewire").

If you have a desktop, you can manage with option 2. However with a laptop, the PCMCIA card does not provide the power lines you wanted the 6 pin firewire slot for in the first place ! In order to get a powered slot, you need to buy an extra AC adapter, and these are not sold with the cards ! In fact I have yet to figure out how to get one - the forums suggest that you have to buy a generic adapter that can supply power in different modes, and match it to your card. Total cost: $40-$50, depending on the adapter and card. Yechhhh...

As it turns out, there is a solution, and a surprisingly elegant one at that. Newnex sells a little device that has a 4 pin male end (to plug into the computer) and two 6 pin female ends.

All you need now is a regular 6 to 6 firewire cable, which any computer store carries. Connect the iPod cable to one socket of the device, and connect the 6-6 cable to the other socket and to the iPod AC adapter. You're set, at total cost $25 or so.

It took me a long time to figure this out, and this was after I bought my iPod, and was getting very frustrated with the lack of information out there. I hope this will be useful to someone.


  1. Did you try Best Buy? They're no Fry's, but they're everywhere.

  2. actually I did. they didn't have this doohickey...

  3. Perfect!

    This is exactly what I was looking for!


Disqus for The Geomblog