Tiny Project: Disk replace in a Palm LifeDrive

This is my first in the class of Tiny Projects. These are small, useful, hints and tips that could be done in the world of electronics. This mean that these projects aren't full ones with PCB designs, large schematics and fancy cases. Instead, this is more like a help for someone else to get information if they want to do something similar.

To the project. The Palm LifeDrive is a rather odd PDA developed by Palm Inc that uses a tiny harddisk for storage. When the PDA was new at the market, this was rather revolutionary as it gave the device a storage space of almost 4 GB (some was used for the operating system). Using flash storage was expensive at that time and most PDA's was using 64 MB at most. Today (2008), flash storage have gone from expensive to cheap thanks to all digital cameras and mp3-players. And here is the nice bit in this story: The harddisk in the LiveDrive is an IBM Microdrive, a Compact Flash sized magnetic/mechanical harddisk. That makes this thing easy to upgrade - just replace the disk with a flash-based Compact Flash of the same size. There is of course an "aber" in this story: the operating system of the LifeDrive is limited to that 4 GB harddisk. It is not just the size, but also the disk structures (heads, cylinders and block sizes). So, not every 4 GB flash card will work either. But the SanDisk Extreme IV works perfectly - and gives the unit a serious boost in performance!

Yes - You read it correctly. Replacing that harddisk with modern flash technology mades wonders to this PDA. The operating system was originally built to run from flash storage (all other Palm PDA's was using flash, but in smaller amounts), making it not so well suited for a harddisk based hardware. Every operation done at the PDA triggers a disk read and with that slow Microdrive, that made the unit rather sluggish to use. Replacing the Microdrive gave the PDA back the flash storage it really needed and so came the speed back too. Additional bonuses with this swap are lower power consumption (the Microdrive was rather power hungry), lower unit temperature (the harddisk got rather hot when running) and some weight loss.

If You like to do the same then just follow the guide at Wikihowto. Just be careful when opening the unit and remember, this will void the warranty! And you will need a T5 Torx and a knife to do it...