iPod Photo Diagnostic Mode revealed | iLounge Article


iPod Photo Diagnostic Mode revealed

For years, iPod tinkerers have known that holding down the correct two sequences of buttons (currently, hold Menu plus central Action button, then Reverse plus Action button) would reset an iPod and then bring up a hidden diagnostic mode. Various tests, including hard disk, screen, and Wheel diagnostics would appear, and the iPod could even be forced into a slave-like disk mode from this menu system.

But the diagnostic menus were written in geek Greek – odd abbreviations that only techies (read: engineers, computer scientists, or trained technicians) would understand. Apple could plausibly blame the iPod’s screen for this, as there just weren’t enough characters per line (using Chicago or the bizarro Asiatic Times-alike font used on the iPod test menus, at least) to display more than a handful of letters for each test. The practical consequence was that few people played with the tests – incidentally a good thing, most likely – and the diagnostic menu became the sort of relatively open secret that someone would charge $19.95 to tell you about in an iPod book.

The iPod Photo’s enhanced screen provided Apple with an easy way to create a far less Byzantine iPod Diagnostic menu, which appears in the photo gallery attached here. At the top of the menu is what appears to be the latest software revision (SRV), of October 8, 2004, which would be only slightly before the date of Apple’s October 20, 2004 iPod Software Updater. Below are seven choices:

Diskmode, and

Diskmode is the same as the aforementioned slave mode from old iPods, and reset just restarts the iPod Photo, bringing up the Apple logo and then its main menu. The top five menu items are the options of most interest.


Includes tests of the iPod’s SDRAM, Flash memory, and IRAM. SDRAM has an option called SDRAM Fulltest which takes a few minutes, indicated by a percentage number at screen’s bottom (picture 11), then displays a screen saying SDRAM OK. MENU cancels this, and many other tests. Flash runs a checksum test of the iPod’s flash memory, verifying through a coded number that its contents (iPod firmware) are as expected. IRAM waits for a while, apparently runs a quick test, then resets the machine.


A deeper menu than Memory, IO has the following options and sub-menus.

Comms is the communication ports menu (picture 3). It includes USBTest (is a USB cable connected?), FireWireTest (is a FireWire cable connected?), and Remote (is an iPod Remote connected? If so, plug it in and you can test the five buttons, otherwise it reports nothing (NG) in the HP (headphone port)).


Wheel presents two options: Keytest (hit all five buttons to end) and Wheeltest (first checks the wheel’s part ID, then gives you a readout of where your finger is on the pad),

LCD also has two options. Backlight tests the iPod’s screen’s backlighting, which defaults at 128 and can be lowered to 0 or raised to 255 – almost twice the default brightness level. Color lets you see the screen display flat colors, gradients, and a checkered pattern. For photos of the color tests visit the iPod Photo Diagnostic Mode gallery.

HeadphoneDetect gives you two options, present and hold. Are headphones connected? Is the hold switch being used?

HardDrive includes four options. HDSpecs presents all details of the HD, from size and serial number to temperature. HDScan performs a full read verify scan of the hard drive, which uses the backlit screen (unlike most tests) for some reason. HDSMARTData presents more hard drive statistics. Finally, HDRW is a read-write disk test, with pass or fail readouts.


Audio presents two options. Playback plays an audio sample and MIC performs a recording test.


A simple menu that either performs tests or puts the iPod to sleep. A submenu called A2DTests leads into multiple options: PhilipsID just checks to see that the power management system is active, while A2D lists a series of test results from other tests listed here (picture 10), namely Battery A2D, VCC, Battery Temp, USBDP and USBDN. These just measure the battery’s current strength and operating characteristics.


Displays the status of four potentially connected systems. LCD is listed as Sharp, the manufacturer of the iPod Photo’s screen. HP indicates whether headphones are connected (0 = no, 1 = yes), while FWPWR and USBPWR say whether power is being transmitted via a cable to the iPod.



Finally, the SysCfg menu lists your iPod Photo’s serial numbers, hardware revision, and Apple part number.

Nothing extraordinary, right? But some people love playing with the diagnostics, especially the screen tests. We sure did.

For more photos visit the iPod Photo Diagnostic Mode gallery.

Jeremy Horwitz is Senior Editor of iLounge and practices intellectual property law in his spare time. His recent book, Law School Insider, has been called the “best book about law school - ever,” and he continues to contribute to Ziff-Davis electronic entertainment magazines.

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Can you set the brightness higher and keep it that way (at the expense of batt life)? Is there any use for that or do colors then wash out?

Posted by Nagromme in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 5, 2004 at 2:40 PM (CST)


whats this “Mic” option you mention? is it like the 6 second recording on 3G ipods, or is it unlimited?

secondly, does it truly sense _where_ you touch the clickwheel, or is it just a left/right movement sensor?

thanks for the details, it’ll be useful for those interested in porting linux (ipodlinux.org)


Posted by peterburk in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 5, 2004 at 2:46 PM (CST)


I am trying the key combinations but it does not come up in diagnostic mode. How is this accomplished exactly. Please give details. Thanks i advance.

Posted by Don Trammell in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 5, 2004 at 4:32 PM (CST)


The brightness setting is, unfortunately, only diagnostic for the moment. Apple wouldn’t want to see complaints over depleted batteries if the screen could go higher, and frankly the iPod Photo’s awesome screen doesn’t need any extra brightness. But if it could go lower, that might actually conserve juice, which would be a good thing.

Mic is just a short mic recording test like the one in earlier iPods. Re: sense, it appears to know where you’re touching. Think of a bicycle wheel with 96 spokes numbered 0 to 95. The test shows that the wheel knows which spoke you’re touching at any moment.

To bring up the screen, hold menu and action down for 4 or 5 seconds together, then when the screen blanks, hold reverse and action down together. Release and you’ll hear a beep.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 5, 2004 at 4:53 PM (CST)


Hello. I forgot to mention that I do not have a iPhoto yet. Missed the Fedex delivery man. :) Anyway, I have a 3Gen iPod. Does it also utilize the same key combinations to enter the diags mode? Thanks in advance.

Posted by Don Trammell in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 5, 2004 at 6:05 PM (CST)


Which button do you refer to as the “action” button? The button in the mddle of the touch wheel? (3g)

I Am Shahid, Who Are You

Posted by Shahid in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 5, 2004 at 6:07 PM (CST)


Re Shahid: the action button is the center button. it’s called action in the key test in te diagnotics mode though.

Re Don: no, the key combinations of click-wheel ipods (inc. minis) and non-click wheels are different. it’s menu and play/pause to reset the older ipods, and then rewind, action and fastforward held altogether to get it into diagnostics mode.

Re Jeremy: Thanks! how long does recording last? and the spoke thing is great - if it’s the same on other click-wheel models, it would mean when linux is ported, a keyboard skin could be made, and typing opened up. thanks a lot for doing that testing!


Posted by peterburk in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 6, 2004 at 2:24 AM (CST)


Keyboard in Linux would be too cool :)

Maybe show 96 keys on the screen, every one with a fixed position on the wheel—you’d know where to go, but no worry about mistakes since you’d have to commit with the center button.

Or even make bigger key targets—48 pairs of 2.

I can imagine a “mouse,” too—set the direction with the wheel,  move it with the center button, then press Play to click.

Posted by Nagromme in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 6, 2004 at 12:45 PM (CST)


It records for something around or under 10 seconds. Perhaps 4-5 seconds. Didn’t run a timer, but it’s not split-second and it’s not much longer than that. Glad to help.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 6, 2004 at 3:11 PM (CST)


Sorry for diverting, but just wondering if the Ipod Photo is compatible with the Griffin iTrip and iTalk?

Griffin hasnt tested, mac shops in singapore dont know… hope you guys can help me out! cheers!


Posted by Brendan Ang in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 8, 2004 at 7:49 PM (CST)


We’ve been using the iTalk with the iPod Photo for several days. It works, but there’s something weird going on with the iPod Photo’s firmware whereby it won’t record properly unless you reset the iPod before recording. We’ve contacted Griffin and are awaiting a response.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 10, 2004 at 7:47 PM (CST)


Thanks Jeremy!

Any idea if the iTrip works?


Posted by Brendan Ang in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 11, 2004 at 7:56 AM (CST)


My iTrip works fine with my 60GB photipod.

Where does the pod record from? Where is the mic?


Posted by cristinabeena in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 17, 2004 at 6:41 AM (CST)


do u now if there is a way to watch videos on your photo ipod

Posted by Chicken Man in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 17, 2004 at 8:17 PM (CST)


Good review

Posted by ToddR in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 21, 2004 at 1:49 AM (CST)


Regarding iTalk with iPod photo:  the only problem I found is that the voice memos that appear in Extra->Voice Memos cannot be played back correctly *unless* you do a reset.  Otherwise, these files played back okay both in iTune (after sync), and also in Playlists->Voice Memos after iTune moved them there.  Resetting or not before recording doesn’t appear to affect recording itselt, only playback of the temporary memos.

Posted by Dominus in East Amherst, NY, USA on November 22, 2004 at 1:12 AM (CST)


my ipod does not work anymore, the diagnostics menu works, but if i try to start it up it just shows the apple icon and you can hear the hardrive try to start up then it flashes and tries again… do you know how to fix this?

Posted by aaron the aaron in East Amherst, NY, USA on December 11, 2004 at 1:33 PM (CST)


hi, i have the exact same problem as aaron the aaron. I restart the ipod but it flashes the corrupt system icon! help! diagnostic mode works fine. I can’t get the ipod to run even in disk mode when attached to the computer. Thoughts?

Posted by gentp in East Amherst, NY, USA on December 15, 2004 at 12:26 PM (CST)


Send it to apple and wait 3 days to get a new one :)

Posted by Marki in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 9, 2005 at 3:07 PM (CST)


Hi Jeremy,
Blessed you for these insightful help.
I did press the Menu and Action button, and it clears for awhile and then the apple icon pops up, but when I tried to press the rewind and action button together, nothing happens? no beeps, is there some hardware problem with my U2 ipod?

Hope you could help me out.


Posted by pinkertonchew in East Amherst, NY, USA on January 27, 2005 at 8:51 AM (CST)

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