Q: How do I backup my iPod? I’ve had it for 5 years now and am a bit worried that it may die on me. I’ve got over 5,000 tracks on it that I wouldn’t want to lose.
A: The easiest way to ensure that you always have a backup of your iPod’s content is to simply not remove it from your computer in the first place. If you’re using automatic synchronization, then your iPod becomes a mirror of the iTunes library on your computer, so if your iPod is ever lost or damaged you can simply connect a new iPod and easily re-sync all of the content from your computer back onto your iPod.
However, if you’re using manual mode and do not want to keep your iPod’s content on your computer as well as on your iPod, then you will need to find another way of backing up your iPod content. Since the iPod appears to your computer as an external hard disk, you can connect your iPod and use any number of backup tools to simply copy the data from it as if it were any other hard disk, making sure to include hidden directories (since most of your music and the internal configuration files stored by the iPod are actually hidden from normal view).
If you simply take a complete file-level backup of your iPod (as you would for any other external hard drive), you can actually just restore this in its entirety to a new iPod of the same model. However, since your iPod is over 5 years old, this may not be entirely practical as you would likely purchase a more current iPod model if you needed to replace it.
Of course, this type of backup will still include all of your raw music files in a folder named \iPod_Control\Music. These won’t have recognizable names, but the tags contained inside them are still intact, so you could reimport these into iTunes and it should be able to sort them out for you, at which point you could then sync them back onto a new iPod.
Alternatively, you can look to any number of third-party tools that are designed to copy content from your iPod back to your computer. These are normally used in “disaster recovery” type of scenarios (ie, where you’ve lost your iTunes library and want to recover the music from your iPod back into it), but most of these will work just as easily to create regular backups of your iPod content should you want to continue storing your content only on your iPod. See our iPod 201 article, Copying Content from your iPod to your Computer for more information on the options available for this. This article also provides more information on how to copy content from your iPod back to your computer manually using Windows Explorer or Finder.
Unless disk space is a really serious issue, we strongly recommend simply keeping a complete copy of your iTunes library on your computer, as this is the most effective way of ensuring that you have it on-hand in the event that some disaster should befall your iPod. The utilities described in the article above can also assist you in rebuilding your iTunes library from your iPod if you want to return to using automatic synchronization, which is probably the simplest solution if you’re only transferring music onto your iPod from that single computer. However, even if you want to remain in “manual mode” so that you can load your iPod from more than a single computer, maintaining your “master” library in iTunes on your primary computer is still a very good idea, and generally much simpler than trying to deal with backing up your iPod manually on a regular basis.