Using iPod as a removable hard drive

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Q: How do I use my iPod as a removable drive on a PC?

– Russ

A: Using the iPod as a removable hard drive is actually quite simple—a connected iPod should always show up as a removable hard drive to any recent version of Windows or Mac OS X, regardless of whether iTunes is installed or not.

When connecting an iPod to a computer without iTunes installed, it will simply remain connected, presenting itself to the operating system as an external hard drive that can be accessed through the Windows Explorer or My Computer windows as a removable drive, with a drive letter assigned:

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You can simply work with it as you would any other external hard drive on your computer. When you first open the iPod in Windows Explorer, you will see a number of pre-defined directories that are used by the iPod itself. You can create additional subdirectories, or store files right in the top-level (root) directory, but should avoid these other directories as they are used by the iPod for various functions, and it expects to find certain things in them. Note that you can place proper content into these directories, for example, text files in the Notes directory, or vCal files in the Calendars directory, and these will appear in the appropriate sections on the iPod itself.


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When you’re doing working with it, you simply need to “Eject” it from your computer, either by right-clicking on it in Windows Explorer and choosing “Eject”, or clicking on the “Safely Remove USB Devices” option in the Windows System Tray (by the clock):


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If you want to use your iPod as a removable drive on a PC that has iTunes installed on it and are using automatic synchronization to your iTunes library, you must ensure that you enable disk use for your particular iPod within iTunes. By default, when disk use is not enabled, iTunes will automatically eject the iPod following an automatic synchronization, which will not be particularly useful if you want it to remain mounted and accessible as a removable drive. Selecting the “Enable Disk Use” option in iTunes tells iTunes to leave that particular iPod connected until you eject it manually. In this case, an automatic synchronization will still occur each time you connect the iPod to your computer, but the iPod will remain connected after the synchronization completes.


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After selecting “Enable Disk Use” iTunes will remind you that you must always eject your iPod manually, since it will not do this for you automatically any more:


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Note that there’s nothing else particularly special about the “Enable Disk Use” option. As already discussed, the iPod will always show up as an external hard drive. “Enable Disk Use” simply prevents iTunes from automatically ejecting it after a synchronization completes. If you’re managing the content on your iPod manually, or you connect your iPod without starting iTunes (so the automatic synchronization doesn’t run), it will also remain connected to your computer and can be used as an external hard drive in the same way as above.

In fact, in manual mode, the “Enable Disk Use” option becomes enabled and grayed out, indicating that the iPod will essentially always be in “disk mode” when managing the content manually:


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Note that if you’re planning on using your iPod on both a Mac and a PC, you will need to ensure that it’s either formatted for Windows use (Mac OS X can read a Windows-formatted hard disk), or you will need to install a software package such as MediaFour’s MacDrive to allow your Windows PC to read a Mac-formatted disk.