Saturday, August 30, 2008

LifeFlash Mod for the PalmOne LifeDrive

In 2005, Palm introduced the next evolution to their PDA line, calling it the PalmOne LifeDrive Mobile Manager. It was a bit more than a PDA, touting WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities, a 4GB hard drive, as well as the organization applications that Palm has been known for. To the regular user, the large hard drive was suitable for music and video, making this one of early portable multimedia devices. To the power user, the LifeDrive offers almost the same amount of capabilities as a laptop to do work on the road, and is still small enough to fit in a purse.

However, the LifeDrive was not without it's drawbacks - the main one being that having a physical drive made access times slower. Since it was developed in 2005, that was understandable, and somewhat forgiven, by the LD community. Afterall, it only made sense that Palm's next version would be a slimmer, lighter, faster version with a Compact Flash drive and more disk space, right? To the community's dismay, Palm pulled the plug on the LD line. That left the community to fend for themselves, but also brought out the best in collaborative homebrew solutions. Today I implemented one of those solutions - the LifeFlash mod.

The LifeFlash mod is to basically replace the internal hard drive of the LifeDrive with a Compact Flash memory card. This makes access times faster, it makes the LD lighter, and since there are no moving parts consumes less battery power. The only drawback is that due to the constraints of the operating system, you can only use 4GB of memory regardless if you use a larger card. :/ (UPDATE - this is no longer true! See this thread for details. I have not tried this yet. PowerDrive thread at

Research into this mod can be traced back to 2006 (all references are at the end of this entry.) Because of all the collaboration between LD community members, the process has been simplified. Before, you had to format a blank CF card. But now you could buy a pre-formatted card at Even though I didn't have to go through all the hoops that they did, I must give credit where credit is due, and I tip my hat to all the brilliant hacks that helped to figured this out. :-D These steps cover using a pre-formatted card. If you want to format your own card, see the links in the Reference section.

You will need: a LifeDrive, a pre-formatted Compact Flash card, and a T5 torx wrench. You could get a PDA tool kit at UsedPDAParts which has the wrench you need, plus a prying tool for the case. Not pictured here, you will also need a sharp knife.

1. Backup all your data to your PC.

2. Turn off the LD and put the power slider in the Locked position.

3. Pry off the two rubber feet near the top of the LD.

4. Remove the two torx screws which were under the feet. Remove the outer shell (shown)

5. The inner shell is attached by 6 tabs - 2 along the right and left sides and the bottom. Use a credit card or the prying tool to ease open the shell.

6. Remove the two torx screws that are holding down the inner plastic frame. The inner shell is attached to the motherboard by the piezo speaker wire. Use your fingernail to carefully unplug it. (shown)

7. Unplug and remove the battery

8. This is the Point of No Return - you need to cut through the Warning label that will void your warranty. If you have any apprehensions, just remember that your warranty has probably expired anyway. :-) Also, think of the symbolic statement you will be making to Palm for leaving it's customers in the dust.

9. Anyway, carefully cut through the label with the point of the sharp knife.

10. Remove the hard drive (shown)

11. Remove the blue rubber bumpers from the corners of the drive.

12. Plug the CF card into the interface. Put the blue rubber bumpers on the corners of the CF card. The CF card is thinner than the drive, so the bumpers will be loose, but they will be held firmly in place when you put the inner plastic frame back on.

13. Plug the battery back in. (shown)

14. Replace the inner plastic frame - first, plug the piezo speaker back in, then replace the torx screws.

15. Replace the inner shell by snapping it shut along the sides and bottom.

16. Replace the outer shell, torx screws and feet.

17. Set your HotSync Manager to "Synchronize" or "Desktop overwrites handheld" for all items. Sync your LifeDrive.

The only problem I had during syncing was a non-descript error number 1611 and 1609. I noticed that it kept happening on one of the applications it was trying to restore. So I went to my backup directory, usually C:\Program Files\palmOne\\Backup , and moved that application out of the directory. I synced again and it worked fine. I had to install that application seperately later, using it's original installshield. I'm guessing that this happened because of licensing..?


If you decide not to go with a pre-formatted card, in which case you'll have to format a CF card yourself:

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