How to replace microdrive with compactflash in Palm LifeDrive

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The Palm LifeDrive uses an internal 4GB microdrive, which is partitioned into a 64MB storage heap, a 22MB "ROM" image, and a 3.73GB user volume. To the user, the 64MB appears as program & data memory and the 3.73GB as the "LifeDrive" volume. The 22MB "ROM" image is hidden.

Older Palms like the Palm V used SDRAM as program & data RAM, which required power to maintain storage. If the batteries ran down, all user data & software would be lost.

More recent Palms like the Palm TX use non-volatile flash memory for program & data memory, thus safeguarding against data loss if the batteries run down.

The LifeDrive design utilizes a Hitachi 4GB microdrive instead of any flash memory. Namely, a 64MB partition of the microdrive is used as the program and data storage space. While this retains the advantage of non-volatile program & data storage, this introduces a slight lag occasionally during normal use, as the microdrive is spun up & down frequently to conserve power. As well, the need to spin the microdrive platter limits the battery life of the LifeDrive. Lastly, microdrives are sensitive to external shocks, and aren't as robust as flash memory.

As a possible hack to improve battery life, performance and reliability, some users have attempted to replace the internal 4GB microdrive with compact flash cards. Initially, many such efforts weren't successful, as these modified LD units wouldn't boot off of a CF, even after a byte-for-byte image of the original MD was written to the CF. However, LD users at a discussion at found a successful combination of hardware and software steps that led to success.

This document will describe the successful methods used in replacing the LD microdrive with a compact flash card, as well as some unsuccessful methods. Hopefully, other LD users can learn and contribute to the general body of knowledge.

Quick steps

Caution! Readers are warned that opening the case of their LD will void any warranties. Mucking about with the LD in ways described in this document may ruin your LD and/or data. Take all necessary precautions, read the directions and resources thoroughly and good luck.

Hot-sync your LD to backup your programs and data. Also note that hot-sync's alone do not completely backup all data on your LifeDrive volume. One way to backup the LifeDRive volume is to launch the LifeDrive Manager, right-click on the LifeDrive volume and select the Save to PC... option. If your 4GB LifeDrive volume contains a lot of files, this save may take a while.

If you have your LD connected to a Linux PC, it may be useful to set your LD in Drive Mode and run the following command from Linux:

dmesg > ~/ld-dmesg.log

This will dump useful information about the microdrive of your LifeDrive, such as which /dev/* handle your Linux box connects with to your LD.

In order to duplicate the microdrive onto the compact flash drive, we need to make a byte-for-byte duplicate. You cannot simply just use your operating system's copy command to do this, as you want to duplicate the boot sectors, the partition boundaries, etc. instead of just the directory structure & files.

The linux dd command is perfectly suited for this task. If you have Windows, it would be useful to install CygWin ( or some other Linux type utilities, as much of the directions in this document will use Linux commands. It is also possible to boot from a live Linux CD to gain access to Linux utilities.

It's been reported that some versions of the dd utility allow you to do this:

dd --list

This should show the proper addresses of your devices, such as "\\?\Device\Harddisk3\DR15".

You can also use "dd for windows" from the RawWrite suite.

It may also be possible to use Norton Ghost to as well.

Full steps

Hot-sync & backup contents of LifeDrive volume

While no one has reported catastrophic data loss from attempting this hack, why be the first? Since we are mucking around with the microdrive that contains both program data & the LifeDrive volume, you must perform a hot-sync and also backup the LifeDrive volume to your computer. This will ensure that even if you need to buy a replacement LifeDrive if you ruin this LifeDrive, your data will be safe.

Disassemble LifeDrive, remove microdrive

Turn off your LD, and slide the power switch to the Locked OFF position. This will prevent the LD from powering up from button presses during disassembly. It probably wouldn't hurt to check that you don't have any LD alarms scheduled to go off during your disassembly time.
Follow these LifeDrive disassembly instructions to remove the microdrive from the LifeDrive. Work slowly and carefully. Don't forget to take precautions against static electricity discharges from your body to your device, especially in cold dry environments!
Carefully unplug the battery connector from the mainboard, taking note of which way the connector fits in the socket. This step is optional, but some people seem to have better luck with their LD restarting successfully after disconnecting and reconnecting the battery.

Copy microdrive onto compact flash

Plug the microdrive into your CF reader in order to create a disk image of the microdrive. Depending on your computer, the exact steps needed to do this may vary. If you have a Windows machine, you can install CygWin to get the needed utilities.
One user has reported that their CF reader would not read/write properly unless the computer was rebooted with the CF or MD already inserted in the CF reader. A way to check if your microdrive is "seen" by your computer is at the Start, "Run...", command line, type the command "diskmgmt.msc". If you can see the partitions in the MD or Flash Disk, then you can proceed with the dd command.
Some users have reported that not all CF readers allow reading or writing of files over 2GB in size. USB CF readers seem to be more problematic than IDE to CF adapters.
Disk encryption software on the host used to make the copies can be problematic,
Making a copy can take over 90 minutes. Be patient. Hint: When copying the microdrive to the image file, progress can be checked by doing a detail directory listing and looking at the file size. When copying to the flash, you just have to be patient, and use the time needed to create the image file as a rough guide. Be aware that the time needed to write the image onto the CF may far exceed the time needed to read the image from the MD, because of differences in MD-read and CF-write speeds.

Linux and Windows CygWin

  • Insert microdrive into CF reader.
  • Mount the microdrive using: (note: those using Cygwin may not need this step)
mount -f -b /dev/sda /mnt/ldmd
Caution! Be carefully with this step, because "sda" should be your primary HDD if you are running CygWin under WinXP. It may cause your primary HDD data to get lost!!! If you have a second HDD it should be "sdb" and so on. Then CF adaptor may be "sdb" if you have only one HDD, or "sdc" is you have a second HDD and so on.
Note: the input path of your CF reader may differ from /dev/sda. You may need to experiment ONLY READING AT FIRST with /dev/sdb or /dev/hda etc. TO IDENTIFY THE RIGHT DEVICE PRIOR TO BEGIN ANY WRITING
Note: The unix command dmesg will give you insight into what your operating system thinks was just attached. After inserting the microdrive into the CF reader, type dmesg | tail -20 (dmesgs can get very long on multi-core CPUs) and you will see some lines reading sdb Attached removable disk and more information about the drive you just inserted. dmesg is a reliable way of determining the identity of devices recently attached to your computer. Using Cygwin on Windows the following command would be dd if=/dev/sdb of=/usr/ldmd-image.
  • Create image of the contents of the microdrive:
dd if=/mnt/ldmd of=/usr/ldmd-image
Caution! Be careful with this step, because an accidental reversal of if and of parameters will result in your microdrive being overwritten!
Depending on your CF reader's speed, this step may take an hour or more.
This will create a 4GB /usr/ldmd-image file of your microdrive.
  • Unmount microdrive from filesystem:
umount /mnt/ldmd
  • Unplug microdrive from PC, plug compact flash into PC
  • Mount the CF card using:(note: again, those using Cygwin do not need to mount)
mount -f -b /dev/sda /mnt/ldcf
Note: the input path of your CF reader may differ from /dev/sda. You may need to experiment with /dev/sdb or /dev/hda etc.
  • Write image onto compact flash.
dd if=/usr/ldmd-image of=/mnt/ldcf
Depending on your CF reader's speed, this step may take several hours.
  • Unmount compact flash from filesystem:
umount /mnt/ldcf
dd on Linux Debian distribution
  • Insert microdrive into CF reader.
  • Create image of the contents of the microdrive:
dd if=/dev/sda of=ldmd-image
  • Unplug microdrive from PC, plug compact flash into PC
  • Write image onto compact flash.
dd if=ldmd-image of=/dev/sda
Caution! Be carefully with this step, because "sda" should be your primary HDD if you are running CygWin under WinXP. It may cause your primary HDD data to get lost!!! If you have a second HDD it should be "sdb" and so on. Then CF adaptor may be "sdb" if you have only one HDD, or "sdc" is you have a second HDD and so on.
Note: Please adjust /dev/sda to match your setting
Much Smaller Compressed Image File
One user reports one way to reduce the size of the image file using these different steps:
  • Perform a secure hard reset on the LD before disassembly. As this will completely wipe EVERYTHING from your LD, you'll want to backup everything you don't want to lose!
  • continue with usual directions, but create the image of the microdrive using:
dd if=/mnt/ldmd | zip > /usr/ldmd-image.Z
Since the vast majority of the microdrive after a hard reset is blank, the resulting compressed image file will be about 20MB
  • Continue with usual directions, but write image onto CF using:
zcat /usr/ldmd-image.Z | dd of=/mnt/ldmd
dd for Windows by RawWrite
Here are the steps to take if you're using the "dd for windows" tool in the RawWrite suite.
To get the compact flash's virtual address.
dd --list
Win32 Available Volume Information
link to \\?\Device\Harddisk2\DP(1)0-0+d
removeable media
Mounted on k:\
link to \\?\Device\Harddisk2\DR18 <--- this is the LifeDrive
Removable media other than floppy. Block size = 512
To make an image of the compact flash to the file named ldmd.img using a 1Mb block cuts down the image creation time a great deal.
(if=input file; of=output file)
dd if=\\?\Device\Harddisk2\DR18 of=ldmd.img bs=1M --progress --size
rawwrite dd for windows version 0.3.
Written by John Newbigin <>
This program is covered by the GPL. See copying.txt for details
7999488+0 records in
7999488+0 records out
To write the image from the file named ldmd.img to the compact flash
(if=input file; of=output file)
dd of=\\?\Device\Harddisk2\DR18 if=ldmd.img --progress --size]
rawwrite dd for windows version 0.3.
Written by John Newbigin <>
This program is covered by the GPL. See copying.txt for details
7999488+0 records in
7999488+0 records out

Using HDD Raw Copy Tool (to Make a Disk Image of the MIcro Drive & Write the Disk Image to CF)

Freeware from:

This utility is only available on Windows. This utility can make a disk image of the Micro Drive, and it can also write the disk image to the Compact Flash. If you have more than one CF reader then you can do a direct copy.

In my case I only have one reader, so first I have to make an image file of the Micro Drive, then write that image to the Compact Flash.

Just to be sure, use a 4GB Compact Flash. I used a Kingston 4GB CF Card.

You can download the portable version which doesn't need installation.

1. First insert the Micro Drive into your card reader (any card reader should work), I used the one built in my computer.

2. Double Click on "Double Click to open File"

3. Select where you wanna save the disk image. Give it name, then click save.

4. Click Continue, then Start.

5. Once done, exit the program. Take out the Micro Drive.

6. Put the CF card into the computer. Then start the program again.

6. Double Click "File" then continue

7. Select the card reader where the Comapact Flash is.

8. Click Continue then Start.

9. Once done, close the program. Take out the Compact Flash.

Using Windows only with a freeware Drive image & ZX file transfer to write image to CF card

Freeware from

When doing so please ensure that the image file is ready. I have somehow downloaded the image somewhere online therefore I do not need to copy my original microdrive which may got a lot of corrupted data.

I was using a card reader that I brought online from "SSK Card Reader - USB multi".

I plugged in the CF card to the card reader and connect it to my computer (Windows 7 64-bits). It detected and asked for format which cancelled it.

Then I run the freeware "drimg107.exe" as administer and select the correct drive. Click on Size CHS, change the correct value for CHS setting without clicking other things. Click on the Init and Perforn Init. From the program main page, click on Write to drive, select the correct raw image and OK. The computer will start writing into the CF card for a few hours. (For me, the program was not responding the next morning when I go back to check so I end task it) After which I eject the card and put into Palm LifeDrive and start it. Do a hard reset to clean up the CF card and it should just work magically.


In Mac OS X one can either use a device copy using commercial application CopyCatX or by the use of the free Unix-tools of OS X as outlined below.

Using CopyCat X:

  • Insert the MicroDrive in your CF Card reader, connected to you Mac through USB.
  • Copy the Device (not the partition) of your MicroDrive to an image using the Duplicate function.

This takes a lot of time, easily 1.5 hours.

  • Then remove the MicroDrive from you CF Card reader, insert the CompactFlash.
  • From the File menu, select Attach Disk Image, and select the image of your MicroDrive.
  • Then copy that image onto your CompactFlash card, and again allow for approximately the same amount of time.

Using Unix commands:

NOTE dd for Mac is already a part of osx and can be accessed from applications/utilities/terminal
Steps are similar to Linux steps. Here is a brief summary of differences:
  • Before plugging the microdrive to Mac, plug in the CF. Type:
This should reveal the mount location of your CF reader, such as /dev/disk3s1
  • Eject the CF and plug in the microdrive
  • OSX will suggest formatting the microdrive. Decline this offer for obvious reasons. (specifically, choose ignore)
  • Use dd to copy the image to the hard disk:
dd if=/dev/disk3 of=/ldmd.img

Note: Omit the s1 in the above example as this is a partition. Must be just /disk3 (or the number of your disk)

  • Take out the MD and pop in the CF.
  • OSX will automount it, so umount it using:
sudo umount /dev/disk3s1

Must use the sudo command here, or it will deny you access. Also, merely ejecting drive will give you another error. Use sudo, or unmount in the disk utility. If the umount-command fails with error message: Resource busy you can try the same command with -f added. I.e.: sudo umount -f /dev/disk3s1

  • Use dd to write the image back to the CF:
dd if=/ldmd.img of=/dev/disk3
  • Take the CF out of the reader.

Reassemble LifeDrive with compact flash card

  • Insert the CF into the LifeDrive's CF connector.
  • Fit the blue rubber spacers around the CF. One forum user[1] explained how: "If you'll check the inside part of the rubbers, there's a groove/overhang for the top layer of the microdrive. The Sandisk compact flash fits under this groove nicely, except for the side opposite the connector. I just wedged (read: inserted firmly) the card under that overhang then tuck it in the plastic frame."
  • One forum user [2] reports that their LD MD wouldn't spin up, much less boot up unless the spacers were holding the MD away from the LD mainboard. This might suggest that CF cards may not work within the LD unless the spacers are in place to prevent a faulty electrical contact.
  • Reconnect the battery connector, if you unplugged it earlier.
  • Finish reassembling the LD.
  • Power on the LD. You may need to do a soft reset after the power on.
  • If the LD works with the CF, then a soft reset will complete in under 30 seconds, compared to the usual 2.5 minutes with a microdrive.
  • If the LD stays on the PALM screen for several minutes with a steady nonblinking LED, then it's likely that it couldn't boot properly from the CF.
Some users reported success after doing a hard reset of the LD with the CF at this point. If the LD returns to normal operation after a hard reset, then you can recover all of your LD data by using the hot-sync and backup on your computer.
Another suggestion is to disassemble your LD, unplug the battery and then reconnect the battery after several hours and finish reassembling. Some users have reported that this helps get past the frozen boot screen.

Further Considerations

Power consumption summary:

Hitachi MD:
standby (head parked, platter stopped): 13mA
idle (platter spinning): 85mA
read: 360 mA
write: 280 mA
max: 372 mA
SanDisk CF:
sleep: 1.2 mA
read: 55 mA
write: 70mA
max: 100mA
Hitachi microdrive specs
SanDisk compact flash specs

Flash memory limited writes

Flash memory has a finite number of writes per block.

See also

From HowTo Wiki, a Wikia wiki.



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