Upgrading A TiVo

Originally posted in 2002

TiVo, a 'PVR' for Personal Video Recorder - sometimes called Hard Disk Recorder or Tapeless VCR. It is really one cool gadget that needs to be seen to appreciate. Some people introduced to TiVo scoff at the idea - a VCR that you cannot change the 'tape' in? It just erases old shows as new ones are recorded? Whattaya talkin about, eh?

The TiVo records TV shows on a hard disk. A plain simple IDE hard disk just like in a computer. A gigabyte of hard disk equals about 1.2 hours of video at a quality somewhere between VHS & off air. Less time is available when you want better quality. There is no tape to buy, you can archive recordings to a VCR if you want - this Sony model has a communications link that will synchronize TiVo with a Sony VCR to back up programs. With the full package Digital Cable and DVDs, our use of a VCR had been strictly to time shift - you know set the VCR's clock, set up programs to record at certain times, remember to rewind the tape and have it in the thing. With TiVo you subscribe to an online TV listing and pick programs to record by name. If FOX shows a special new episode of Malcolm In The Middle during the week, your VCR will not know and will not record it. TiVo knows. TiVo records every episode that comes along, or just the new ones, you decide. Like a certain movie star? Tell TiVo to seek out that star and record any movie that is shown with your favorite star appearing..

Before TiVo, the VCR recorded and erased about 20 hours of programming a week. After TiVo, it's over 40 hours per week. Watch at your leisure. Fast forward through commercials. It will even let you watch previously recorded programs while it is currently recording. Then there's the "Pause Live TV" feature that buffers the programming and lets you pause, rewind and catch up. I don't use that feature much, but if a program I have time to watch is recording, I enjoy waiting to watch at ten minutes after the beginning to be able to fast forward through the commercials. (shhh, I might be stealing TV by doing this)

One thing that can add years to the usefulness of to the unit is to expand the recording capacity. I bumped ours up to 145 hours with a hard drive swapout. It is easier to provision the new disk drive and add it to the existing drive, however my TiVo was starting to freeze up at random, and I have a hunch that it may be the hard drive about to go bye bye. That made me decide to go the replacement route. My best deal for a disk drive was a Maxtor 120G 5400 RPM for $209 with a $50 rebate. You don't need a 7200 RPM drive. I still have the old drive tucked away, and have the image back up made in the swap process.

Here are some pictures I took during the procedure. Links to my source of information are at the bottom of the page.

The information screen before modification. Nine hours at Best Quality record mode, thirty two hoursat Basic Quality. It's been enough for a few days of soaps, FOX Sunday night lineups and the occasional western movie.

Tivo System Information

Pop the cover. Rest in peace oh poor warranty tag. Look, it's a Quantum IDE 30g hard drive. Plain old 40 pin connector, plain old 4 pin power connector. Word from the wise, watch out for that strip of steel along the front panel (seen on the left side of the picture - looks like it has a spot weld every inch and a half), the edge is razor sharp!

Remove Cover

Now, it's not a simple disk for disk swap - we must boot up a Linux OS, back up the original TiVo drive to the computer's C: drive, then restore to the new larger drive. It does nothing to your C: drive except copy a backup file. Our Barovelli webcam server was put to use as it is in an easy to get to location, and the cover is never attached since this is the computer used to test hard drives and other computer bits. It's an Intel Anchorage motherboard with a 200 MHZ Pentium, 64M RAM.

Here is TiVo's original 30G Quantum drive, bracket & all hanging off the side.

Tivo Hard Drive removed and place in PC

And here we have the new 120G Maxtor, plugged in as slave on primary IDE. The procedures outlined in the Hinsdale How To say to put the new drive as slave to the computer's original drive (master), and put the original TiVo drive as master on secondary IDE and the CDROM as slave on secondary IDE. This required some cable swapping on my part, I did not want to convert the commands spelled out in the instructions  (I know now that this was not as hard as I thought).

New hard drive in PC

In goes the bootable CD, it boots (duh) you into a Linux OS. Follow the instructions. Watch the back up and restore. Time was about twenty minutes to read the instructions, type the commands, proofread the commands hit 'ENTER' and let it run.

Command Line!

The TiVo with no hard drive. Notice the identical bay next to the original drive bay. This unit is capable of another 145 hour upgrade by adding a second 120G hard disk, or reformat the original 30G drive for another 32 hours (I chose to store mine). The ribbon cable already has a second 40 pin IDE connector and a second power plug is there.

Bare Tivo

Here is the 'smoke test'. After restoring the backup to the new hard drive, I hooked it up to see if it worked. What faith I had huh, I didn't swap the mounting tray until I was sure it really worked. Don't let the disk drive's circuit board touch the grounded metal of the chassis. There is an insulator (in this case, a plastic CD sleeve) between the drive and the chassis.

Testing New hard drive

After getting the unit hooked up check the information screen. Woo hoo! "Recording Capacity" nearly 40 hours in Best and a whopping 145 hours in Basic Quality. Not pictured is the internal temperature reading, was 37C before, now 31C after upgrade. Was the Quantum running hot?

System Information after upgrade


TiVo Home Page http://www.tivo.com/
The TiVo Community Forum http://www.tivocommunity.com/tivo-vb/
The Hinsdale How To http://www.newreleasesvideo.com/hinsdale-how-to/

Footnote 2009. Tivo's long been gone, replaced by a string of Comcast DVRs. I also resurrected a dead Replay DVR using the same methods