Introduction: Upgrade the Zen Micro 5gb to 8gb on the Cheap

About: I am a graphic art hobbyist, web cartoonist, and wannabe electronics hobbyist. Other hobbies: cooking, baking, exercise, computers, video games, trivia, and some more I'm probably not remembering.

Good Day!
I'm here today to show you how I took apart my Zen Micro, replaced the 5GB hard drive inside it with an 8gb CF card, reassembled the device, and lived to tell about it.

Why would you want to do this? Two reasons:
1. Solid-state storage means no moving parts. As cool as the 5GB microdrive was when it came out (it is in just about every 5GB MP3 player made at the time... iPod, Rio Carbon, Zen Micro, etc.), it has moving parts which means that as they get older, they're more likely to fail. Rumor has it, one good drop on a corner, and the Micro is bricked. Solid state devices aren't prone to this kind of damage.
2. Current 8GB MP3 players, cool as they are with all the pretty pictures and bells and whistles, cost a lot. I just wanted more storage, I don't need all the bells and whistles.

As for the price of this upgrade, your mileage may vary. I was able to snag a new Transcend 8GB 75x CF card on EBay for $69 shipped, which is Very Good compared with retail prices for this item.

For about $12, you can get a CF/MicroDrive to USB adapter if the Microdrive in your Zen isn't dead yet, and you'll have a nice chunk of portable storage. I bastardized a dead Rio Carbon for it's 5GB microdrive two years ago, before USB thumb drives around that size were even affordable, and it's been serving me very well as a "jump drive" since then.

Shall we get started?

Right off the bat, I should tell you several things.
1. I AM NOT RESPONSIBLE if you brick your MP3 player doing this. I did not brick mine, and if google search results don't lie, several dozens more have also been successful. Several dozen have also built themselves bricks doing this. It seems largely related to the CF card you use, so purchase wisely.
2. As a matter of common sense, you will lose your device's music library doing this. Be sure to back up all of your music (and playlists, if you so desire) so that you can re-load them later. No, you can't get them off the microdrive later... the drive is formatted to a Creative-proprietary format, so the drive won't be readable by a regular computer straight out of the player.
Really. Back up your music library if the only place it exists is on your device.
3. This will invalidate your warranty. Duh.
4. Ground yourself before you touch any PC boards or sensitive electronics inside your Zen. Static can kill a device faster than any physical damage you may do.
5. This upgrade is known to work with Zen MicroPhoto (your device may have different guts, though, so some improvisation may be needed when you take it apart) and has been used to upgrade devices up to 16GB.
6. My instructions for disassembling the Zen Micro are not original. I followed HardwareZone's Deconstruction guide and improvised upon it on-the-fly (my device had slightly different build/unbuild requirements).
7. My instructions for re-assembling and upgrading the device are also not 100% original. While I didn't actually USE trikon000's Zen Micro 16GB Flash Hack, it is a VERY useful guide to read.
8. More good info on the Anything But iPod forums. Also, check out the Nomadness Forums. READ. Read all of this before you attempt this upgrade, because there's truly important info on these web pages regarding the compatibility of the Zen Micro with various CF cards. Also lots more info than I have here (though I will give you lots) about disassembling the Micro and reassembling it with care.
9. There is a terrific tutorial right here in Instructables about fixing the Zen Micro headphone jack problem. That tutorial is what made me wonder just how far I could deconstruct the device and if I could upgrade the hard drive inside. My instructable won't help you if you're having the headphone jack problem.


Step 1: What You Need

What you need before you proceed:

1. A Zen Micro player (alternatively, a Zen MicroPhoto, subject to caveats in the intro).
2. A precision phillips head screwdriver, and a precision flat-head screwdriver.
3. Maybe a precision tweezer for picking up tiny parts when they fall. Not if -- when.
4. A piece of paper to work on, or other light-colored, smooth surface. Easier to find and pick up dropped parts.
5. A CF card to replace the old microdrive (alternatively, a new microdrive if you're so inclined, however at the expense one would incur, you're better off buying a new player, honestly).

Step 2: Remove the Battery

This step can be done without voiding your warranty.

Simply slide off the battery cover on the back of your Zen, and remove the battery.

Step 3: Slide the Backplate Down

This step WILL void your warranty, guaranteed. Proceed at your own risk.

I've seen no fewer than two tutorials explain how to slide this backplate -- they both said to grasp the player firmly in both hands, thumbs on the backplate and pointed towards the bottom of the player. Apply a forward pressure with your thumbs and a backward pressure on the face of the player with your fingers, as though you were trying to slide the backplate towards the bottom of the player. Because, well, you are. With enough pressure, you will succeed and the warranty sticker will break.

I prefer the other method: use a flat-blade screwdriver or exacto-knife (CAREFULLY) to cut the warranty sticker first, then you won't need as much force to slide the backplate. Alternatively you can hook a thumbnail to the left of the metal tabs at the top of the battery well, and if your nails are sufficiently durable you can apply downward pressure to the tab and the whole plate will slide. That's how I do it. See pictures.

Step 4: Unscrew the Top

There are two screws holding the guts in the player, they need to come off.

Move the power switch to the "Hold" position, and Insert the flat-head screwdriver tip under the lip of the plastic cover, in the opposite corner of the power-switch hole (see pictures). Gently pry the coverplate off to expose the two tiny screws. Use the phillips head screwdriver to remove the screws. Both of them.

I put the screw into the CF card case so I wouldn't lose them. If I had a nickel for every screw I lost by forgetting to put them somewhere safe.... Soda bottle caps work well, too as long as they're clean.

Step 5: Remove the White Shell

The position you hold the player and your hands in for this step is important, or so I think. I have taken pictures of how I do this, so that you may not suffer the same problems I did from doing it wrong the first time I tried this.

The player shell has two metal clips in it that seat just to either side of the battery well, in the white part. For this reason, you should hold the player face-up. There are two delicate connectors at the top of the player, so let's not apply a lot of force to them right away. Hold the player, face-up, so that you have good leverage to apply pressure to the metal plate, at the very bottom of the battery well. Push the insides of the player up (it may take a little force since you have to overcome the resistance from the clips) at an angle, and once the bottom of the player is clear of the shell, you should be able to gently grasp the edges of the player's body and lift the player's guts up and towards the bottom of the player to disengage the connectors.

Please don't turn over the white shell. If you've done this right, the two metal clips are still in-place in the shell, so be careful, set the shell aside, and don't touch it until you need it again.

However in the off-chance that you did drop the clips, they can be re-inserted. Grab your trusty tweezers and look at the two clips. They're mirror images of each other, so set them both down with the open ends of the clips facing down. That is, the clips are each made from a single piece of wire, so at one end of each clip is a gap where the ends of the wire meet. That's "down." The bottom of each clip should bend up from the desk surface (frown), so if the bend is the other way (smile) turn the clip over. Next place the clips side-by-side so that the un-bent long sides of the clip are on the outside, and the sides of the clips with two bends are facing each other. Pick up the clips and re-insert in the shell, as indicated in the pictures -- it's easiest to place them in un-bent side first and let the clip settle into place itself.

Step 6: Remove the Backplate

OK, now you can see how the backplate is held on. Six metal tabs clip the backplate over the sensitive electronic components to protect them, three on each side. They are fairly easy to pry up with a fingernail or screwdriver (fingernails are less likely to damage sensitive electronic components but please GROUND yourself first by touching the case of your PC). Remove the plate and set it aside.

Step 7: Remove the Motherboard

OK, so I'm not 100% certain it's the MOTHERboard we're removing, but it does seem to have all of the most important components on-board, so be careful.

The mobo is held onto the front of the player by six clips - four white plastic clips, which hold the display to the motherboard, and two bent-metal clips which hold the motherboard over the drive.

Gently apply upward pressure to the top of the motherboard (top as in orientation of the player) and pry the clips one by one. They should not take much effort to pop loose. But just LOOSEN them, do not attempt to remove the motherboard completely. Do you hear me? DO NOT REMOVE the motherboard! Just loosen it!

At the top of the player, there is a connector that holds the motherboard against another smaller PC board with some more elctronics on it. Carefully place the flathead screwdriver against the smaller PC board under the motherboard (or perhaps something made of plastic like a Bic pen cap clip) and use a fingernail to pry the motherboard gently from the other board. It should snap right apart, but go gently and slowly, as there is a very thin ribbon connector running between the two PC boards as well, which can break if you're not careful.

Speaking of which, that needs to be disconnected next. Hold the motherboard firmly with a thumb and forefinger near the top, and use a fingernail on the other hand to gently pry the ribbon connector from the motherboard. The connector itself isn't fragile, but the ribbon is.

The motherboard is still connected, but only at the bottom by the ribbon connecting it to the hard drive.

(Added post-publish) NOTE -- the ribbon cable connecting the hard drive to the motherboard is BIG TIME fragile, according to the forums I read, especially on the Zen MicroPhoto. Please, be careful with it.

Step 8: Remove the Hard Drive

End of the disassembly road, right here: remove the hard drive.

First, stick the flat-head screwdriver under one of the upper corners of the drive (which would be one of the lower corners of the player) and lever the screwdriver against the case, and the drive should pop right out. Do the same on the other corner to complete the job.

Gently pull the connector from the drive. You are trying very hard not to break the ribbon connector, which can be fragile and easily broken.

When you're done, check and make sure you have everything you need to re-assemble the player. If so, pat yourself on the back. You're ready to upgrade.

Step 9: Connect CompactFlash Card

This step is deceptively easy. Plug the drive connector into the CF card, but plug it in the right way. If you look at all the pictures, you'll note that when we pulled the connector off the microdrive, we were looking at the back of the drive. Compare the channels in the sides of the microdrive and the CF card to get them aligned in the same direction, then make sure the CF card is facing the same direction as the microdrive was when you disconnected it. It's probably the same -- the back of the CF card is what you'll be looking at. But don't take chances.

Once you've reconnected the drive connector, you should be able to snap the CF card back into the space where the microdrive came from. The CF card might be a little loose, as it is a bit thinner than a microdrive. That's OK.

Step 10: Re-Attach the Motherboard

This step goes in the reverse of taking it off.

Line up the motherboard over the back of the device. Holding the parts close together, re-connect the ribbon cable from the front of the device to the motherboard. I had a hard time with this because my hands are big, but I could do it with my pinky.

Once that's done, the rest should be easy. Align the plastic and bent-metal clips with their spaces on the motherboard, and gently press the motherboard into place. Be sure the white connector in the middle at the top, behind the LCD screen, also seats properly.

Step 11: Replace the Backplate

This step just reverses the removal of the backplate. Line the plate up so that the text on the label faces the right direction - tops of the letters/numbers towards the top of the player. Align the six tabs on each side with their respective dents in the casing, and press the plate into place. You should get a few clicks as the tabs click in.

Also when you're done, be sure to slide the backplate towards the bottom of the player. Remember, you had to slide it to disassemble the player, so it needs to be in the same position to re-assemble it.

Step 12: Replace the Shell

Another reverse step. Angle the top of the player internals so that it's angled into the top of the shell, facing up -- that is, the face of the player is up towards the ceiling, the same position it was in when you removed it.

Check the top of the player to be sure the power switch is visible thru the cutout, and not hidden somewhere behind the plastic shell. Seat the top edge of the player right up against the shell, and then angle the bottom of the player into place, pinching the faceplate into place along the edges and then at the bottom. The whole thing should snap together easily, with only a little resistance. Make sure it's seated flush or very close to flush with the edge of the shell.

This process ensures that the two connectors at the top of the motherboard seat properly into the PC board holding the power switch, earphone jack and USB jack. Also, that the two metal clips secure the pieces firmly so they don't pop apart later.

Step 13: Lock the Backplate, Screw in the Top, Insert Battery and Battery Cover

This step is easy: apply firm pressure to the flat bend of the metal backplate at the top of the battery well, and the two metal tabs at the top of the plate should slide into the slots at the top, locking the electronics into place.

Retrieve your screws from their safe storage location, and replace them in the top of the player. Place the power switch cover over the black power switch, and ensure it works by sliding the switch through all 3 positions - spring to off/off, and switched to locked. The switch cover itself will fit in two ways, but should only go in one way, with the face of the player towards you, the open side of the ridge on the bottom of the switch cover is also towards you.

Stick the top cover back on. If it's not sticky any more, then I'm not sure what to tell you... perhaps a little rubber cement will work (VERY LITTLE), so that if needed you can remove the cover again in the future.

I didn't take pictures of these two steps: insert the battery and replace the battery cover.

Come on, you need pictures?

Now that the physical work is done, we need to format the new drive, install the new firmware, and re-load the device with music.

Step 14: Charge the Micro, Format the Drive

After you insert the battery, the player automatically turns on into recovery mode. We'll be using two items in the recovery menu.

But first things first -- if your Zen Micro isn't running on a full charge, please connect it to your PC with the USB cable and let it charge completely. You must have a full charge when you flash the firmware onto the device. Meaning, the blue backlighting isn't pulsating any more when it's connected to the USB cable. Your PC will recognize the device when you connect it, but nothing will happen at this time, which is just fine. Let it charge.

While it's charging, go to the Creative support website for your country, and download the Zen Micro firmware (link goes to US English version, use the Support link above if you have a MicroPhoto and/or need a different localization/language). I personally don't use the version 2 firmware because I don't listen to Microsoft PlaysForSure-DRM'd music. So I obtained version 1.11.01 of the Zen Micro firmware.

UPDATE (thank you abssorb):
There is apparently a known issue (aka device-bricking problem) with Windows Media Player 11 and the Version 1 firmware upgrade for the Zen Micro.

Every user would have to decide for him- or herself if taking these steps to upgrade their player is a good idea. Neither of the firmware versions available for the Zen Micro have been updated since 2005, and the version 2 software update explicitly states in its instructions that version 10 of Windows Media Player is required.
Click here for some more informationon rolling back WMP11 to WMP10 to support upgrading the firmware on the Zen Micro for version 1.xx firmware.

I don't use Windows Media Player at all, so I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. If you did brick your player following these instructions, you should be able to re-enter recovery mode on the device by removing the battery, holding the power switch to "on", and reinserting the battery. From there you can follow the instructions at the link above to prep your device for new firmware, or just reload the factory firmware burned intot he device's ROM with option 3 (see screenshot below).

PS. you should still be able to boot the player into recovery mode and reload the default firmware from the device's ROM. Take out the battery, hold the power switch all the way on, and reinsert the battery. I hope it works for you. I've used recovery mode myself with this device. The last time I did a firmware upgrade I bricked the player and recovery mode brought it back to life. Good luck.

Anyway: Once it's charged, select "Format All" from the recovery menu, and confirm that you want to format. After a few seconds the device will report the formatting complete and tell you how much free space the device has.

Then select "Reboot" from the menu. Your computer will make some noises as the device shuts down and starts up again into Recovery mode. Don't do anything more on the Micro at this time.

Yes, there's an option to "Reload Firmware," but we're not using it. We want newer firmware than what the factory installed in the recovery OS.

Step 15: Flash the New Firmware

Once your player reboots, and it's charged and connected to your PC with a USB cable, start the Firmware loader you downloaded earlier.

Select your language (English for me), and just follow the instructions. The program will detect your player. If it can't, it will tell you that there is not a Zen jukebox currently connected to the PC.

Click "Upgrade" to begin the upgrade. It really is that simple. The program will install the firmware to the CF drive on the Micro, reboot the Micro, and then verify the install was successful. When it's done, you can then use the Micro to navigate to the System menu, and check the System Information.

That's it! Set the player's date and time, and then use your normal methods of loading music onto your player. Jack in your headphones, and have a good time with your higher-capacity, more-durable MP3 player.