The Tivo that tried to Bite the Dust

Back in 2nd grade my favorite time of day was “Show ‘n’ Tell”. I’d get to expound on the boring little details of my life that nobody cared about. In Show ‘n’ Tell I had a captive audience.

“My dog got in a fight with a woodchuck this mornin’. There was blood everywhere! I never seen so much blood!”
“Yesterday my dog found a dead skunk covered with maggots. After he rolled in it awhile, boy did he stink!”
“Last week my dog started humping the milk man’s leg. Does that mean he’s a homo?”
“That’s just about enough, Mister!!”

Nowadays, we don’t have Show ‘n’ Tell, but we have blogs. Of course the “captive” audience that follows a blog kind of relates to how good the blog is. In other words, the old “if a tree falls in the arctic and there was nobody to hear it, did it really make a noise” maxim can certainly apply to blogs.

But this is about a Tivo, not about dead blogs. As I pass through life I’ve noticed that there are certain pleasures that I care about. Some are “reel nice ta have”; others are “uh, get yer goddam paws off that”. I’ve noticed that if necessary, I can live without beer and women, but when it comes to coffee or Tivo, you’d better keep your paws off!

Sooooo, to my endless consternation, for the past few months my Tivo has been actin’ up. Ever so gradually, it started getting slower and slower. First the little beep that you hear when you click the remote was late in arriving, then voices on recorded shows were out of sync. Then it would take awhile to refresh a screen. And finally, the damned thing would freeze up and I’d have to unplug it to reboot.

“Just buy a new one”, said my partner. “They’re cheap.”

Yeah, true; the last one I got her, a TivoHD, was free if you prepaid the $12.95/month subscription for a year in advance. But we don’t like to throw out perfectly good machines when they can be fixed. So I check around the Tivo site and find that I can send it in for repair, and I think they charge around $250. Hmmmmm….. Then I went to “Weaknees”: and found a whole bunch of information.

Weaknees sells drives for your particular model of Tivo that come complete with the operating system pre-installed, step-by-step instructions and even the Torx T-10 screwdriver that you need to accomplish opening your Tivo and putting the new drive in. But of course, we didn’t know that we necessarily needed a new hard drive. But they have a whole section of the site that lists symptoms and probable causes. In my case, they said 99% of the time those symptoms mean a failing hard drive.

Okay. Sometimes I have weak knees, but other times I like to hack around and enjoy hours of free entertainment. So I went to “”: “Must have tools for Tivoholics”. That sounded like me. They have developed Tivo software tools for linux and windows and have step-by-step instructions so that you can take your original Tivo hard drive and transfer everything to a new drive to replace it. They even have tested the available drives so you know which ones you can use in your particular model of Tivo.

I won’t do any step-by-step stuff here, because they do it so much better. Suffice it to say, any Tivo information you need is at Mfslive and Weaknees.

But we promised a Show ‘n’ Tell segment. Basically, I bought a Torx screwdriver at Home Depot, a Western Digital Terabyte hard drive from “Newegg”: and proceeded to open the Tivo. (Okay, it was a little scary.) But not to worry, because it is so well manufactured that everything just comes apart and goes back together like butter. Not like some computers I’ve built from parts.

The Windows version of mfslive seemed a little complicated to me (meaning there was more I had to read) and the linux version seemed simpler, so we went with that. I downloaded the linux boot disk they have available, burned it to cd and took my newly removed Tivo hard drive plus the new Western Digital Terabyte drive I bought downstairs to my computer that has SATA drives in it (my Tivo Series 3 needed SATA connections).

My Dell server downstairs is super ez to open and had my two existing SATA drives right in front for ez removal. All I did was take the connectors off those drives and hook them to the Tivo and the new drive. Then I booted from the linux boot disk I got from Mfslive.

It was basically very easy. Once you boot and use the simple commands to tell which drive is which, there is another simple command to copy everything from your old Tivo drive to the new one. But honesty compels me to relate that I ran into a couple of glitsches.

The first time, I hate to admit it, but I rushed and committed a typo in the command. I left out a ‘ – ‘. That’s a space, a dash and another space.
and there was some kind of error message. But I thought maybe it worked anyway, so I put the new drive into the Tivo and fired it up. I got a blank screen from the empty drive. Oh well.

Went back downstairs, re-hooked it all up, fired up the boot disk and proceeded to type in the *correct* code. That worked fine and it told me that I had 37 minutes to wait. A half hour later I went back and the monitor was blank. Huh? It turned out, the Dell blanks out the screen after a few minutes as a “screensaver” when you’re in the command line. I could hear the two hard drives still working, so I figured it was indeed a screen saver that was enabled in the BIOS. I should have waited a good hour for it to finish, but Nooooo, I’m in a hurry and I tapped a key to turn off the screen-blanking after 40 minutes and screwed up the copying right before the end. Oh well, maybe it missed copying some program that I don’t care about. Nope. Got it up in the Tivo and it only boots half-way.

Okay. Downstairs the third time. This time I realize that I could care less about all the shows recorded on the old hard drive. I saved the ones I cared about to the computer long ago. So this time when it boots up to Mfslive, I type in the command that just copies the essential operating system and skips the recorded programs. That takes only a couple minutes.

Lo and behold, the new terabyte drive goes easily into the Tivo and boots up successfully. But is the speed issue solved? Or will the Tivo keep freezing up even after all my work? Click, click, beep beep. Yep, resolved. New fast Tivo, new terabyte hard drive ready for 1400 hours of shows that I’ll never watch. But I’ll happily get my Mad Men and Breaking Bad fixes speedily and unencumbered by freezes.

The whole process was really much easier than my incompetence suggests, but I’ve always felt that Show-n-Tell should follow the truth to some extent, and not leave out the blood and maggots. (but if one wants to *add* a little blood and maggots and humped milkmen for artistic license, well….).

If I wasn’t in such a rush, the linux version of Mfslive would have worked the first time, and if I wasn’t too lazy to read the Windows information, that might have been easier too. But for most Tivoholics, I realize that Weaknees is your savior. They put out a fine product, extremely documented, and they even send you the Torx screwdriver. If you’re still scared, you can send the unit to them and they’ll even put the thing in for around $50. The Tivo hard drive really couldn’t be any easier to replace.