Supersize Your Tivo
Sun Jan 9th 2005, 3:27pm
On Saturday night I finally embarked on the same rite of passage as so many others before me: swapping out the hard drive inside my older Tivo Series 1. The purpose was twofold: 1. to allow me to record my programs at a higher quality, and 2. to get rid of the extremely noisy stock hard drive with something a little quieter.

Although I'm definitely a latecomer to this scene, Tivo is by no means a recent addition to my house--I got my first Tivo, a Sony SVR-2000, in August 2000. I've kept up with the various Tivo hacks over the years, from the oldest and most obvious hack of swapping hard drives to reading your email or streaming video to and from your Tivo. But while I've always been curious, I've also been a bit reluctant to tinker with what already works so well and has become a cornerstone of reliability in our household. My wife uses it as much as I do, and I really didn't want to turn our TV watching experience into a lab experiment with random glitches and annoyances.

That attitude just changed. I see now how easy and risk-free it is to do. Really. The hardest part about this isn't really so much in doing anything, it's just figuring out what you need to do. Since there are about a billion different Tivo makes and models, the instructions vary subtly between them. And many of the instructions out there spend as much time explaining how to open the case, or what this "Linux" thing is, as they do on the real meat of the matter: the MFS commands. So here's what I went through, and of course all the usual disclaimers apply, your milage may vary, etc. I have some photos, but unfortunately I had to use my crappy camera phone as I left my regular camera at work.

  1. Buy a hard drive. frysoutpost.com has had lots of drives with rebates lately. I got a WD 120GB drive for around $50-60 after rebate.

  2. Visit the MFS Tools page on Sourceforge:
    1. Print out the I Want a Large TiVo with Lots of Recording Time HOWTO and read it over.
    2. Download and burn to CD the MFS Tools ISO image.

  3. inside of Sony
SVR-2000 TivoCrack open your Tivo and remove the drive. If you've ever messed with the innards of a computer you will have no problem with this task. The hardest part is you will likely need some funky Torx screwdriver bits to remove the case screws. Also, while you're in there you may want to get a vacuum to suck out the inch-thick layer of dust.

  4. Tivo drives
installed in spare PCPut the old and new Tivo drives in a spare PC. Despite what the HOWTOs say it doesn't matter how you arrange them as master or slave on your primary or secondary IDE channel, just pick something and be sure to set the master/slave jumpers on each drive correctly.

  5. Linux bootup messages showing Tivo drivesBoot up the MFS Tools CD you just burned. Check the Linux bootup messages (Shift-PageUp/PageDown) to ensure your old and new drives were detected properly, noting which Linux device name each was assigned (e.g. hda and hdb). In my case, the new drive was hda and the old drive was hdb.

  6. MFS commands
to copy Tivo imageCopy the base Tivo stuff over (takes a few minutes):
    mfsbackup -1qso - /dev/hdb | mfsrestore -i - /dev/hda

  7. If you want to keep any shows you have on the old drive (took 2 hours for me):
    mfsbackup -aqo - /dev/hdb | mfsrestore -xpi - /dev/hda

  8. Ctrl-Alt-Del to reboot, power off your PC after Linux exits.

  9. Put new Tivo drive back in Tivo, ensuring its jumper is set to Master.

  10. Supersized
Tivo capacityTurn on your Tivo, go to System information to confirm the new capacity. You're done.

One big deviation I took from the HOWTO was to skip using an intermediary backup image in step 6 above; as you can see I simply pipe the output of the mfsbackup command straight into mfsrestore. The HOWTO would have you output this backup to a FAT32 partition, then read it in for the restore. It even recommends you go buy another drive to format it with FAT32 should you not have one available for this technique. Forget that. I would have written it out over NFS or something but unfortunately the kernel on the MFS tools ISO image doesn't seem to have networking support. And while it would be nice to have a Tivo image backup image somewhere to burn onto CD, I figure the old drive, which I'll store in a drawer somewhere, is my backup.

If you're already running Linux at home it would probably be really easy to add the two Tivo drives to your system, boot up into Linux, then just run the above mfsbackup and mfsrestore commands. I haven't run Linux at home since I got my Macs, so I didn't try this.

I'll give credit where it is due: this process was easy because of the countless hours of volunteers before me who blazed the trail for the rest of us to follow. Thanks! Now my Tivo has lots of room, I can record everything on Best quality, and--the icing on the cake--the unit is now virtually silent thanks to the newer hard drive. Why didn't I do this sooner?



Visitor comments
On Mon Jan 10th 2005, 12:26pm, Will posted:
Thats way cool steve. Now you can record way too much TV. I know I watch more TV now than I ever though possible, all because of Tivo. Love that little guy.


On Mon Jan 10th 2005, 2:18pm, Steve Kehlet posted:
Heh, it's a love/hate thing isn't it. More TV, but better TV, right? These days I'm so tired of commercials I get irritated that I even have to fast forward through them.


On Sat May 13th 2006, 6:22am, blue posted:
Thanks for the informative reference, Steve. You've got a bunch of good info here - it's very much appreciated!