Review: Rockbox

Shawn Powers demonstrates Rockbox, an open source firmware for mp3 players.

Thanks to our sponsor: GoGrid
GoGrid is a new cloud hosting service where you can deploy Linux servers and load balancing in just minutes. Go to and use promo code GADGETGUY to get a $100 free trial, enough to run 1 or 2 servers for a month and try it out.

The link to the article mentioned:

For a list of compatible devices:


Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

I just found out about this

djnforce9's picture

I just found out about this recently and tried it on my Ipod Photo. Worked like a charm and I am already liking it better than the original firmware (I actually uninstalled the apple firmware since I don't think I will ever be using it again). Great stuff. Just needs some fine tuning in certain spots and it'll be just perfect.

Free/Open hardware audio player and recorder

Casainho's picture

Hello :-)

There are also some persons working on the "Free/Open hardware audio player and recorder, for use with RockBox", see all details here:

We are looking for developers to achieve our goal. Thank you.

I hope this is actually seen, cause it can help a lot of people

jkb's picture

I started using rockbox on a 5g ipod that I was given. I was given the 30gb ipod because the screen was broken... Rockbox supports voice guided menus out of the box.. You can edit the config files with a text editor, and you can have it read music files for you.

Main point: People with broken screens can still use their ipods if they install rockbox and enable the voice guides!



Cyberwave's picture

Other than Doom, isn't there a version of Half-Life for iPods as well? Or is that just for the Linux firmware?

Anyways, does anybody actually know WHY Rockbox and Linux Firmware isn't supported with the new 6th gen classics? I put RockBox on my iPod Nano 1st gen... Which is a piece of 2GB crap compared to mah 80GB classic, but RockBox just made my Nano really cool. The thing is, if I really wanted to put RockBox onto a bigger sized iPod (which I NEED for all the music I have), I'd need an older version, and it'd be colorless -.- Which sucks.

Cool stuff

QuickFox's picture

I don't own an iPod or any of those players, but that is really cool. I'm surprised it ran on a B&W screen.

By the way, that's Freedoom, an open source Doom game. I played it a while back, cool stuff in my opinion.

Rockbox is to apple-firmware as Linux is to Windows...

Gumby's picture

Sorry Shawn I think that you missed the point...

Sure the apple firmware does the job, works smooth, looks good and locks you into a certain way of listening to music. Rockbox (like linux) takes some getting used to, lacks some polish and has, shall we say, character. But it is infinitely more powerful in terms of customizing how it works, options to control your experience and potential of what it could do tomorrow. Oddly enough it is the rockbox project that made me aware of the open source community and encouraged me to move to linux.

I personally find controlling what I want to listen to and organizing playlists easier with rockbox than the native ipod. The games are an aside but handy sometimes. Battery life is a bit shorter but manageable. If you haven't

Mike M's picture If you haven't watched it yet, skip the first 2 minutes where he discusses how he's unable to read the supported device list and planned to use rockbox on 3 or 4 devices it doesn't run on (no joke, 2 minutes about all the devices rockbox doesn't work on). And skip the next 2 minutes where he plays Doom and can't figure out how to quit. Actually, skip the next minute where he talks more about random plugins, and the last minute where he talks about his sponsor. Don't even click the play button, just skip it. I absolutely love Rockbox; anyone that's watching this and is rightly convinced that rockbox is terrible, ignore this video and try it out, it's great. It actually plays music, I promise, even though he didn't get around to trying that with all the plugin fiddling and whatnot. He also chose a terrible device to use it on (as he mentions half a dozen times), it looks much better on other players, especially the newer versions (see for pictures).

Unrelated, but why does this site use a math question for a captcha? Captchas are normally obfuscated letters because they're hard for a computer to scan; computers are fairly good at math problems like "4+0"

If YOU haven't...

Anonymous's picture

If YOU haven't noticed, the widest used MP3 Player happens to be an iPod and I have one older model, along with the newest model and Rockbox doesn't work on EITHER of them. Nor does it work on any of my kids off brand MP3 players, so I am VERY thankful that I saw this video because I now know that Rockbox has A LOT of updating to do before I even entertain the idea of using it.

Read some instructions

Anonymous's picture

To "if YOU haven't":

I don't know about everyone else, but when I decided to look into Rockbox I just went to the website and started looking around and found that their documentation is GREAT. Personally if I'm going to put something on my iPod, why would I watch someone else's video to find out what it runs on and what it doesn't run on?!? Go check out the website for yourself - the list of compatible devices is second only to the logo!!!

I could just be an ass, but I think people have gotten accustomed to everyone doing their work for them. While I'm hunting around for ideas and questions related to how to perhaps write a new plugin, I run into endless questions that could easily be answered in a 2min trip to the Rockbox site: "will this harm my iPod?", "how to you install this?", "doom says no base wad, what do I do?", "will this run on my particular iPod?" Rockbox developers are so new-person minded that they even include freaking pictures of your device so that if you don't know you have a 5G you can just look and tell it's the same thing that's in your hand. Do what everyone else does - search forums or just GOOGLE your question and see what happens. I find 95% of my answers using these methods.

Lastly (seriously, I'm long winded and realize that), the developers have done an INCREDIBLE job getting Rockbox available on all the devices currently supported. You hope that Rockbox becomes available for yours, which doesn't exactly give you license to say that Rockbox needs a lot of updating. I'm glad you're thankful this video exists and that otherwise you might have tried to install Rockbox on your unsupported device by downloading the... wait a second... you WOULDN'T have been able to even embark on this because you would not have seen a current build for your device here:


Anonymous's picture

I believe you can put Hold on and off to open the menu in Doom.

Rockbox rocks

David Fretz's picture

I had hesitated before on putting on any addon my Apple iPod 5.5 Gen. However, I tried this addon after seeing the video and liked that the boot up time seemed a bit faster.

The installer was able to download everything for this model of iPod except any extra themes. I did figure out how to manually install themes. So it was no big deal.

Thanks for another cool open source project review video.

I found Rockbox really

arbulus's picture

I found Rockbox really lacking. I also found it difficult to install. Firstly, the iPod must be formatted with a Windows filesystem. Since I have no Windows box at all, I had to go to my sisters house and plug it into her Windows box and use iTunes to re-format it. Rockbox's website gives steps on how to reformat it under Linux if it's in a Mac format, but the instructions don't work. And that also is the same for most instructions on Rockbox's site: they are not at all concise and very hard to follow.

Secondly, the controls are really difficult to get used to. Depending on what menu/sub-menu you are in, the controls are different. Why they couldn't standardize the controls across each menu is beyond me. It's also very slow and very unresponsive at times. And further, it basically halves your battery life.

So in my opinion, it's just not worth the trouble. I want to be able to use my iPod on my Linux box, but Rockbox just isn't the answer. So I'll just use my wife's Mac to sync my iPod until I can afford a Cowon iAudio X5, which is Linux compatible and can play OGG formats.

/Not a Cowon plug, I just think it's a better option.


lapubell's picture

I love my X5. Highly recommended. It runs linux from the get go and has never let me down.

A bad taste in my mouth

Bob Fahey's picture

Gee, what a great vid, then, I was violated by a built-in AD for . I was forced to watch an AD against my will. No means NO. You invaded me with an AD without my permission!

One of the reasons I use Open Source Linux and applications, including your demonstrated Rockbox was to get away from ADs.

I know you have to feed your kids, I do too, but please don't build the ADs into your vids as I have no way to delete/block/hide them. My time is MINE, and I don't give anyone permission to use it unless I deem it good for my health and well being. Gogrid has nothing of value for me.

I like you, your writing, and your videos. Someone in LinuxJournal obviously thought this was a 'good' idea. Must have been someone from marketing. Please put them back in the dog house.

Hey, I was going through the

Anonymous's picture


I was going through the messages and saw this funny reply! Dude dont you have anything else to do, the fact you replied with such a comprehensive message suggests to me that you liked the add. Chill out man theres worse things in the world!! GO hard Shawn the 'Journal' needs money to survive.


lapubell's picture

Do you think that advertisers do not know that you can block their embedded ads? The whole point of someone paying for advertising is so that it will be SEEN. Of course they are going to want an ad in the video. How do you get away from that? YOU DON'T.

Just take a step back and realize that whenever you find a way to block an ad, advertisers will find a new way to get it in front of you. If you don't like it, boycott. Don't wine. If I were you (which i'm not, as you seem to get annoyed over trivial 5 sec advertising) I would just stop watching these pod casts and boycott GoGrid.


Shawn Powers's picture

I can't promise video sponsorship will go away, but I will try to make it as fun as possible. (Sadly, no one I know in real life "got" the Pentium joke on the whiteboard in the video)

As I get more comfortable with the idea of sponsorship, the "ads" might even get more fun. Heck, the best part of the Super Bowl is the ads, maybe I can find a happy medium with sponsorships, and everyone will win...

And thanks for the compliments, I won't even pretend they don't make me feel shiny. :)

Shawn Powers is a Linux Journal Associate Editor. You might find him on IRC, Twitter, or training IT pros at CBT Nuggets.

Sorry Shawn

Bob Fahey's picture

Sorry, I'm boycotting all your vids until the built-in ads are gone. Send me an email when they are gone and I'll come back.

I'm not going to argue with your other 'fully consumer trained' readers, but I'll just stick with your written articles. Although I did have my FF ad-block disabled on linux journal, I've now turned it back on.

I do like your stuff, just ain't gonna put up with the ads. Sure, what's 5 seconds, well, first it's 5 seconds, then 10 seconds, and then, you look like yahoo vids.

Good Luck,

No problem with your ads

NinjaBob's picture

I have absolutely no problem with the way Shawn does his ads.

1) The ad is at the end of the show... so you can stop watching if you want. It's not buried in the middle which is one of the most annoying ways to implement ads in videocasts.

2) The ad is done by the presenter as opposed to a cut-away clip with audio levels double that of the show.

3) It was funny (p.s.: I got the pentium joke)

Ads and griping...

RandyNose's picture

I don't know if it's the same person or just a group of people that seem to show up everywhere and gripe about the ads in podcast, or wherever... But Sheesh. Shawn, maybe if that person had paid a quartar for the show, they might have an excuse or an expectation that they wouldn't find ads. Like the Movie Theater, we pay to go to that, and lord knows that there's never any ads there. - No, Wait. But even after paying for movies there's ads... hmm... Maybe these people need to just turn off their Free TV, and Free Radio and FREE podcasts. What would they want next? Free Internet at Starbucks after paying 5 bucks for coffee?

Ads or not. I enjoy Shawn's nuttyness. As for RockBox I bought a used Sansa e250, and installed it via my other machine as I was having issues with my Linux box. I enjoy it. But yea, it's FREE too. So someone's bound to be unhappy with the price structure.

Ok, I'd better stop, as I'm getting Snarky.

I think that I'll go watch Ubuntu Family Theater again... It gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling.