How to Root the Apple TV and use an External Hard Drive as the Primary Hard Drive.
Updated: October 26, 2013
Who is this guide for?
- Apple TV first generation model only.
- I have version 3.0.2 firmware.
- I used OS X 10.8.2
- I used iTunes 11.0.2
This tutorial is about hacking the first generation Apple TV (you remember, the big silver
one?) to use an external hard drive via the USB diagnostic port. This drive will be
recognized by the Apple TV as the primary hard drive and the internal hard drive will be
ignored (as far as storing your media files). I've read you can still use the internal
drive for storage however I will not be covering this. Who needs the limitations of a 160
GB drive when you can have a 1 TB drive, or bigger?
When I'm finished, this external hard drive will not only play all my DVD rips but my
iTunes store purchased movies and TV shows as well.
Here's my Apple TV as reported by iTunes with the stock 160 GB hard drive.
I have one other Apple TV tutorial
about replacing the internal hard drive and/or backing up the stock hard drive's setup
in case of drive failure.
Get a USB flash drive. It must be at least 512 MB in size. I freshly erased mine. It
doesn't matter what it is named.
and download The Intel/PPC OSX version of atvusb-creator. Mine is version 1.0.b13 I am
also hosting this file
Unzip the download. We'll come back to this shortly. Now go to your Applications >
Utilities folder and launch Terminal.app.
All terminal commands that you type will be displayed in red
Type sudo -s
and then press enter. You'll be prompted for your
password. Type it in and press enter again.
Go back to the download you just unzipped which should be called atvusb-creator-1.0.b13.
Open the folder.
Right click on atvusb-creator.app. Select Show Package Contents. Click on the Contents
folder, then the MacOS folder and select atvusb-creator.
Drag it into the Terminal window and a path will appear. Press enter and the application
should launch. We have to launch the program this way because there is a bug which
prevents the program from making the patchstick if you try to launch it normally.
Choose an Installation should display ATV-Patchstick. Installation Options should display
Apple TV version 3.x and a the box below should be checked. Everything in the drop down
box will be checked already. Make sure that your USB Target Device is set to the correct
drive and click the Create Using -> button.
This will take several minutes as it must download firmware for the Apple TV so that
the EFI can be included.
When it has finished it will rename your USB flash drive to PATCHSTICK and unmount it.
Close the program and remove the USB flash drive.
Plug the PATCHSTICK into the USB port on the Apple TV. Unplug the Apple TV power cord and
then plug it back in.
If you see the Apple logo then you need to unplug the Apple TV and try again. You
should see a Linux penguin sitting on an Apple TV. Lots of text will scroll from bottom
to top on the screen. It will stop after thirty seconds or so.
When it does stop a couple important lines of text will be at the bottom. Follow the
instructions and check for any errors. As part of the installation process SSH was
installed on the Apple TV so that you can communicate with it through the Terminal on
There will be login information there. If you are using the Terminal you can type
and the password will be
. If you are using other
SSH clients then the hostname is appletv.local and the password is: frontrow.
Remove the PATCHSTICK. Unplug the Apple TV power cord and plug it back in. This time
you'll see the Apple logo and the Apple TV will start up normally. There will be two new
menu entries: Software Menu and Launcher.
Go back to the Terminal and enter ssh frontrow@appleTV.local
then press enter. If you have multiple Apple TVs (I do) it would be better to ssh in to
the specific Apple TV so that you don't have to keep blowing away your known_hosts file.
Settings > General > About will display your IP address.
when prompted with the question. Press enter.
Enter the password which is frontrow
and press enter.
You'll now be at a prompt. You have just connected to your Apple TV via the Terminal on
your Mac. Cool!
Now we are going to install NitoTV and enable the USB port to work with an external hard
drive. I learned how to do this
Back in the Terminal enter the following four commands one at a time. I am also hosting
NitoTV Take Three
This command may take a couple minutes to complete as it must download software. When you
receive a prompt, continue with the rest of the commands.
cd "nitoTV Take Three"/
The password is
The Apple TV's finder will be restarted and look at that a new menu entry: nitoTV. If
the Apple logo hangs for a long time (more than two minutes) then send the
Now you need to download the USB drivers from the OS X 10.4.9 combo update. Enter the
following commands into the Terminal:
On the Apple TV menu go to nitoTV > Settings > Install Software > Smart Installer
You'll hear a sound clip and see the words it's thinking on the screen.
This will take about a minute and then you'll see this screen. Click the Restart
Apple TV (or Restart Finder if this is your second time through) button. Plug in your
external hard drive at this point.
Go to nitoTV > Files You should now see your hard drive.
If you don't see the hard drive then either restart your Apple TV by entering
in the Terminal or go to nitoTV > Settings >
Utilities > Reboot Apple TV.
Sometimes this still doesn't work and I've found that I've needed to repeat the part where
you go into the Smart Installer to get the Apple TV to see the external hard drive.
If all you want to do is place rips of your personally owned DVDs or music on the external
drive then you are done. However I have a large collection of personally owned DVDs and
lots of movies and TV shows that I purchased on iTunes. I'd prefer to just place all of
these on the external hard drive and have iTunes sync to that. NitoTV (nor XBMC) can play
content purchased through iTunes. It will just crash the system if you try. You need to
go through the Apple TV OS to do this.
To accomplish what I want to do you need to make the external hard drive the primary hard
drive for the Apple TV. I learned how to do this
Enter the following into the Terminal:
cp -R /mnt/Media/* /mnt/Scratch/Volumes/name_of_usb_drive/
Don't forget the trailing slash! Replace name_of_usb_drive with the name of your own USB
drive. Do not use spaces in the name. I called mine ATVExternal.
sudo mv /mnt/Media /mnt/Media.org
sudo ln -s /mnt/Scratch/Volumes/name_of_usb_drive /mnt/Media
sudo chown -h frontrow:frontrow /mnt/Media
sudo chown -R frontrow:frontrow /mnt/Scratch/Volumes/name_of_usb_drive
You'll notice there is an error message in my screen shot below. I haven't seen any
negative impact because of this. Below, when sharing the hard drive with a second Apple
TV I also received this error message.
iTunes will now use the external USB drive as available storage. The external drive must
be connected at all times for media syncing and playback as the internal drive will no
longer be used (other than for running the Apple TV OS. If you turn on the Apple TV
without the external hard drive connected the Apple TV will boot, show the start up video
of the flying TVs, then go to a black screen and sit there. No user interface will
display but the screen saver will still run.
If you wanted to go back to using the internal hard drive as the primary you would enter
the following into the Terminal:
sudo rm /mnt/Media
sudo mv /mnt/Media.old /mnt/Media
On the Apple TV go to Settings > General > About and you'll see your new hard drive is
set up correctly. 928.19 GB capacity, outstanding!
Launch iTunes. I skipped the whole register thing.
iTunes sees the new drive as well. Excellent.
Now you are ready to sync your content.
Syncing content over Ethernet
In my case it's not possible to have a permanent Ethernet connection to my Apple TV. I'm
just going to set up a temporary connection to get the initial upload of content onto it.
Future updates will be for new content as I acquire it and Wi-Fi will be sufficient as
I'll be transferring 2 GB here and there.
My set up: MacBook Air and the Apple Thunderbolt to Ethernet adapter.
You can order this adapter here:
I used an Ethernet cable that had the words "patch cord" printed on it and one that
didn't say this on it. I've read it doesn't matter whether or not you use a crossover
I also synced with an internal hard drive (before I wanted to perform the steps documented
in this tutorial) and an external hard drive.
Apple has a knowledge base article on this procedure here:
http://support.apple.com/kb/ht1784 I'll be following the first option under
solution 2 of those instructions.
- Connect Apple TV to your TV (you can also do this headless).
- From Apple TV, connect an Ethernet cable to your Mac's Ethernet port.
- Set up Apple TV to pair with iTunes on your Mac.
- On your Mac, open iTunes and select Apple TV in the Devices list.
- Choose the content you want to sync.
- Select the Sync button to start the process over Ethernet. You should notice a significant increase in performance.
- Once the sync is complete, disconnect from Ethernet.
I had a bad cable the first time as it wouldn't sync. I opened System Preferences and
went to Network. The Thunderbolt Ethernet connection wasn't active. I switched out
cables and it worked.
When I did this again after installing Mavericks, I didn't get the green dot next to
Thunderbolt Ethernet. It stayed yellow but worked just fine.
You'll notice my Wi-Fi is turned off. I've read the Apple TV seeks out an Ethernet
connection then if it isn't available it looks for a Wi-Fi signal. I just wanted to make
When I tried playing one of the movies I had synced I had the common problem where even
though I was signed in on the Apple TV the movie wouldn't play because it wasn't
authorized. This is a bug I've experienced before. Using the Apple TV I downloaded a
free TV show. Once I did that suddenly my movies were authorized. You can read about
this fine bug here: https://discussions.apple.com/thread/3508078?start=0&tstart=0
Powering down the Apple TV and all hard drives
I want to be able to safely power down the Apple TV and the internal and external hard
drives as I'd like to prolong the life span of all these devices. Let's face it the
Apple TV runs HOT and the longer I can go between drive failures the better.
I run a few commands via the Terminal to unmount the internal and external drives and then
a command to shutdown the Apple TV. I put a power strip with a switch right next to the
Apple TV so I can switch it off after sending the commands.
SSH in to the Apple TV and shut it down by doing the following:
(or whatever your IP address is)
Enter the password frontrow
(your drives will always have the same numbers if you don't move them)
sudo diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk1
sudo diskutil unmountDisk /dev/disk0
sudo /sbin/shutdown -h now
If you have more than one Apple TV...
SSH into a second Apple TV.
If you have multiple Apple TVs that you want to set up, you can determine the IP
address of a specific Apple TV by going to Applications > Utilities > and launching
the AirPort Utility.app.
Click on your base station icon and it will display all devices that have access. Hover
the name of the device to obtain information about it. You would then enter
ssh frontrow@IP address
to log in. For example ssh
Share external hard drive with other Apple TVs
I didn't want to have to purchase a second hard drive for my other Apple TV. I prefer to
just unplug it and take it to the other room.
In Step 5 you enter a series of commands to associate the new hard drive as the primary
When you enter this command you may receive an error message:
sudo chown -R frontrow:frontrow /mnt/Scratch/Volumes/name_of_usb_drive
When I proceeded with the rest of the instructions it worked just fine with the new
Apple TV after a reboot.
Improving airflow / heat disipation
I did a little bit of searching to learn about heat related issues and methods of
cooling the unit so it will last longer. I came across everything from putting a bag of
ice on the unit (which improved playback and eliminated artifacts), to using a fan under
the unit and even disassembling the unit and placing more thermal paste between the CPU
and GPU and the top of the unit.
Here are a few discussions I came across:
I decided to cut the rubber pad on the bottom (mine gets quite warm) so that the rubber
remains only at the corners of the unit. Since the bottom of my unit was covered in glue
to attach the rubber, I used a ball point pen to poke holes through the glue that covered
any of the holes in the perforated metal bottom plate.
I removed the rubber pad from my Apple TV and marked out 1" squares that I could cut from
Here's the finished product.
I decided to go to the next level and purchased some tin snips
I then cut away a portion of the perforated lower plate until it looked like this.
You may want to file your cuts so that you don't cut yourself reassembling it. Make sure
to wash off any metal shavings so they don't fall into the internals. When you combine
this mod with the laptop fan, the Apple TV runs AMAZINGLY COOL. There is only a slight
difference in temperature from the front of the case to the back where the CPU makes
contact. I'd highly recommend this mod if you want to increase the longevity of your
Apple TV. Here's mine sitting on that fan I linked to earlier.