Use it as a recovery disk
If you want to take the easy route, the internet is rife with portable diagnostic and recovery tools that you can run from within Windows or OS X. Memtest, HWMonitor and Spybot Search and Destroy are just a few good choices that no good recovery MP3 player should be without. However, if you're looking for a more comprehensive solution, you can create a bootable environment too. While not free, Micromat, makers of the Mac-friendly diagnostic app TechTool, offer a mobile version that can be installed onto any portable device — iPods and MP3 players especially.
Meanwhile, Windows users will find AVG's bootable virus scan environment to be great for tackling potential infections, while BartPE-based options can be great for rescuing files or solving unruly partition problems. With tools like that, you could unwittingly become the tech support envy of all your less-savvy friends.
Install Linux for awesome new featuresYou might think that Linux has no place on an MP3 player — until you realize the awesome features that it brings. Things like gapless playback, 5-band equalizers, on-the-fly playlist creation and FLAC/OGG support are features that many of today's models can only envy. In fact, certain models even posses the ability to record audio through their headphone jacks, meaning it's easy to turn an old model into a cheap, high-quality audio recorder.
iPod Linux and Rockbox projects, anyone with an older generation iPod, iRiver or Sandisk player can try it for themselves. And while today's builds are somewhat out of date, what with newer generation devices being sold instead, it's easy to install a working build from the wiki over the course of an afternoon. You can even dual boot with the original OS too, making the process easy to reverse. Besides, there's something cool — if not impractical — about playing Doom on an iPod's click wheel.
Run a portable OSour simple guide from months back on how to create a small, portable linux install that fits in your pocket. But if all your USB drives busy elsewhere (hopefully toting those new Futurama episodes for all to see) an iPod or MP3 player is a good stand-in too. As usual, Unetbootin will transform any unassuming iPod into a portable Linux powerhouse, and if Windows is more your flavour, you can even find guides for live Windows XP builds too. Just don't expect it to play music while indulging your Tux Racer obsession late into the night.
Salvage the storage
Curiously, some models, like old iPod Minis, actually use Compact Flash-sized hard drives, which you could use in other CF-based devices. It's not the most practical of solutions, considering the price of flash-based memory, but at least the option is there. Just remember, these drives weren't built with continuous use in mind, as devices like the iPod were based around a heavy caching system to extend their life. Low-risk uses — like ReadyBoost — might be the best way to keep your drive from croaking.
Move music from other computersrecent article on syncing your music without iTunes, we found a few tools that were more than up to the task. However, a pleasant side effect found in many of these apps is the ability to use your iPod with as many computers as you wish — without the limit that iTunes usually imposes. We're not ones to advocate borrowing music from your friends, but if you're looking for a quick way to move music between multiple iTunes installs, an old iPod is perfect for the job. Apps like Sharepod and Floola are great for managing songs, albums and playlists on multiple machines, making it easy to keep your secret cache of Lady Gaga tunes hidden from prying eyes.
Hide your dataLegend of Zelda cosplay, or those creepy Cylon love letters you wrote to Tricia Helfer. Either way, there's simply no better use for an old iPod than to create an encrypted cache for all your stuff. Using open source software from TrueCrypt, you can protect your aging MP3 player from prying eyes, and even hide the entire volume so potential lurkers are none the wiser. Just don't go all Dexter on us, okay? We're not responsible for any vigilante sprees you've been attempting to cover up.
Of course, this is just a small selection of practical uses for that old dusty player — we want to hear the creative ways with which you've repurposed your old iPod too! Let us know in the comments, with some tips for others to follow suit.
Images via Flickr users Xabier.M, FHKE, compworld, Alex The Traveller, and islandinthenet.