eReader: Running CM7 Firmware on a Nook Color from an SD Card

Update: There is a newer version of this post here.

I think I've mentioned approximately 758 times now that I bought a Nook Color when they first came out last year, and liked it so much that I immediately bought another one for Husband (so that he would stop hogging mine).

I do love my Nook Color, but I'll also frankly admit that after the shine wore off a little, my daily experience with the device wasn't all that I had hoped for. I don't feel like I'm an especially picky person, but the stock software that came on the device just wasn't well-suited for my style of reading, and I soon found myself reading more and more on my 4" android phone than on my 7" Nook Color. Clearly something was wrong with this picture.

I read up on rooting the device so that I could transform the Nook Color into a "proper" android tablet, with the idea that access to the Google android market would solve this problem. I eventually went with the wonderful autonooter rooting method, and everything was solved forever - I still had all the stock B&N software for accessing my Nook magazine and newspaper subscriptions, but I also had an android launcher (Zeam) configured to basically mirror my phone setup, but on my Nook Color. Awesome!

The only problem with this was that the autonooter procedure could be wiped with a B&N update such as the one that went out recently (to rather lackluster community response). And even with the Zeam launcher, the Nook Color still didn't feel like a real tablet device - the icons were very small and spread out across the screen, and the entire device behaved not unlike a small phone stretched to a larger screen. Then, too, there was the problem that rooting did technically void the warranty, which made Husband rather reluctant to try.

All in all, the autonooter method works and works well and I'm absolutely thrilled that clever and thoughtful people took the time to make it, film a helpful tutorial video, and disseminate it online. However, when friends on the MobileRead forums started recommending an alternative method for creating a full tablet experience - running the CM7 firmware from a removable micro-SD card - I knew I had to try it out.

The benefits to the CM7-from-SD-card experience are many and varied. The entire procedure takes less than 30 minutes to setup. Once setup, your Nook Color can run either the B&N stock software OR the CM7 tablet firmware at any time - the only trigger is whether or not the magical SD card has been inserted prior to powering up the device. The Nook Color doesn't have to be rooted, and everything involving CM7 and your new android tablet environment is confined entirely to the SD card, so you (apparently) aren't voiding your warranty or risking damage to your device. Best of all, the tablet experience provided here really is a full-fledged tablet environment - the icons are properly sized and the screen space available for your shortcuts and widgets is absolutely amazing.

Now, I want to stress that I have nothing to do with CM7 or the Cyanogen team whatsoever - I didn't even know they existed before last week. And I take no responsibility for anything you do to your device, etc., etc. boiler-plate legal disclaimer. But having said *that*, I wanted to put together a video of how to install CM7 on an SD card for use with your Nook Color, because frankly I find written instructions to be harder to follow than visual ones. (Although this eventually became five videos because Adobe Premier wouldn't let me easily stream my "live-camera" movies with my "computer-screenshot-movies" without scrunching the computer stuff to a totally unreadable format.)

Ready? Let's get started.

Here is a list of all the things you will need:
  1. A Nook Color. (Duh.)
  2. A micro SD card. There's no mandatory size / format / manufacturer for this process, but supposedly quality does matter on these things and I have no idea how you tell the "good" ones from the "bad" ones without buying them first. I use this micro SD card - I own three of these now, all from this listing on Amazon, and two of them are running CM7 for Nook Colors as I type. (You'll also need a way to connect your micro SD card to your computer - something like this should work.)
  3. An image-writing program like WinImage. I used WinImage85 in my tutorial.
  4. The CM7 installer image here. Note that the ".gz" extension is a compressed format - you'll need to unzip it with a program like WinRar. (Update: This link seems to be dead now, and I'm not sure why. I've uploaded the version I used here, but I take no credit for this build. I think you can still get it free on the CyanogenMod website, but I can't find it at the moment.)
  5. The CM7 build here. (Download the update-cm-ETCETERA-.zip file. Do not unzip - just leave as is.)
  6. The CM7 google apps installer here. (Scroll to the bottom until you see this download link.)



OK. Now that you've got your hardware (Nook Color, micro SD card, and a card reader to connect to your computer) and your software (WinRar, WinImage, CM7 installer, CM7 build, CM7 gapps), we're ready to start watching videos.

  • Video 1 is an introduction to the process and gets you from "What is this whole CM7 thing that Ana keeps talking about?" to "Mmkay, we're putting the SD card in the computer now."
  • Video 2 is a step-by-step computer tutorial showing how to use WinImage to write the CM7 installer to the SD card and how to move the CM7 build file over to the imaged card.
  • Video 3 shows you how to put the SD card into your Nook Color so that the CM7 installer can build CM7 onto the SD card for actual use, and what to expect when you boot up CM7 for the first time.
  • Video 4 is another step-by-step computer tutorial for where to put the gapps (Google apps) installer on your SD card for installation to the CM7 build.
  • Video 5 shows you how to walk through the Google apps installation process, how to connect to WiFi, and how shiny and cool CM7 is once you've done this final step.

Overall, the process is fairly simple, and I actually think a video of the process will probably seem like overkill to anyone familiar with the process, but I hope this will help newbies (like me!) who feel overwhelmed by not knowing what, exactly, to expect. Once you've seen the videos, hopefully this won't seem so scary or strange.

As a final note, credits must be given where credit is most definitely due:
  1. Huge love goes out to The Unlockr for their Autonooter method that originally got me brave enough to mess around with my Nook Color in the first place.
  2. Even more huge love to The Unlockr for their equally helpful instructions on how to flash the Nook Color back to a complete fresh-out-of-the-box factory reset
  3. Great appreciation goes to Quinxy von Besiex for his helpful article on the difference between running CM7 from SD card verses from the internal memory of the device...
  4. ...and for his wonderful how-to-use-a-bluetooth-keyboard-with-your-CM7-nook-color instructions, which were what convinced me to use CM7 and which I will use just as soon as my new bluetooth keyboard arrives in the mail.
  5. Buckets of credit goes to verygreen for the size-agnostic SD card CM7 installer, as well as for the instructions that I followed in this process
  6. The community of MobileRead deserves special thanks for introducing me to the very concept of CM7 and its use with the Nook Color. 
  7. And, of course, the Cyanogen team deserves my undying love and gratitude for making and distributing this incredibly cool mod.
I hope that someone finds this video helpful, and I appreciate any and all comments, emails, questions, and constructive criticisms of my speaking voice.

Update: Once you have everything set up on your SD card exactly the way you want (apps downloaded, emails setup, etc.), you can create a backup of the SD card contents by following these steps:
  1. Turn off your Nook Color. 
  2. Remove the SD card and insert it into your computer card reader. 
  3. Open the WinImage program.
  4. Select Disk --> "Creating Virtual Hard Disk image from physical drive..."
  5. Pick your SD card at the prompt. 
  6. Save the image as an "*.ima" file to your local computer. 
  7. After the image is saved, you'll be able to browse the partitions in WinImage - just ignore this and shut it down. 


To restore the image to a new SD card, follow these steps: 
  1. Pop in a new SD card of the same size (or larger). 
  2. Open the WinImage program. 
  3. Select Disk --> "Restore Virtual Hard Disk image on physical drive..."
  4. Pick your new SD card at the prompt. 
  5. The image will save to the SD card - when you pop it into your Nook Color and boot up, everything should be the same as it was when you backed up the initial SD card. 
Warning: Writing this image to the new SD card will partition the new card and the only way to get the card back to normal is to use a de-partitioning program like Paragon Partition Manager. Supposedly, the stock Windows Disk Management can do the trick, but I never could get it to work. So don't load this image up on SD cards willy-nilly.

Update: The Cyanogen website has a very nice tutorial that some people may find a little more clear-cut than my own rambling videos. Check it out here

    23 comments:

    Esullivan said...

    Thank you, this is very clear and helpful (and quite generous on your part).

    TigerPaw said...

    Excellent job! I have found one thing that can simplify the process even further. After you load the CM7 zip file onto the microSD card in video 2, you can then also load the gapps-gb-20110307-signed.zip file onto the microSD card, too. They will then both install in one step rather than having to install CM7 and reboot into recovery (my NC almost always refuses to boot into recovery).
    -
    I verified this by watching the text that scrolls down the screen as CM7 initially installs. Towards the end of that process, it announces that it is looking for a gapps...zip file, and not finding one, goes on to finish the first stage. So, when I copied both zip files during the same step, when the CM7 install script executes, it FINDS the gapps...zip file and happily installs it. I have done this on 3 separate complete installs and it works flawlessly every time!
    -
    B&N Update Issue: The new upgrade to the NC firmware version 1.2.0 (handcuffed FroYo) that B&N is pushing out DOES NOT work with update-cm-7.0.0-encore-signed.zip, at least not for me. The NC just gets trapped in a boot loop. But the Cyanogen Team came to the rescue on April 25 (wasn't that the BN 1.2.0 update release date?) with update-cm-7.0.2-encore-signed.zip. Version 7.0.2 plays well with the BN update, and you can still use the time saving step I indicated above.
    -
    UPGRADE WARNING: For me, just upgrading an existing CM7 7.0.0 microSD card to 7.0.2 did not work. I still got stuck in a boot loop. My advice, back everything up to your PC, then do a quick format of your microSD card and to a clean install of 7.0.2 to your card. Then restore your settings, apps, etc.
    -
    I hope this adds in a small way to the tremendously valuable videos you did.

    TigerPaw said...

    P.S. Both stable and recent nightly builds of CM, including update-cm-7.0.2-encore-signed.zip, are available at the Cyanogen Mod mirror site at http://mirror.teamdouche.net/?device=encore

    Mclaborn2045 said...

    I've tried this method twice and it keeps stopping on the android loading screen. How do I fix this?? I am using a 16gb SD. The first steps it works perfectly but when I try to reboot it for the first time it won't go past the android loading screen.

    Ana Mardoll said...

    By "android loading screen" do you mean the blue CM7 mod splash screen? That one does take awhile to load, and I think sometimes it goes to sleep while loading. Have you tried touching the 'n' hardware button to wake it up?

    Or do you mean it's stuck at the tiny "ANDROID" text screen?

    Wanabee8 said...

    I looked at the update 7.0.0 file that is linked to "here" but there looks to be a newer one 7.0.2. Which do I use for this install? I have the B&N version 1.2 running. Is this going to work with 7.0.0? Or even 7.0.2?

    Wanabee8 said...

    ooops. I should have read through the posts here. Looks like Tigerpaw answered my questions

    Mclaborn2045 said...

    The Android name that appears in blueish green on the side of the screen before it loads the CM7 animated startup screen.

    David said...

    Very nice!... all in one place and very concise ... I trying this approach tomorrow!

    Ana Mardoll said...

    @b1223fe07d21b1a39ea512df6adf47e8:disqus

    I'm honestly not sure what could cause this - but maybe you could try another SD card? If that one works, then it's probably an SD card issue.

    If you've done previous modding of your Nook, you could also flash back to the 1.1.0 firmware (see #2 in the credits part of the post), and try from there. Once CM7 is loaded, you can always boot up the stock app and update that as needed.

    I'm sorry I wasn't more help... :(

    Jtam2 said...

    Thanks! This was terrific. I had some trouble with the recovery mode. I'm glad you explained and showed it's tricky.


    Do you know how to overclock to 1.1? thanks again

    Jtam2 said...

    nevermind, I used Quixny's instructions. They worked! If there are any other tips/tricks, please post them. I find the forums with thousands of posts hard to navigate.

    TigerPaw said...

    A word to all about micro SD card brands. I have used SanDisK and PNY cards, both brands Class 4 for speed. Never had a problem with either brand (about 4 of each at this point)--your mileage may vary. Posts on other forums seem to indicate that for this kind of use, you don't want to get a cheapy brand. Go with the quality labels.

    Danica Panganiban said...

    I am new at this. Will this CM7 work on a version 1.2 Nook Color?

    Danica Panganiban said...

    Also, where do apps get saved? Internal memory or SD card? Sorry, I am not much of a techy person. :]]

    Ana Mardoll said...

    Hi, Danica!


    I think this process works with 1.2 right "out of the box", as it were, but I haven't tested it. (I had a 1.1 NC, performed the CM7 process, and then updated to 1.2 NC.) If you wanted to do it that way, the easiest thing to do would be to flash your NC back to factory defaults (see my Credits #2 point) and then do the CM7 process. But I don't think that extra step is necessary.


    Also, when the CM7 process is finished, your SD card will have 4 partitions. Three of those contain information needed to run CM7; the fourth and biggest partition is the "left-over" data storage on the SD card. All your apps are saved there. Titanium Backup and Titanium Sync can backup all your SD app data and send it to a Dropbox account for you so that it can never be lost forever. :)

    Danica Panganiban said...

    Thanks for the reply. :]

    What SD card do you suggest that will be big enough to store tons of books? So does that mean I will not be able to use NC's internal memory?

    Ana Mardoll said...

    @google-6d8aa3d1eb56668746f318838238cda7:disqus
    It doesn't look like you can access the NC internal memory from the CM7 boot - at least, I can't figure out how to.
    If you want to get a 32GB card, you almost certainly won't have space problems. However, in terms of "just books", you really probably will only need 4-8 GB, maximum - my current library is 700+ titles and takes ups about 3.5 GB. Obviously apps and other Android goodies will need some extra space - maybe a 8-16 GB card would be best if you don't want to splurge on the 32GB.

    Danica Panganiban said...

    Oh okay, thank you very much!

    Jay Marc said...

    Hi..im new to this i have watched your videos and want to do this. However, i see now ther is another update 7.0.3. Should I use this? on the link to the gapps download i did not see 7.0.2 are all other links still there?
    ppp

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