For those who enjoy tinkering with gadgets, there’s something incredibly fun about taking an older piece of hardware and finding a new way to make it useful. For some people, finding new uses for old hardware can be as simple as cramming a bunch of old hard drives into a tower case and building a home media server or a rig for farming Chia. For others, it can be about turning an old phone into a portable game console that runs classic games in emulators. If you want to add completely new capabilities to an old device, though, you’ll need to install new firmware – and the hobbyist programmers of the world have created homebrew firmware that can add new capabilities to an amazing variety of different devices.
These days, the most popular platform for hobbyist coding is undoubtedly the Raspberry Pi; it’s an inexpensive platform with a seemingly endless variety of different uses. However, it’s possible to find homebrew firmware for just about any device with firmware installation capabilities. In some cases, installing homebrew firmware can give a device entirely new features that it didn’t have out of the box. In other cases, homebrew firmware can make a device even better at its existing job. Either way, playing with third-party firmware can be a lot of fun. If you own any of the devices on this list, you can have some fun by installing homebrew firmware on it right now.
Home Wi-Fi Routers
If you have an inexpensive home wireless router, you may find that the experience of using that router is sometimes frustrating. Your router may lock up or crash for inexplicable reasons, rendering your entire home network unusable until you’re able to reboot the network. If you’re at home, rebooting your router is a minor inconvenience. If you’re logging into your home network remotely, though, rebooting may not be possible at all. In other cases, inexpensive home routers may have poor performance, may be missing key features or may just have poor-quality interfaces that clearly aren’t designed with usability in mind.
DD-WRT is a homebrew firmware that you can use as an alternative on hundreds of different routers. It’s open source and based on Linux, and it can potentially improve an old router’s stability and performance while adding a variety of new features. Some of the features of DD-WRT include performance and stability monitoring, improved VPN features, greater flexibility for IP address assignments and the ability to run BitTorrent directly on your router.
If you find that you’re not quite getting the experience you want the next time you enjoy a tank of Humble Juice, maybe you should see if your vape mod has homebrew firmware available. That’s right – just about every vape mod on the market has the ability to install firmware updates via a USB cable, and that means some home hobbyists have taken it upon themselves to write entirely new firmware for their vaping devices. Arcticfox is one homebrew firmware option that runs on several Joyetech mods. It allows you to customize the device’s temperature control settings and even create several custom power profiles to use when vaping. If you’re completely tired of an older device and don’t plan on using it anymore, one intrepid hacker even built a version of “Flappy Bird” that runs on certain vape mods.
The act of hacking a game console is nothing new. For years, people have been hacking their consoles to defeat DRM schemes and get the consoles to run copied games. That, however, isn’t entirely in keeping with the spirit of traditional homebrew firmware because it doesn’t add new features to those consoles and instead simply works around those consoles’ built-in security features. If you want to explore a homebrew firmware option that truly allows your old game console to do something new, there are a few options that you might find very interesting.
Some people and organizations, for example, have created supercomputing clusters using old PlayStation 3 consoles that have the OtherOS feature intact. By installing Linux on old PS3s and linking them together, you can create a supercomputing cluster with impressive computing power for tasks such as graphics rendering or cryptocurrency mining – and old PS3s can be surprisingly inexpensive.
If you want to go a step further, many popular game consoles – such as the Nintendo DS and 3DS – have third-party firmware options that allow you to do far more than just play copied games. Luma3DS, for instance, is a homebrew firmware that extends the functionality of the Nintendo 3DS by allowing you to play games intended for other regions of the world. It’s a great option if you’re a western gamer who wants to play Japanese titles without buying new hardware. Some hobbyist programmers have even created entirely new games that can run on homebrew firmware. An additional feature of Luma3DS is that, even with all of the added functionality, the console’s standard functions – such as the ability to buy games from the Nintendo eShop and play games against online opponents – remain intact.
Although the Android mobile phone platform is not without its fair share of security issues, the openness that has made the platform a haven for hackers has also made it the platform of choice for hobbyist software developers who want to create software projects for hundreds of millions of potential users. The Android operating system itself is open source, so custom firmware projects for Android phones usually begin with modifying the Android kernel and creating custom ROMs that users can download and install.
Some of the features that you can add to your Android phone by installing a custom ROM include:
- Enhanced privacy settings that allow you to control access to your private data on a per-app basis
- Finer control over resource usage to improve your phone’s battery life
- The ability to tweak normally inaccessible elements of your phone’s user interface
- The ability to assign custom actions to your phone’s hardware buttons
- The ability to remove some or all Google services from your phone