Brick (electronics)

When used in reference to electronics, "brick" describes a device that cannot function in any capacity (such as a machine with damaged firmware). This usage derives from the fact that most electronic devices are vaguely brick shaped,Fact|date=October 2008 and so those which do not function are as useful as actual bricks. The term can also be used as a verb. For example, "I bricked my MP3 player when I tried to modify its firmware."

In the strictest sense of the term, bricking must imply that the device is completely unrecoverable without some hardware replacement. If the device can be repaired through software or firmware changes, it's not a brick.

Brick may also refer to a power "brick" which is used to describe some external mains AC to low voltage DC power converters commonly supplied with many consumer electronics devices. It is called a brick because even with a unit with an appealing design, an OEM power transformer is generally supplied, and has a much less pleasing design - it is usually the size and shape of a brick. When these devices plug directly into a wall outlet (without an additional cord), they are also commonly referred to as a wall wart.

The term "brick" can also be used to refer to a particularly large mobile phone, referring to the older style of telephone which was the size of a house brick.

Brick prevention

Some devices include two copies of firmware so that if one is damaged the device will not be bricked. Other devices have "bootloader" firmwares that can be enabled, often mechanically, to reload the main firmware into the device again.

History of the Phrase

Back in late 1989, hard disk drive manufacturer MiniScribe literally boxed, warehoused, and shipped masonry bricks to falsify end-of-year financial numbers. The genealogy of the term started with the masonry bricks shipped by MiniScribe and evolved to describe any non-functional hard drive before finally moving on to describe any unrecoverable electronic device.


Some devices which are "bricked" because the contents of their nonvolatile memory is incorrect can be "unbricked" using separate hardware (debug board) that accesses this memory directly. [ [ Neo1973 Debug Board v2/Unbricking - Openmoko ] ] This is similar to the procedure for loading firmware into a new device when the memory is still empty. This kind of "bricking" and "unbricking" occasionally happens during firmware testing and development.

Some devices, such as the Lego Mindstorms NXT, contain a second firmware that contains instructions for receiving a new firmware and upgrading, and is stored in ROM. The secondary firmware can be started up by pressing a button that is put out of the way, much like the Tamagotchi's 'reset button'. Most devices, such as the Nintendo DS, are not usually upgraded by the end user, and are shipped with no 'recovery firmware'.



On 24 September 2007 Apple issued a warning that future firmware updates to the iPhone could brick the device. [cite news|url=|title=Apple warns unlocked iPhones may become inoperable|work=Macworld|date=2007-09-24|accessdate=2007-09-29] On 27 September 2007, owners of unlocked iPhones who attempted to install the version 1.1.1 update through iTunes reported that the update rendered the device virtually inoperable. [cite news|url=|title=Apple update disables unlocked iPhones|work=Macworld|date=2007-09-27|accessdate=2007-09-29] There have also been reports that the update even affected some iPhones that were not unlocked. [cite news|url=|title=More on Apple’s Latest Product, the iBrick|work=The New York Times|date=2007-09-28|accessdate=2007-09-29] iPhones that have been disabled in this way are not technically bricked, as changes can still be made to the device. [cite web|url=|title=The iPhone Dev Wiki|accessdate=2007-10-09] A similar scenario is playing out with many new iPhone 3Gs.Fact|date=July 2008

PlayStation Portable

The PlayStation Portable, a handheld game console by Sony, can become bricked and unable to restart completely. The main cause of this problem is the modification of the PSP. Software crackers have created a virus called [ Trojan.PSP Brick] , which deletes the necessary files needed to restart the system. This has now been patched; by anti-virus companies and by upgrading the PSP System Software.

Another way in which a PSP may be bricked is during a firmware upgrade when its lithium-ion battery is not charged enough, its AC adapter is unplugged, or the device is accidentally powered off. It is paramount that the PSP has a constant battery life while being updated as the firmware is writing directly to the internal flash memory of the PSP. As it is overwriting previous firmware, the current firmware is incomplete and therefore cannot boot up. Some users have also experienced bricks when they removed their battery while running homebrews.

PlayStation Portables can be 'unbricked' by using a modified battery with the serial number 0xFFFFFFFF written to its EEPROM. Once modified, the PSP will boot from an IPL located on a memory stick rather than the NAND. In this way, a firmware or recovery application can be booted from the memory stick to restore the system.

Nintendo DS

There are two trojans [ (DS brick A snd B)] , similar to PSP Brick, that can brick the Nintendo DS. [cite web|url=|title=Virus Encyclopedia Search Results|accessdate=2008-09-08|publisher=Trend Micro] Like the PSP, the Nintendo DS can be bricked by a trojan or botched firmware update. However, the danger is reduced for a number of reasons:
* No firmware updates have yet been issued by Nintendo (however they have mentioned the possibility of using the Wii to send an official firmware update to a DS.Fact|date=July 2007) Although multiple firmware versions exist, there is no need for official procedure to install a new version; the updates are generally very minor. A major reason to install new firmware is for homebrew purposes.
* There is currently no known method for malicious software to infect a Nintendo DS without the user's knowledge. The only way a trojan could be run is for the user to be tricked into running it.Fact|date=September 2008
* The Nintendo DS contains a protection system which prevents important parts of the firmware from being overwritten unless a hardware switch is activated, such as the SL1 port covered by the red and white sticker under the battery cover. Removing this sticker and shorting this port considers your warranty null and void. Early DSes protected the first 25% of the firmware; while this was unfortunately not enough to prevent official firmware from being destroyed, all homebrew firmware (including FlashMe) places a simple recovery routine in this area. Newer DSes protect all but the last few sectors where the user settings are stored, and thus FlashMe is not required.Fact|date=September 2008

Other systems

Both the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 had reports of being bricked during official firmware updates. The solution of this usually involves sending the unit back to the manufacturer, which may or may not retain saved data. Both the PS3 and Xbox 360 can have their data recovered if the hard drive is kept. On July 2, 2008, an unsuccessful firmware update bricked a small but notable number of Playstation 3s. Affected systems could be recovered by replacing the internal hard drive, or using a PC with SATA support to reformat the hard drive, but all data on the hard drive would be lost.

All of the Motorola LTE (e.g. Motorola V3) and LTE2 (e.g. Motorola V3ROHS, K1) phones have the Boot firmware too. It can be accessed by turning off the phone, pressing the #, *, and power buttons simultaneously. It will show the actual firmware version, bootloader version and enables flash interface through USB for phone firmware update. This flash-based bootloader can be erased or damaged by buggy unlocking software or badly constructed firmware update files - in this case the phone will not even power up in bootloader mode, it will be bricked. However, a factory bootloader with limited security checks inside a ROM of the LTE and LTE2 CPU can be accessed by short-circuiting a specific resistor or pad (called "testpoint") on the PCB to ground, tricking the LTE or LTE2 CPU into thinking its Flash memory is empty, however this requires disassembling the phone and often cutting a hole into the soldered metal shield. The phone then enumerates as "S Blank" on the USB bus and allows for rewriting of the Bootloader firmware. Thus, for a technician capable of performing these steps, it is possible to unbrick any Motorola LTE or LTE2 based phone. Also, some routers like the WRT54G series from Linksys have the ability to upgrade firmware or install customized versions of firmware. With this there is also a possibility of the device becoming bricked. It is usually recommended not to upgrade the firmware over a wireless connection because it has greater chance of losing the signal in mid-upgrade and lead to bricking. Even if the device is not reflashable by an average user, it is recoverable by disassembling the device and reloading the firmware through a JTAG interface.

Online services

Since many newer systems capable of accessing online services (such as the Xbox and iPhone) have internal hardware-based unique identifiers, individual systems may be tracked over a network and banned from accessing certain online services. Such systems usually continue to operate for purposes unrelated to the online service, but they are often considered "bricked" by users of the online service.


External links

* [ CATB.ORG Jargon File]
* []
* [ PSP updates]
* [ Reviving a bricked Dell Axim X51/X51v]
* [ iPhone Hacks]

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