Archive for October 16th, 2010

October 16, 2010



When used in reference to consumer electronics, ‘brick’ describes a device that cannot function in any capacity (such as a device with damaged firmware). This usage derives from the fact that some electronic devices (and their detachable power supplies) are vaguely brick-shaped, and so those which do not function are useful only 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.’ Some devices which are ‘bricked’ because the contents of their nonvolatile memory are incorrect can be ‘unbricked‘ using separate hardware (a debug board) that accesses this memory directly.

Bricking a device is usually an unwanted consequence of an attempt to update the device. Many devices have an update procedure which must not be interrupted; if interrupted by a power failure, user intervention, or any other reason the existing firmware may be partially overwritten and unusable. Installing incorrect firmware can also brick a device, e.g., installing firmware for a different revision of the hardware, or installing firmware incompetently patched by third parties to get around restrictions imposed by official firmware, such as DVD firmware which only plays DVDs sold in a particular region. Devices can also be bricked by malware (malicious software), and sometimes by running software not intentionally harmful but with errors which cause damage.