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The word "brick", when used in reference to consumer electronics, describes an electronic device such as a mobile device, game console, or router that, due to severe physical damage, a serious misconfiguration, corrupted firmware, or a hardware problem, can no longer function; it therefore becomes as technologically useful as a brick, hence the name.
The term derives from the vaguely rectangular shape of many electronic devices (and their detachable power supplies) and the suggestion that the device can function only as a lifeless, square object, such as paperweight or doorstop.
This term is commonly used as a verb. For example, "I bricked my MP3 player when I tried to modify its firmware." It can also be used as a noun, for example, "If it's corrupted and you apply using fastboot, your device is a brick."
In the common usage of the term, "bricking" suggests that the damage is so serious as to have rendered the device dead.
Cause and prevention
Bricking a device is usually a result of interrupting an attempt to update the device. Many devices have an update procedure which must not be interrupted before completion; if interrupted by a power failure, user intervention, or any other reason, the existing firmware may be partially overwritten and unusable. The risk of corruption can be minimized by taking all possible precautions against interruption.
Installing firmware with errors, or for a different revision of the hardware, or installing firmware incompetently patched such as DVD firmware which only plays DVDs sold in a particular region, can also cause bricking.
Devices can also be bricked by malware (malicious software) and sometimes by running software not intentionally harmful but with errors that cause damage.
Some devices include two copies of firmware, one active and the other stored in fixed ROM or writable non-volatile memory and not normally accessible to processes that could corrupt it, as well as a way to copy the stored firmware over the active version, even if corrupt, so that if the active firmware is damaged, it can be replaced by the copy and the device will not be bricked. Other devices have minimal "bootloader" firmware, enabled usually by operating a switch or jumper, which does not enable the device to work normally but can reload the main firmware.
Bricking is classified into two types, namely hard and soft, depending on the device's ability to function.
Hard bricked devices generally show little to no signs of life. A hard bricked device does not power on or show any vendor logo; the screen remains turned off or blank. Some of the major reasons for hard bricking include installing firmware not intended for the device, severe physical damage, interrupting a firmware flashing procedure, or following a flashing procedure incorrectly.
In the case of Android devices, some kernel bugs have been known that affect the /data partition in the eMMC chip, which becomes corrupted during certain operations such as wiping and flashing.
Recovering from a hard brick is generally considered difficult and requires the use of a more direct programming interface to the device; such an interface usually exists, as there must be a way to program the initial firmware on an unprogrammed device. However, additional tools or connections may be needed.
Most devices can be bricked in a variety of ways. Resolution generally follows a process of analyzing the boot process, determining the sub-type of hard brick, and making changes with the help of external (non-bricked) devices.
A "soft bricked" device may show signs of life, but boots unsuccessfully or may display an error screen. Soft bricked devices can usually be fixed; for example, a soft bricked iOS device may display a screen instructing the user to plug it into a computer to perform an operating system recovery using iTunes software. In some cases, soft bricked devices are unable to be repaired without physical repairs being carried out; an example of this would be an iOS device locked with iCloud Activation Lock, of which the only solution is to contact the owner of the iCloud account the device is locked to, or to replace the entire logicboard with a non-locked board.
Some devices that become "bricked" because the contents of their nonvolatile memory are incorrect can be "unbricked" using separate hardware (a debug board) that accesses this memory directly. 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. In other cases software and hardware procedures, often complex, have been developed that have a good chance of unbricking the device. There is no general method; each device is different. There are also user-created modifier programs to use on bricked or partially bricked devices to make them functional. Examples include the Wiibrew program BootMii used to fix semi-bricked Nintendo Wiis, the Odin program used to flash firmware on Samsung Android devices, or the fastboot Android protocol which is capable of reflashing a device with no software installed.
In principle any device with rewritable firmware, or certain crucial settings stored into flash or EEPROM memory, can be bricked. Many, but not all, devices with user-updatable firmware have protection against bricking; devices intended to be updated only by official service personnel generally do not.
Amongst devices known to have bricking issues are: older PCs (more recent models often have dual BIOSes or some other form of protection), many mobile phones, handheld game consoles like the PlayStation Portable and Nintendo DS, video game consoles like the Nintendo Wii, Xbox 360, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, many SCSI devices and some lines of hard disk drives and routers.
At least some older consumer market router models[which?] can become unresponsive when the user tries to define a subnet mask that does not contain one contiguous run of 1s and then 0s. If even a single bit is set so that it breaks one of the runs, the router may become bricked, unresponsive to any standard troubleshooting or resolving procedures listed in the manual. Unbricking the router may require opening the case, shorting some jumper pins on the board, then connecting the router by the USB cable to an old PC with USB 1.1 hardware, running a special DOS level program supplied by the manufacturer, and powering the router up. This procedure will flash the router to factory settings and original firmware.
Sometimes an interrupted flash upgrade of a PC motherboard will brick the board, for example, due to a power outage (or user impatience) during the upgrade process. It is sometimes possible to unbrick such a motherboard, by scavenging a similar but otherwise broken board for a BIOS chip in the hopes that the BIOS will work even halfway, far enough to boot from floppy. Then it will be possible to retry the flash process. Sometimes it is possible to boot from a floppy, then swap the old presumably dead BIOS chip in and reflash it. On some Gigabyte boards, it can also be possible to reflash the bricked main BIOS using a backup BIOS. Some vendors put the BIOS chip in sockets, allowing the corrupted BIOS chip to be removed and reprogrammed using an external tool, like a universal programmer or an Arduino.
Online and mobile services
Mobile phones have a fixed identification code, the IMEI; a telephone reported stolen can have its IMEI blocked by networks—preventing their ability to be used as mobile devices. iOS offers a similar "Activation Lock" feature via the "Find My iPhone" security software, where a device can be remotely prevented from operating (even after it has been erased), protected by the owner's Apple ID.
Devices that have a strong dependency on online services in order to function may be bricked after services are discontinued by the manufacturer, or some other technological factor (such as expired security certificates or other services quietly becoming unavailable) effectively prevents them from operating. This can happen if the product has been succeeded by a newer model and the manufacturer no longer wishes to maintain services for the previous version, or if a company has been acquired by another or otherwise ceases operations, and chooses not to, or is no longer able to maintain its previous products. The practice has especially been scrutinized within the Internet of things and smart home markets. Bricking in these cases have been declared a means to enforce planned obsolescence.
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