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The Big, Growing List of Notable Hackable Devices

Here I try to maintain a list of consumer devices that are ubiquitous, cheap and have significant hacking values, many accidentally and unintended by the manufacturers. I tried to list all the devices that are still somewhat relevant to 2017 (i.e. still somewhat useful), instead of just being historically interesting.

The advent of custom firmwares have pushed the capabilities and use cases of those devices to far beyond their intended original use, extending their life way beyond their official support lifetime.

Laptops

Acer Chromebook C720 (2013)

This laptop is cheap, runs cool, the battery lasts forever, and it runs every operating system ever. You can flash coreboot, an open-source UEFI BIOS for it and it will run Linux, Windows flawlessly, and even macOS. It is also extremely easy to open up. Virtually unbrickable.

Thinkpad X200 (2009)

For the fans of truly-free BIOS. It runs libreboot which has no binary blobs and it seems like the Management Engine can be partially disabled.

Other notable devices

Other Thinkpads, Other Chromebooks.

Smartphones and Tablets

Google Nexus 5 (2013) and Google Nexus 7 (2013)

Supported by many third-party, obscure, crazy mobile OS projects, including Ubuntu Touch, Maru OS, Mobile Plasma. Of course, it is still powerful enough to run the latest version of Android as well.

HTC HD2 (2009)

It was designed to run Windows Mobile 6 but it runs everything. So, if you want a phone that runs everything, then get the HD2. It is pre-historic in terms of age in the ever-evolving mobile world, but seems like this phone is the only phone that ages like wine.

Other notable devices

  • Nokia N900: No longer available, and hardware is outdated.
  • OnePlus One: Good but not crazily good.
  • HP Touchpad: No longer available, and hardware is outdated. But it was phenomenal years ago.
  • iPhones: Can jailbreak but you can’t generally update them.
  • Motorola Droid: No longer available, and hardware is outdated.

Routers

Linksys WRT54G (2002)

The router that started it all. It was sued for violating the GPLv2 license. Linksys had to publish the source code for the router, and the rest was history. It is still now being used and trusted by many many people, 15 years after its first release. It can run mesh network, has a huge ham fanbase, and has interchangable antennas. What’s not to like?

Netgear WNDR3800 (2011)

The router that is “just good enough” and “just works” for most people. Runs every pioneering open-source firmwares ever and is still good being a six-year-old device.

Other notable devices

  • Everything that is supported by LEDE/OpenWRT.

Game Consoles & Handhelds

Sony PS3 (2006)

The PS3 was advertised as a console that can run Linux, and could do some serious computing. Then Sony removed the functionality. Then people got mad and added it back again. Then some guy by the name Geohot got sued and made a video for it.

Microsoft Original Xbox (2001)

The Original XBox is a x86 PC in disguise and has a book dedicated to hacking it. Even being a 16 year old system, it is probably still one of the best cheap readymade systems that you could buy for retro emulation. The Raspberry Pi is also a good emulation system, except for the cumbersome controller set-up.

Other notable devices

  • Sony PSP: Hackable.
  • Nintendo Wii: Hackable and has cool games, but hardware was meh.
  • Nintendo DS/2DS/3DS: Hackable.
  • Microsoft XBox 360, Microsoft Kinect: Good support from Microsoft but limited applications.

Development boards

Expressif ESP8266 (201?)

It is less-than-$5 cheap, it has wifi and it is an Arduino. Now we’re talking real values. My memory about this module is murky, but I think it was intended to be a dumb WiFi module initially, but people hacked Nodejs and Arduino later on to make it a microcontroller with WiFi built-in.

Raspberry Pi 3 (2016)

Tried-and-true device for millions of makers worldwide, the Raspberry Pi 3 is the definite device to have if you want to start hacking. It does everything and runs everything.

Arduino Uno (2010)

If you want to start with microcontrollers, just start with this one. It has a huge fanbase and developer community, and you could always find a project worth working on with the Arduino.

Other notable devices

  • Other Arduinos, esp. the Arduino Micro: They are just as good.
  • Teensy: Good and small, but nothing impressive.
  • Expressif ESP32: Designed to be good, but not as crazy of a hack as ESP8266 was.
  • Raspberry Pi Zero: Good choice if you want a cheap device that does something.
  • HC-05 and HC-06 Bluetooth modules.

Miscleneaous devices

Eye-Fi SD cards (?)

The small SD-card that runs Linux. It even has a wiki dedicated to hacking it.

Canon cameras

They have an open source firmware that adds tons of features to the cameras, such as interval shots and finer manual controls. If you have a point-and-shoot, there is a firmware for it, too.

SanDisk Sansa Clip (2007)

It would have been otherwise a “no wireless, less space than a Nomad” device otherwise, but Rockbox transformed all that. Rockbox is an open-source firmware that allows your player to play every audio format imaginable. Also, who knows that your MP3 player can run Doom now?

Other notable devices

  • Chumby/Insignia Infocast 3: Good but outdated hardware, and it is no longer available.
  • Everything supported by Rockbox: Could be dicey.