With great hardware comes great opportunity. Thanks to the internet and clever hacking communities, there are plenty of ways to boost the capabilities of your everyday gadgets. Some save you money, some add features, and some are the entire package. Here are our top nine favourite hardware boosting hacks.
Note: Pretty much every one of these hacks involves installing custom firmware or at least making significant alterations to the software your hardware needs to run. We're all about pushing forward anyhow, but you should know before diving in that you'll 1) probably void your warranty, and 2) run the risk of bricking your device. Proceed with caution, or at least with the knowledge that things may not always work out perfectly.
9. Turn A Pogoplug Into A Fully-Featured Linux Web Server
The Pogoplug isn't an incredibly popular device, but rather one of the cheapest routes to putting together a fully-featured Linux web server. Although you'll have to bring your own hard drive (or even a flash drive), you can buy one for about $120 and have everything you'll need. If you need a home web server for testing purposes or just want to run a small website, the hardware can handle it. It'll take an afternoon to get it configured, but when you're done you'll have a low-power web server in a tiny package.
8. Install The Canon Hack Development Kit (CHDK) On Your Canon Point And Shoot Camera
CHDK is custom firmware for your Canon point and shoot camera that unlocks several features. Wish you can shoot in RAW? CHDK can make that happen. Annoyed that you can't override shutter speed, aperture, and ISO settings in various modes? CHDK can fix that. There's a lot more it can do, too, and is worth installing if you've got a supported camera. From there, just follow our guide to get started using a great collection of new features for the camera you already own.
7. Hack Your Wii for Homebrew
One of the significant benefits of Nintendo's Wii platform is that it is significantly more hackable than the competition. With a very quick and simple process, you can start installing homebrew games or even play backed up games from an external hard drive. It only takes about five minutes to go through the hacking process and then you'll be well on your way to adding lots of great additional functionality to your console.
6. Install A Custom Android ROM
While the speed and responsiveness of Android 4.1 Jellybean may solve one of the biggest complaints about the mobile operating system, a custom ROM can make a difference right now. Alternatively, many ROMs add lacking features in the version of Android available for your device. Whatever you're looking to accomplish, there's often a ROM for the job. Not sure which one to pick? We can help you out with that.
5. Install Magic Lantern On Your Video-Capable DSLR
Digital SLR cameras are not only inexpensive these days for taking beautiful still photos, but now they record incredible video as well. They're so capable that some higher-end models are even being used for television and film productions. Even so, they aren't video cameras and are lacking many of the features you'd want out of a professional video camera. That's where the custom firmware hack Magic Lantern comes in.
It can transform your digital SLR into a professional video camera, offering features like zebra patterns, comprehensive auto controls, and mechanical rack focusing. What's also great is that it doesn't really modify your firmware. Instead, you just load it up when you need it and leave it alone when you don't. It's one of the safest firmware hacks around, and adds plenty of great features. If you're planning to use your DSLR to shoot great video, you'll definitely want to take a look at Magic Lantern.
4. Build a Hackintosh
Building a hackintosh is almost more of a software boosting hack because you're not really boosting the hardware by choosing to install OS X — it's the operating system you want to use, not necessarily a better one. But if you compare Apple's desktop hardware to the hardware you can build yourself, you'll find that you can get significantly better performance out of a hackintosh for less than half the cost. If you want a Mac desktop, it's one of the best routes you can take. The hackintosh process is so simple now that once you get the hang of it, it isn't much more work than just installing OS X on a regular Mac.
Building a computer takes a little more know-how, but it's not that hard and we have a five-part guide to help you through the process. If you want a super-fast Mac, there's really no better way to go than a hackintosh.
3. Root Your Android Device
Android's an open, capable operating system all by itself, but by default it doesn't allow apps to assume root access — that is, take full control — of your phone or tablet. That imposes a few limitations and those are easily removed through the process of rooting your device. In many cases it's very simple and doesn't require much more than plugging in your Android and pressing a button.
Some devices require quite a bit more work, and others just need you to apply a firmware patch (which is scarier than it is difficult). Rooting will let you do great things like control your device with a PS3 controller, set up an awesome automated backup process, block ads, encrypt your internet traffic and automate practically anything. You may not need to root for a lot of reasons, but there's almost always one killer hack that makes it an essential process.
2. Jailbreak Your iPhone
In the past jailbreaking was almost a necessity to get the functionality you wanted out of your iPhone, but with a rapidly maturing operating system with most of the features people want it's not as much of a concern as it used to be. That said, you don't want to discount the jailbreaking process. The awesome things you can do may not be obvious anymore, but they're still awesome. The jailbreaking process is easier than ever and the community of developers and users is wonderfully large.
The primary reason to jailbreak nowadays is that if you have a problem, in a day or two someone will have developed a solution. Take Sparrow for example. It's a phenomenal mail client for the iPhone, but because of Apple's restrictions it can't safely offer push notifications for new messages. This bothered some people, and within a day Sparrow Push was developed to provide that functionality. On top of that there are plenty of great apps and notification centre tweaks that are a good place to start if you're new to jailbreaking. It may not be the necessity it once was, but it's now awesome for several new reasons.
1. Boost Your Router with DD-WRT or Tomato
Out of the box, the firmware on most routers isn't great. It lacks features, doesn't work properly, or is just a pain to use. Two custom firmware upgrades are available to solve some or all of those problems: DD-WRT and Tomato. DD-WRT is geared at providing you with a level of control you'd expect from a professional-grade router. Tomato was designed to make your router much more user-friendly so you don't have to be an expert to use it. Tomato also provides a number of important features missing from some router firmware, too. However you slice it, these upgrades can make your life easier, help you boost a crappy Wi-Fi signal, configure a more functional network setup, and a whole lot more. It's not the flashiest of hardware boosting hacks, but it is one of the best. Your network will thank you for it.