After our USB 3.0 coverage last week, we figured it would be a good time to turn our attention back to USB 2.0 (aka High Speed), and one of the classic nerd hobbies: USB hacking. Because of its highly-accessible wiring, USB can be easily modified for all sorts of purposes, even by neophyte hardware hackers. In the past, we've shown you how to perform some simple hacks, but now we want to highlight some of our favorite hacks created by members of the DIY community.
Some are of questionable utility, some of them are downright dangerous, but all of them are good, old-fashioned fun. Read on for our collection of 10 amazing USB hacks!
Solar powered USB charger
Sure, you've seen handheld USB chargers before, built into altoids tins or otherwise, but have you seen a USB charger that's solar powered? We didn't think so.
With this hack you can be sure that you'll always be able to slowly charge your gadgets. As long as you're using your gadgets outside. And it's sunny.
USB air conditioner
This USB hack takes the traditional USB casefan mod, and takes it to new extremes by turning it into a full fledged air conditioning unit for your room. The hack involves installing a casefan into the top of a coffee tin, punching holes in the bottom, and suspending a pile of ice in the middle. The casefan (modified to run on USB power, of course) then sucks air in through the holes in the bottom and through the ice, cooling it in the process. The cold air is then expelled from the top of the can, cooling down your room.
Miniature USB refrigerators have for years been a staple of office "white elephant" parties, and other occasions to give your friends bad presents. There's no better way to gradually chill a single can of Fresca and possibly overload your power supply at the same time.
Now, thanks to Ross V, you can build your own USB refrigerator, out of nothing more than a peltier refrigeration device, a box and a USB cable.
NERF USB stick destroyer
Alright, so this particular project doesn't actually involve creating something that uses USB, persay. We're still including it because 1) It does involve USB, at least tangentially, 2) It IS a hack, and 3) It's totally awesome.
What exactly does the NERF USB stick destroyer do, besides the obvious? It's a NERF gun-mounted electronics scrambler, which disables RFID tags and ruins USB sticks in a flurry of laser-gun sounds and flashing lights. But don't take our word for it--check out the video.
USB to Cat5 connector
This hack relies on the simple fact that when it comes right down to it, there's not that big of a difference between USB and Cat5 (ethernet) cable. They're all just bundles of wires. This hack shows how you can rewire a 8-wire Cat5 cable to act as an extension cable for 4-wire USB signals. USB doesn't function well over very long distances, but you'd still be hard-pressed to find a cheaper way to make custom-length USB extensions.
Run USB Through Telephone Lines
In the same spirit as the USB-Cat5 hack, this video shows you how to wire a USB-to-telephone line adapter, allowing you to use the wiring that's already in your walls as USB extension. Is this a good idea? Probably not, since the wiring in your walls might well be much longer than the actual distance from one room to another, and if your phone rings your gadgets could get fried. Nonetheless, it's a neat trick to impress your nerdy friends.
Make a USB reading light
Maybe the oldest USB hack in the book, this article from Make magazine shows you how to make a USB reading light out of an LED and some wire. There are dozens of takes on the same hack floating around on the internet, from lava lamps to mood lights, but it's an excellent starting place for any aspiring USB hacker, and more useful than most USB hacks.
Turn your USB wi-fi dongle into a satellite dish
If you've ever tried to take an older laptop or a desktop on the internet over a wireless network, you've probably dealt with a USB wireless dongle. This hack shows a simple way to boost your wireless reception by creating a sort of satellite dish out of a pasta strainer. Another, similar hack shows the same feat accomplished with a folding metal colander.
Turn a case fan into a personal cooler
Another classic, the USB casefan cooler mod turns an old PC casefan into a simple USB-powered desk fan. We could tell you all about how to make one out of an old USB cable, a case fan, and a coat hanger, but we'd rather just link to our full writeup.
USB Laser Air Purifier
As a special treat for making it all the way through this list, we've saved the best USB hack for last. Behold! The USB Laser Air Purifier.
Pay no mind to the dubious air-purification effects of cheap laser pointers. Disregard the fact that without any fan blades, the air being "purified" will mostly just sit inside the seemingly-unnecessary 2-liter soda bottle. No, simply sit back and bask in the spinning, blinding light of the USB Laser Air Purifier.
Did we miss your favorite USB hack? Hit the comments and let us know!