(Apologies for the radio silence — a medical emergency killed most of my spare time for the last week.)
CCP likes to do limited-edition ships whenever Eve hits an anniversary, or has a major feature launch. The last few releases have mostly been reskinned versions of T1 frigates; however, even when they were unique ships, most of them either were never useful to begin with (the Primae) or ceased to be useful due to balance changes.
So, let’s talk about one that is useful: the Echelon.
An Echelon was awarded to every account who logged into Eve during the release of the Incursion expansion in late 2010. This expansion added Sansha incursions to the game; prior to the expansion’s official release, CCP actors did a number of live events to drum up excitement for incursions.
During these live events, a wormhole would appear near a planet, and Sansha ships would spawn around the wormhole and “steal” citizens from the planet to turn into slaves. (This is why the first name of all Incursion rats are the name of a solar system in Eve; that’s the system they were taken from.) The wormholes were targetable, and CCP hinted that running data analyzers would have some effect on it. I assume that this was a complete lie, and CCP just wanted some people to show up in scanning ships — more targets. :)
That said, the Echelon was released with this in mind: a dedicated data-analyzer ship. It has a single mid slot, and no low/high/rig slots; it’s only capable of fitting a single module in that mid slot, the Purloined Sansha Data Analyzer. (One was handed out with each Echelon.) At the time it was released, the hacking minigame didn’t exist, and data analyzers simply had a chance per cycle to unlock the can; the Echelon’s scanner was simply average.
However, when the hacking minigame was instituted and all data analyzers were redesigned, the Echelon and its custom analyzer was included in that redesign pass, and became fantastic. In particular, until you have Hacking V trained and can use T2 Data Analyzers, the Echelon is the best ship in the game for Data Sites — you need a Covert Ops or Astero with a T2 Analyzer and two hacking rigs to equal it.
Listed as a virus strength / virus coherence pair: (bigger is better for both numbers)
|CovOps & Astero
Even a perfectly skilled hacker, with the best ship and modules in the game for it, can only tie the Echelon.
Of course, there’s a flip side: the Echelon can’t fit a probe launcher, or a propulsion mod, or any sort of tank module. So, you’ll have to probe out the site with another ship, and then switch to the Echelon to hack it. But that may be an acceptable tradeoff for quiet systems and players with low SP.
If you don’t have the Echelon, they’re quite cheap, despite being a limited-issue ship; a ship and its matching module can be found at Jita for 7.5M isk total. Quite cheap, given that the nearest comparable ships for hacking cost 20M or more each.
Update: A sharp Reddit commentor also points out that, if you have multiple Echelons sitting around, you can get a rather funny set of items by reprocessing the Purloined Analyzer.