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Intel Charges $50 to Upgrade CPU Features


Intel Charges $50 to Upgrade CPU Features

Hot on the heels of Motorola offering a speed update for the CPU for its Milestone XT720 Android handset, Intel is doing something similar for its CPU – only charging users $50 for the privilege.

Intel has permitted Gateway to offer an upgrade card to unlock features and performance from the CPU in one of its machines.

The machine in question is a Gateway SX2841-09e (catchy, huh), and the processor is the Pentium G6951, which by default runs at 2.8GHz, has 3MB of Level 3 cache and does not offer Hyper-Threading.

However, pay $50 and you can download some software that will unlock the CPU and upgrade it to offer 4MB of Level 3 cache and enable Hyper-Threading. The clock speed remains unchanged.

The new scheme was revealed when someone spotted a voucher was spotted in Best Buy in the US and alerted Engadget.

Upgrading features in this way is common in the software world, Windows 7 and Office work in this way, with all features already available on each install, but it is the first time we have heard of it applied to hardware.

It is common for hardware manufacturers to sell more powerful parts at lower speed grades, known a binning, in order to keep up supply when there is less demand for higher end parts, or to sell parts that are partially defective with disabled cores, which are then unlocked by savvy consumers. This has been done many times over the years, with famously upgradable parts such as the ATI Radeon 9500 becoming a Radeon 9700 Pro via a simple pipeline unlock. However, this is the first time that the unlocking features in silicon has been commercialised in this manner.

When TrustedReviews inquired if the scheme will be coming to the this side of the pond, Intel UK were not aware of the Upgrade Card program, implying that there are no immediate plans to bring it to the UK.


September 20, 2010, 3:06 pm

Would be interesting to see how this would compare to, say, flogging the old CPU on ebay and spending dosh on a CPU which is actually faster.

Tim Sutton

September 20, 2010, 3:39 pm

Oh God, really? DLC on a PROCESSOR?

I'm honestly not sure about this. Deliberately locking out existing features and charging extra for a simple code to make the thing work like it should sounds an awful lot like extortion to me.

If they are confident that every processor in the range can be voucher overclocked then its a clear decision they have made to underclock and cripple parts as they left the factory. I don't like the implications.


September 20, 2010, 4:00 pm

Wow, do they really still make Pentiums? Rubbish!


September 20, 2010, 5:06 pm

What's the betting that this magical piece of software will end up on torrent sites as soon as it's released anyway?

@ piesforyou, anyone with any sense would go down that route exactly.


September 20, 2010, 5:09 pm

it wasnt the 9500pro that you could unlock... that thing came with the 9700pro's core fully functional as standard, it was just clocked a little less. (nothing Riva tuner couldnt fix though).

however, i believe all 9500 pro's or at least the later ones... had the poor mans 128bit memory interface. there was no way to make these into full blown 9700pro's

the vanilla 9500 however was different. it had 4 pipelines shut off, but many shipped on the same PCB as the 9700's and therefore got that tasty 256bit memory bus. a quick unlock and a overclock gave you your thinking mans 9700pro.


September 20, 2010, 5:36 pm

Boingboing has an interesting commentary on this


Benny Har-Even

September 20, 2010, 6:23 pm

@otispunkmeyer86 Indeed, an erroneous Pro added in there, thanks. I've removed it from the story. Ah, those were the days...


September 20, 2010, 9:04 pm

On the subject of these chips locking out features due to actual hardware fault is not an issue (binning) but deliberately locking out chips processors is. The only thing is is that gateway will pay Intel say $50 a chip for these lower clocked versions whereas the chips capability places it closer a $60. Essentially, Intel have become so good at making non-defective chips that in order to fore-fill the demand for the lower end chips it must deliberately lock out a top end chip. Take the SU xxxx CULV processor series ( its the only one I know a great deal about). The SU4100 (1.3GHz L2 2mb), SU7300 (1.3GHz L2 3mb), SU9600 (1.6GHz L2 3mb); what I believe is happening is that essentially they are all the same chip (fact) however a percentage of these have to become SU4100 /7300's due to defects. The demand however wants a higher percentage of SU4100/7300's than naturally occurs thus in order to make money Intel deliberately locks certain capabilities. Therefore I have to side with Intel on this one but the price should be no more than £20 for the privilege due to the mediocre improvements. Anyway that's my educated guess.

@Alex : Pentium dual core etc is just marketing. Many 'pentium' processors are faster than last gen core 2 duos so your point is kind of mute but they are planning to phase out the branding since it is a bit pointless if it doesn't actually mean anything.

Tim Sutton

September 21, 2010, 4:20 am

@Benny Har-Evan

What happened, were you bad? Why did the mean TR tech monkeys take away your uber orangeness? :-)


Thanks for that elegant precis, your theory makes a lot of sense with a business hat on. I still think that charging to enable deliberately disabled functions is morally ambiguous at best though.

And I'm not a spelling Nazi, honest, but it's "moot point". Pet peeve. That and "top draw". Gah.


September 21, 2010, 6:59 pm

@tim I'm not sure this came across but I think its stupid and that they should really jsut use the processors at the maximum capacity. Cheers for the spelling heads up. I guess its due to being on a tech site!


September 25, 2010, 2:45 am

Personally I think this is much like when you buy a car. You pay to get at least 180 bhp, you get at least 180 bhp. If you want a car with the same engine with more power you pay more.

Some car companies offer ecu upgrades as aftermarket upgrades, so if it is possible on computers, then why not?

I paid last year for a laptop with a P8700 cpu, which has 3 MB cache. It was at the limit of what I was willing and able to pay at the time and I got exactly what I paid for.

If available through Toshiba (keeping the 2 year warranty "unscratched") I probably wouldn't pass the opportunity to upgrade it to 6 MB cache.

Knowing the manufacture process I even doubt the 2.66 GHz of the P8800 was the top frequency this specific cpu has to give but a change in freq is a bit less appealing to me.

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