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Intel Wants To Charge $50 To Unlock Your CPU's Full Capabilities

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  • by laing (303349) on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:17PM (#33624028)
    I believe that HP/Agilent was the first company to do this. They would manufacture something with gobs of RAM and then charge you extra money to enable the 'option' that was already present. It costs less for a manufacturer to produce a single version of their product than for multiple versions with different capabilities. Intel realizes this but their marketing people are full of shit (just like HP's were). They didn't lose any money when they sold you the processor. The software unlock is 100% pure profit. It's really annoying to know that you have paid for and posses capability that you cannot use.
  • by Greyfox (87712) on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:22PM (#33624062) Homepage Journal
    IBM's been doing that sort of thing for years. They ship you a mainframe with more processors than you ordered or a disk array with more disk than you ordered, and you can pay them to turn it on. Some companies only turn on their extra processors for a short time each year (Like end-of-year transaction processing) and if you decide you need some more space in your disk array, it's much more convenient than having to have more disks installed or buy a new disk array.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:25PM (#33624092)

    Fifteen enormous cocks raping every orifice in your body.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:37PM (#33624178)

    The product you refer to is called HP Instant Capacity (iCAP)

    https://h20392.www2.hp.com/portal/swdepot/displayProductInfo.do?productNumber=B9073BA

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:44PM (#33624244)

    I love how people who don't know much about encryption pick up the phrase "one-time pad" and assume it refers to some magical cryptographic panacea.

    Hint 1: "one-time pad" means a little bit of paper with a key printed on it. You probably mean "one-time key", which is a rather more general concept that is easier to implement in silicon.

    Hint 2: there's a reason why vast resources have been poured into inventing encryption systems that can securely use a single key repeatedly, and it's not because one-time key systems are economically viable.

  • by Sir_Lewk (967686) <sirlewkNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:47PM (#33624274)

    Probably not if each slashdot poser knows what a one time pad is.

  • Re:I'm all for it (Score:4, Informative)

    by hardburn (141468) <hardburn AT wumpus-cave DOT net> on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:02AM (#33624374)

    Happens all the time, actually, they usually just don't offer a way to unlock it. They make a run of all the chips of a given architecture, then put them through tests. The ones that pass clean are set to highest offered speed or full cache, while the not quite so good ones are brought down a notch. Also happens for GPUs, hard drive platters, and even resistor tolerances.

    Sometimes people figure out tricks to unlock everything (with the caveat that the company sold it to you that way for a reason), but who knew Intel would sell their own tool hacker tool?

  • by mysidia (191772) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:02AM (#33624376)

    CPUs have built-in software, they are just commonly called 'Microcode' instead of software.

    Hyperthreading is a software feature that involves using hardware to implement it.

    So is "VT" / Virtualization Technlogy

    There are even ATOM CPUs where the hardware is 64-bit capable, but Intel ships without the 64-bit capability enabled in the software.

    So, yes, it's a technlogical protection that defends intel's exclusive right to license and distribute the Hyperthreading software.

    Until you have been provided the code, Intel has not licensed the Hyperthreading software to you. It's just like an expired trial version of any sort of shareware you might have on your computer.

    I wonder if Intel will offer a 30 day trial of Hyperthreading and Cache expansion <GT>

  • by Bob9113 (14996) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:09AM (#33624442) Homepage

    IBM's been doing that sort of thing for years. They ship you a mainframe with more processors than you ordered or a disk array with more disk than you ordered, and you can pay them to turn it on.

    Is this leased or purchased hardware?

    Leased hardware comes with a contract. Purchased hardware comes with a first-sale doctrine.

    The purpose of the first sale doctrine is to maintain an information balance between purchaser and seller. "Purchase" is a standardized term so that we don't have to take our lawyers with us when we go shopping. If we had to take our lawyers with us, it would create friction in the economy, reducing the velocity of money.

    Now, the idea of keeping the first-sale doctrine is, of course, predicated on the notion that an informed consumer is a good thing. That hypothesis is only true for business owners if they believe in the free market and maximizing GDP growth. While that is almost certainly their official line, actions speak louder than words. Offered the opportunity to engage in a market practice which reduces the probability of GDP growth but increases quarterly earnings, take a wild guess which one wins.

    And, to bring the comment full circle, this brings us back to regulations like the first-sale doctrine. As Adam Smith himself pointed out, "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public." The tool to prevent such behavior is simple and limited regulation like the first-sale doctrine.

    If a company offers to lease me something, requiring me physically sign a contract that I can read in advance, no problem. If another company sells me something, then tries to tell me how I am allowed to use it afterwards, perhaps corrupting our government to achieve that end, that company is an enemy of the free market, and a progenitor of reduced GDP growth.

  • by ScrewMaster (602015) * on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:22AM (#33624562)

    IBM's been doing that sort of thing for years. They ship you a mainframe with more processors than you ordered or a disk array with more disk than you ordered, and you can pay them to turn it on. Some companies only turn on their extra processors for a short time each year (Like end-of-year transaction processing) and if you decide you need some more space in your disk array, it's much more convenient than having to have more disks installed or buy a new disk array.

    True. My father used to work on a Hewlett-Packard mainframe back in the seventies, and he ordered some extra hard disk space. The HP tech came out, opened the casing of each drive (big freestanding units), reached in the back and flipped a DIP switch. Voila!, extra space. He even showed Dad how to turn on the entire drive if he wanted ... apparently HP didn't care (it wasn't a contract violation or anything) but wouldn't provide any support if you did.

  • by Kitkoan (1719118) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:29AM (#33624618)

    the law also says you can jailbreak stuff what does the BSA and others think about that?

    Sorry, but thats not right. The law is very exact in how its phrased, being "bypassing a manufacturer's protection mechanisms to allow "handsets to execute software applications" is permissible" [cnet.com]. This is what makes sure things like modchips and modding consoles is still illegal. Only effect handsets aka cellphones/smartphones.

  • by jpmorgan (517966) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:38AM (#33624668) Homepage

    Yes. Modern CPUs can be given what's called a 'microcode update' during system boot by driver. Microcode updates are volatile, so they need to be reapplied on each boot. Generally this is done to fix minor bugs that slipped through testing. In this case, Intel is allowing the microcode to unlock additional capabilities.

    Only available for Windows 7 right now, but generally microcode update drivers are available for all common platforms (e.g., Linux). If Intel is serious about this business model, it's likely that they'll roll out updated microcode drivers for other supported platforms soon.

  • by tgibbs (83782) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:42AM (#33624702)

    No, price discrimination is when identical goods are offered at different prices to different markets. But the chip with the extra two processors enabled is not identical to the chip without those processors enabled, as you can easily prove by doing a benchmark. And a 16 GB iPad is not identical to a 32 GB iPad, because the latter has more memory. Having different profit margins on different products does not constitute price discrimination.

  • by Vegeta99 (219501) <rjlynn@gmai l . com> on Sunday September 19, 2010 @01:13AM (#33624898)

    I had a SAAB back in the day with a computer-controlled turbocharger. I don't remember the specifics, but it was a 900 model. I had a black turbo controller. If you had the red box, you got a few extra pounds of boost. That was the only difference between two trim levels as far as the engine was concerned, same internals.

  • Re:I'm all for it (Score:5, Informative)

    by muridae (966931) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @02:09AM (#33625156)

    You know that you probably bought a handicapped chip already, right? Chances are a good portion of the economy cpus out there had a core or two disabled just to meet a shipping quota and price point, not because the core failed an integrity check. So, Intel spends some money making the Q/A test disable cores when it needs more chips in the economy bin and less in the high-end one. This just shifts the market a little. Now, instead of disabling a core by frying it completely, they just lock it in firmware. You, the end user, still get your economy priced chip. If you decide to upgrade you just buy the software to unlock it.

    This is not some software that works the other way around, you know. The chip you buy isn't going to say "4 Cores and 32Mb cache" and then show up as 2 and 1 meg. The box might tell you, instead "2 core (upgradeable to 4)". The computer upgrade goes from being something geeks know how to do, to something any mom and pop and uncle bob can do. If they can get past the perception of it, no big deal. However, most of those people have no idea what a computer upgrade requires, and telling them that you can do it with software is something they have suspected anyways.

    The real problem is that it becomes buy computer -> download spyware, games, p2p crap -> oh no's it is slow -> buy upgrade card -> more crapware -> "why can't I buy another upgrade card?"

  • by Score Whore (32328) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @02:24AM (#33625214)

    A) When has bluray been cracked? I know that the HDCP master key is no longer a secret and I know that a few people have then said "bluray hsa been cracked", but those people are morons. HDCP is the encryption of the digital signal sent between a video generation circuit and a monitor/television/display. In theory you could build a small device that you hook to your bluray player and then capture a digital signal and reencode the uncompressed signal, but that's hardly a crack. It's just a reinvention of the analog hole. The fact that the HDCP master key is now known has zero relevance to bluray AACS/BD+ encryption..

    B) Yes they do upgraded bluray encryption periodically. And the various tools that are used to copy said movies then need an upgrade. Happens pretty regular.

  • Re:Sounds as if (Score:2, Informative)

    by bhcompy (1877290) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @03:08AM (#33625360)
    As mentioned, this already occurs. For example, AMD's 3 core Athlon II's are 4 cores with the 3rd core disabled, either to meet a quota or because it didn't pass QA.
  • Re:The real scam... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Mysteray (713473) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @03:40AM (#33625506) Homepage

    Yep.

    Looks like the retailer's got a piece of the action too: http://www.intel.com/cd/channel/reseller/asmo-na/eng/404392.htm [intel.com] "You will be eligible for a revenue share from Intel if/when your reseller customer installs an upgrade."

    Looking at the card: "Effortless movement between multiple applications". Really? Wow. That's a pretty wild product claim to make for 1MB of L3 cache.

    Heck, I had decided to turn off Hyperthreading at my next reboot. For some things it's a net slowdown.

    We might guess that the folks buying one of these stripped-down, crippled notebooks are likely to be students or otherwise budget-constrained. It's going to suck for them to get their expectations up and part with 50 hard-earned bucks just to find out it's not that all that big of a difference in performance. I suspect they might feel a teeny bit ripped-off even.

    It'll be measurable on benchmarks, but like you said, it's not going to exactly breathe new life into a low-end laptop that's sucking wind because of malware, anti-malware scanning, general Windows bloat, and/or the 10 different applications that load themselves in the system tray and memory on startup.

    This was not a good move for customer loyalty, Intel. Anyone want to bet they'll end up giving all the affected customers free un-downgrades and refunds?

  • by Mysteray (713473) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @04:15AM (#33625628) Homepage

    Look at the photos of the actual card. There's a barcode with a bunch of numbers. There are some digits on the left, a bunch of zeroes, and then a number that's just a bit over 2^31.Presumably, there's an unknown code under the silver. We don't yet know what data gets sent over the web during the un-downgrading process, but it's quite possible that upgrades may be performed even while that system is offline, perhaps by reading codes over the telephone.

    My guess is that the left-justified digits identify the Intel project within the upgrade card network. The ones on the right are the card's unique code with 32 bits of entropy. If the uncrippling process can be unlocked over the phone, there's a probably a brute force attack against the CPU. Humans just can't read long streams of digits that accurately.

    So, if the key or ID space really is something like 2^32, how does a gigahertz CPU resist brute force attack? Just a theory, but it may be that after too many failed attempts, the CPU burns itself out. (That's just the kind of heavy-handed solution these customer-hating DRM types seem to love to implement.)

    This raises the real possibility that the un-downgrade application contains the seeds of either a crack, or permanent hardware destruction of the affected Intel products.

  • Re:I'm all for it (Score:3, Informative)

    by Raenex (947668) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @10:51AM (#33627334)

    Try reading the comment you are replying to: "Chances are a good portion of the economy cpus out there had a core or two disabled just to meet a shipping quota and price point, not because the core failed an integrity check."

  • Re:I'm all for it (Score:5, Informative)

    by douglips (513461) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @11:54AM (#33627782) Homepage Journal

    Cooking recipes can be patented. Copyright != patent.

  • Re:I'm all for it (Score:4, Informative)

    by joeyblades (785896) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @02:17PM (#33628848)

    Sorry to burst your bubble, but I've been in the semiconductor business for over 30 years and we've always been doing this. Manufacture one device with certain performance or features that can be disabled and sell 2 or more different versions. It happens with other kinds of technologies, as well.

    You're confused about the cost part of the equation, though. Usually what happens is that the marketing gurus figure out how much market share you're going to get with each flavor and set the price accordingly. Often, if you only sold the low-end version you would not make enough profit. You count on some sales of the high-end version to offset the actual cost. It's a gamble and if your marketing team guesses wrong, and no one wants the high-end flavor, you lose money. If they guess wrong and everyone only wants the high-end flavor, then everyone gets a nice bonus...

    I've seen it go both ways.

    If the upgrade capability was zero cost, Intel would do exactly what you say. Just make that the standard; it's free marketshare. The fact that they had to get creative is a sure sign that it's not zero cost.

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