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

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:11PM (#33623990)

    Especially since it'll likely be pirated before the CPU ships.

  • Can you hear that? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:15PM (#33624020)

    Can you hear that?

    That's the sound of so many informed geeks switching to AMD.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:22PM (#33624072)

    Except, I'm not sure how that really applies to hardware. Can you license hardware? Remember, modding consoles is illegal because you start fiddling with licensed software as well, not just the hardware you own.

  • by Qubit (100461) on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:29PM (#33624130) 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.

    Yes, but I'm pretty sure that's all predicated on IBM service contracts and/or the license on the IBM OS/application software running on the system.

    If you're running a completely-FOSS debian install on top of these new Intel processors, what leverage do they have on you?

  • Re:Ridiculous... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by dimeglio (456244) on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:30PM (#33624134)

    Look at it this way: you buy a CPU at $200 with one core. A year later, you need more performance. Instead of trashing the entire computer (ram, cpu, and motherboard at least), you simply pay a mere $50, unlock 3 more cores, booth the clock by 100% and throw-in hyperthreading. You'll extend the life of the unit for at least another year saving a few hundred dollars. Make it 6 months and another 6 months but the idea is the same.

    I might work great if the price and options are right.

  • Capitalism sucks (Score:2, Insightful)

    by log0n (18224) on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:33PM (#33624158)

    I'm getting so fucking tired of companies creating ways to further nickel and dime.

    There's no chance this coupon is going to bring down the price of a computer by $50 to correspond to the loss of features, this is just another way to make some coin after the fact.

    We never end up saving money, it's all bullshit.

  • Re:I'm all for it (Score:2, Insightful)

    by camperslo (704715) on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:41PM (#33624218)

    I suppose the "price above all else" PC vendors will like this. If they can load up machines with demo software, why not have demo hardware to match?

    Don't expect Apple to go along with this though...

    This may backfire in multiple ways. As this gets attention it'll make consumers more aware of the potential (which usually means likely) privacy implications of having serialized CPU chips.

  • by sdnoob (917382) on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:42PM (#33624224)

    As long as I get a $50 break on a new CPU!

    You already are... by buying the Pentium instead of the more expensive i3 that already has the extra MB of L3 and HT enabled.

    _____

    Intel and AMD have both been shipping chips with certain features disabled to meet market demands for years. Nvidia and ATI do the same with GPUs. Sometimes the disabled parts are actually defective, but sometimes not. Then you have two chips that cost the exact same to manufacture sell at two different price points, with the manufacturer intentionally choosing to sell some at a lower price (with the plan of making up the difference through higher sales).

    Owners of certain AMD processors have been able to unlock entire cores along with extra cache for some time now. Intel is just trying to profit from it. I just don't know how well that idea will go over with the uninformed masses. I think many will be just a bit pissed-off that they were sold an intentionally-crippled computer. Unfortunately, any backlash will be aimed at the company who's logo is on the box, not Intel.

  • by Haeleth (414428) on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:53PM (#33624316) Journal

    If I go out and buy a penknife, I don't expect to have to pay more money if I want to be able to use the built-in compass.

    Not a great analogy. Can you try again only with more cars?

    This isn't a case of you buying a Core i7 and Intel saying "by the way, we only gave you a Core i5, but you can have the full i7 you paid for if you give us another $50".

    This is a case of you buying a Core i5 and Intel saying "here is exactly what you paid for, and by the way, if you ever decide you should have bought a Core i7 instead, we can magically teleport one into your computer for just $50".

    If you want the pocket knife with a built-in compass, pay for the one that has a compass in it. If you deliberately buy a knife that says "KNIFE WITHOUT COMPASS (compass is available at extra cost)", you have no reason to complain when it turns out you have to pay extra to get a compass!

    There's no bait-and-switch here. People are getting exactly what is advertised. Where's the problem?

  • by mrnobo1024 (464702) on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:55PM (#33624328)

    They wouldn't have sold the crippled CPU to you if $200 wasn't a fair price for at least the full quad-core CPU, since that's what they had to manufacture. Whether you keep it as single-core, or pay extra for the upgrade, you are with absolute certainty being ripped off.

  • Re:Ridiculous... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by NF6X (725054) on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:59PM (#33624358) Homepage

    Except that I've already paid for that hardware with the original $200, and Intel made a profit on it unless they were daft enough to sell it to me at a loss. It cost a fixed amount to build that chip, based on wafer cost, die size, test time and yield. It'd be one thing if they took a bunch of chips in which some of the nonessential features failed final test and then sold them at a lower cost instead of throwing them away, but these proposed feature-locked chips are necessarily fully-functional chips in which they've chosen to hold some of the features for ransom. This is simply price gouging.

    This is just like paying $20,000 for an SUV, and then later paying another $5,000 for the key that opens the back doors and the cargo area once I've decided that two seats and a glovebox aren't enough for me.

  • Re:I'm all for it (Score:1, Insightful)

    by derGoldstein (1494129) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:06AM (#33624404) Homepage
    I'd think Apple would be fine with this. Apple is already in the habit of charging small amounts for what would often be considered just "good will" on the side of the company (in terms of software updates), so Apple users wouldn't really be surprised by the request to "Pay to Unlock", especially if it's just $50 for what's effectively a hardware upgrade. Within the Apple ecosystem, this would seem more natural.
    As for the privacy implications, I don't see why Apple would be *more* concerned than anyone else. They're not Google -- in the sense that privacy isn't a sore subject for them (maybe I'm just not up to date, but I don't recall any privacy slip-ups of that type from Apple).
  • Re:I'm all for it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:09AM (#33624432) Homepage Journal
    How long until the serial numbers are spoofed? This reminds me of the Pentiums with those identifiers being broadcast to the internet. It didn't take long for those to be disabled, and ultimately, Intel decided it was the wrong thing to do. http://www.wired.com/politics/law/news/2000/04/35950 [wired.com]
  • by Sponge Bath (413667) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:12AM (#33624460)
    This is a test by Intel. If it fails, Intel will drop it. If it succeeds, AMD will adopt it.
  • by thegarbz (1787294) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:14AM (#33624480)
    Just like all those informed geeks switched to Intel when it was revealed that AMDs could be unlocked with a pencil, and all that separated one processor to the other was a little trace printed on the outside of the chip? The companies have been doing this stuff for years, releasing chips that don't quite meet quality control as a slower chip, and when the distribution channels crash due to unforeseen circumstances, ship identical higher speed chips with the clock turned down even though there's nothing wrong with them. It was more a matter of time before someone would monetize this.

    If the price is right, all you'll be hearing is the sound of business as usual, or perhaps even a boost in Intel sales as like all things when you give something out on good faith, someone will crack it.
  • by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:14AM (#33624484) Journal

    Yep sounds like they'd need DMCA, and if I was the CEO of AMD I'd be fricking dancing in the streets at this news. hell the commercial writes itself /shows sleazy used car salesman type selling PCs/ "Intel sells you hardware you can't use until you pay ANOTHER fee on TOP of what you paid for your computer. We here at AMD think you should get what you paid for, so we don't deal with such shady tactics" /sleazy salesman points at Intel box that side falls off and tries to cover it up/

    hell between this and Intel getting investigated for shady dealings after having to shell out 1.25b to AMD to get them to shut up, it's like the gift that keeps on giving!

  • by tgibbs (83782) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:36AM (#33624650)

    It sounds like you are a bit unclear on the concept of pricing. Here's a clue:
    The price of something has nothing at all to do with what it costs to produce or deliver--it depends only upon what it is worth to the customer.

    So no, it doesn't matter whether the hardware you bought is capable of functioning as an i7, because you didn't pay for an i7, and therefore you didn't buy it.

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

    by Keen Anthony (762006) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:38AM (#33624666)

    You're not thinking about the marketing opportunity Apple has with this. This isn't like Apple charging customers extra for 802.11n. Apple had an acceptable reason. You sell me a chip that is intentionally handicapped, and then tell me that for $50 more, you will unlock it; as a consumer, it's fully reasonable for me to think you're taking advantage of me. It doesn't cost you anything to sell me that same product not handicapped, so why do this if it's not just to make more money? This is about perception, not logic and not facts. Why not just sell me a fully working product the first time? I can understand having to pay extra for MPEG-2 support in a piece of software or hardware, as there are licensing issues with a third party, but you're Intel. This is your chip.

    Apple could bank on this by not using these chips and then running a new Mac vs PC ad wherein PC talks about all the great things you can do while going over a list of upgrades you have to unlock along the way: first to Windows so you can have all the features, then the CPU, and then toss in a joke maybe about GPU and RAM upgrades. Again, it's perception.

  • Sounds as if (Score:5, Insightful)

    by turkeyfish (950384) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:42AM (#33624696)

    they are determined to hand AMD a PR club they can use to beat Intel about the head.

    I can just see the ad bylines now, "Why pay extra to have the IQ of your microprocessor raised to average, when you can get one with a higher IQ with no additional hidden costs?"

    This is purely a marketing ploy to see if they can sucker consumers into accepting, so that can generate an additional profit line.

  • by MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:42AM (#33624698)

    There's no chance this coupon is going to bring down the price of a computer by $50 to correspond to the loss of features....

    Why, did AMD stop making CPUs?

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

    by JorDan Clock (664877) <jordanclock@gmail.com> on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:45AM (#33624718)

    That's impossible to pirate

    I think I've heard that line before.

  • by mysidia (191772) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:50AM (#33624752)

    Or in filesystems...

    You install Windows on a 1000gb hard drive you bought, and Windows only provides you 500gb of usable space. A few years later, when you are running out of space....

    Dialog box: "Warning: C: only has 5 gigabytes of space left out of 500gb. You can visit http: upgrade . microsoft .com / morespace to expand your system storage capacity.... Your storage software is currently: Bronze Edition (limit: 500gb); you can upgrade to Silver (limit: 750gb) for $99.99 or Gold (limit: 1000gb) for $199.99. Or platinum for $299.99 to allow you to add a second hard drive to your computer"

    And then we could have hard drive manufacturers sell 1TB hard drives that can be upgraded to 1.5TB or 2TB hard drives by running a program and inputting an activation code from a web site......

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

    by Shadow of Eternity (795165) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:58AM (#33624810)

    As long as someone has physical posession of the device there is no such thing as absolute security.

  • Re:Ridiculous... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Culture20 (968837) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:58AM (#33624812)

    the higher end CPU also costs the same to manufacture

    The higher end CPU actually costs fractionally less to manufacture; they are all created unlocked (because they have to be fully tested unlocked), but then the lower-end CPUs have an extra assembly step of getting locked down. And the company has to spend the money on the whole unlock sales-force.

  • Re:I'm all for it (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mysidia (191772) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @01:19AM (#33624938)

    Piracy of crippleware, means users download a serial or crack from a third party, the 'pirate', who doesn't have possession of the software or hardware device being cracked.

    If this comes down to physical manipulation of the device, and someone has to break open the case on their CPU or uncap it, to attempt to implement a physical attack, that will stop 99% of the population.

    Because the CPU is easily damaged, and if it's damaged, the whole point of trying to upgrade for free is spoiled.

    And the risk of damaging the CPU is so high, that it is unlikely to be a success.

    At this point, one would call "unlocking" it by physically manipulating the device a "hack".

    Not piracy. Piracy implies distributing things to the masses, such as a tool that can be used to easily turn on the restricted functionality.

  • by Mysteray (713473) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @03:02AM (#33625340) Homepage

    The take-away here is that when I buy an Intel processor, I'm not getting the best performance, I'm not getting the best price, and I'm not getting the the best value. At best, I'll get crippleware. Crippleware sucked and I'm glad it died out of the marketplace back in the late 90s.

    Some Intel products open security holes on your system with their defective DRM: http://extendedsubset.com/?p=30 [extendedsubset.com] . I just figured they couldn't get competent C programmers after what they did to Randal Schwartz http://www.lightlink.com/spacenka/fors/ [lightlink.com] . The HDCP leak was yet another example of fail. But now they want to bring this level of quality engineering directly into the CPU? Haha, no thanks guys.

    Imagine the APT malware that would be possible if the CPU microcode update protections get busted wide-open like HDCP just did.

    Now was it really such a good idea to hand the Elbonian Business Network a way to sell cracks for who-knows-how-many millions of CPUs for $50 each? Congratulations Intel, the black market value of a crack on your microcode just went from $100k to $M++. Did you stop to consider the fact that some of the top supercomputers on the planet are botnets? That's right: the adversary has the computational resources of a state actor and he doesn't even pay his own power bill.

    I'm sitting right now within arm's reach of 14 Intel cores I've bought within the last year or two (from Atoms to i7's), never mind the stuff I have a voice in professionally. My next general purpose CPU is coming from AMD.

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

    by CarpetShark (865376) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @03:42AM (#33625510)

    I can understand having to pay extra for MPEG-2 support in a piece of software or hardware, as there are licensing issues

    You're too understanding. Cooking recipes cannot be copyrighted. Neither should video decoding recipes.

  • Re:I'm all for it (Score:2, Insightful)

    by CarpetShark (865376) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @03:47AM (#33625538)

    One could argue, that Intels manufacturing yields and quality control, are so good, that they no longer have a significant quantity of chips that "fail" and are sold at a lower speed.

    In other words, capitalist market forces (i.e., consumer demands) have worked to bring the price of goods down (i.e., supply).

    Therefore, in order to extract as much $$$ out of the market as a whole, they are marking the high quality chips at lower speeds, and then marketing the unlock service to bring it up to full speed.

    In other words, Intel have decided to bypass the central guiding principle of our economy, in order to make more profit.

  • by Ecuador (740021) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @04:29AM (#33625660) Homepage

    When you try to unlock an extra core or to overclock a processor there is no guarantee it will work. The manufacturer tells you what the specs of the unit are , which is what you paid for, and from then on you are on your own.
    Here we are talking about a case where the cpu has features disabled on purpose but guaranteed to work as long as you provide a ransom fee. While I can find some logic in it, they are in fact telling the consumer that they make a good profit already with the price they charge for the "crippled" unit, since they are willing to sell it at that price. Then the extra $$ is the "idiot tax" they will get from some users.
    I really hope AMD returns to its early Athlon days so that Intel can be in check. Judging from the previews of their netbook APU (http://www.anandtech.com/show/3933/amds-zacate-apu-performance-update) they might have something to show next year...

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

    by Dr_Barnowl (709838) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @04:53AM (#33625736)

    Vendors will hate it. They'll get an increased rate of support calls about it, and none of the benefits, because the fifty bucks goes to Intel.

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

    by jo_ham (604554) <(moc.liamg) (ta) (999mahoj)> on Sunday September 19, 2010 @04:59AM (#33625746)

    Just because you believe that to be the case doesn't mean the current reality will reflect that. You can't just choose *not* not pay the licensing fee for a mpeg2 decoder from Apple (either rolled into the cost of the OS or in the Quicktime Pro fee) because they *do* respect it.

    You can, of course, get the mpeg2 encoder from other sources but we're not talking about that in this instance.

  • by JamesSharman (91225) * on Sunday September 19, 2010 @05:24AM (#33625822)

    The physical difference between your uber cpu and a z80 is half a teaspoon of sand and some subtlety in the arrangement. You don't think you actually paying that much for the physical material in your processor are you? If a cpu manufacturer just sold their top cpu design at it's best configuration with the development costs spread evenly then they would find themselves priced out of the entry level market (sell far less chips and the top ones would end up being far more expensive). All the variations in cpu's are a way to spread those design costs around while not forcing people to pay for what they don't need. What's being proposed here is brilliant in principle, put the extra stuff on the chip (Which doesn't cost them much) and give people the upgrade opportunity, which should be far cheaper for all concerned than stamping out another piece of nearly identical silicon when the customer discovers the new generation of games aren't quite fast enough. My primary concern is that if this is a boot time driver update then Intel's "upgrade" only applies to whatever operating systems they deem fit to support.

  • Re:Sounds as if (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bert64 (520050) <bert@@@slashdot...firenzee...com> on Sunday September 19, 2010 @05:27AM (#33625840) Homepage

    Yes, but AMD aren't trying to sell you an upgrade...
    You may have a 3rd core which is defective, or you may get lucky and its just disabled and you can re-enable it with software for free. Either way you bought a cheaper chip.
    Intel on the other hand are selling a chip which is definitely fully working, and then trying to charge you extra to make use of the hardware you've already bought. AMD aren't trying to screw money out of you, you *may* end up getting a bargain out of them.

    Intent is all important.

  • by gnasher719 (869701) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @05:31AM (#33625856)

    ...except that you did buy an i7, it's just that they didn't tell you about it. Just because a feature wasn't advertised doesn't mean I didn't pay for it when I bought the hardware, or that the price I paid didn't include the cost of manufacturing that extra feature. You shouldn't be going around critiquing other peoples' analogies if you're going to liken activating hardware that you've already paid for to magically teleporting new hardware into your computer...

    So here are three scenarios:

    1. You have a choice of buying an i5 for $200, or an i7 for $300.
    2. You have a choice of buying an i7 that pretends to be an i5 for $200, or an i7 for $300.
    3. You have a choice of buying an i7 that pretends to be an i5 for $200, or an i7 for $300. If you pay $200, you can later for a payment of $100 turn it into an i7.

    For me, choices (1) and (2) are identical, but choice (3) is without any doubt better. There is no situation where I am worse off than with choice 1 or 2, and in some situations I'm better off.

  • Re:I'm all for it (Score:2, Insightful)

    by therealmorris (1366945) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @06:21AM (#33626034)
    Problem is, if they're selling these unlock cards then the chips can't just be disabled "when it needs more chips in the economy bin and less in the high-end one", they must be using better chips and artificially disabling every single one, or else how would anyone know if the card would work! That I think is the issue here.
  • Re:Sounds as if (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheRaven64 (641858) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @06:30AM (#33626056) Journal

    I don't have access to Intel's market research data, so I can't meaningfully predict if they would make more or less money with that approach. It's worth noting, however, that Intel's entire business model revolves around largely artificial market segmentation. The difference in production cost between their high end and low end chips is significantly smaller than the difference in sale price. They used to have much higher yields of the cheaper chips (which were just the good chips where not everything passed the tests, e.g. the FPU on the 486sx), but they quite often the yields don't fit with where their sales team wants to put the market segments and so they just cripple some chips before selling them. AMD does the same thing.

    This is just a way of more dynamically adjusting the segments, as well as making upgrades cheaper. Now, rather than buying a crippled chip and replacing it with a non-crippled chip later, you buy a crippled chip and undo the crippling in software. This, effectively, lets Intel sell you the same CPU twice.

  • by AK Marc (707885) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @06:31AM (#33626068)
    When you have informed consumers and zero barriers, then you have a free market. When that happens, you can't charge monopoly pricing (what the market will bear) because someone else will enter at a lower price. And no, the markup will not approach zero. If you think that, then you have no clue about finance (or are a liar trying to make others look bad by lying). Either way, that makes your opinion not worth listening to. And the fact you are an AC only supports the theory that you are a lying idiot.
  • by JamesSharman (91225) * on Sunday September 19, 2010 @09:10AM (#33626656)

    It's an interesting argument. Exactly the same argument could be made on both sides for commercial server software that is locked to given number of users. The comparison is very similar and I'm sure there are many people who would make the same counter argument in that case.

    An early poster pointed out that it's common for cpu manufactures to hard lock features out (either because of defect or purely to create bigger range of product), do you object to this as well?

    You argument that every cost that goes along with locked cores is already paid however just doesn't fly for me. The R&D costs of chip development are astronomical and it's exactly this portion of it that Intel are offering a compromise over.

  • Re:I'm all for it (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nurb432 (527695) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @10:36AM (#33627206) Homepage Journal

    Buying a chip that is underrated to pass QA is far different then selling you something with the intentional plan to charge you later to fully utilize what you bought. One is saving the scrap, the other is a scam.

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

    by jedidiah (1196) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @10:48AM (#33627310) Homepage

    > I can understand having to pay extra for MPEG-2 support in a piece of software or hardware

    I was wondering when this would come up and when some fanboy would try to make excuses for this absurdity.

    It's just bogus. MacOS can play a DVD. So obviously it has all necessary rights sorted out to deal with
    MPEG2 and AC3 and ANYTHING else related to the fact that it is able to play a DVD for you "out of the box".

    The idea that you have to pay extra to add any of these capabilities to Quicktime is pure nonsense.

    It just shows that Apple thinks it can f*ck around with it's customers. ...and they're right too.

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

    by Jeff DeMaagd (2015) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @11:16AM (#33627522) Homepage Journal

    It seems to me to be a means to unlock potential that was previously locked because of marketing demands. Chips aren't made for specific speeds, they make a batch and "bin" them based on testing.

    Before, when you bought a 2.2 GHz chip, it was in a batch of chips that also happens to include chips that made the 3GHz bin, but they clock locked them to multipliers specific to 2.2 GHz. Sometimes those 2.2 chips were marked such because really weren't reliable at 3 GHz, but sometimes people found they ran perfectly fine at 3.0GHz, it's the luck of the draw.

    I find this system preferable to having to replace the chip or computer in order to get a faster one.

  • by SpectreBlofeld (886224) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @11:38AM (#33627674)

    Nah. This is really no different than Microsoft's six editions of Windows - Starter, Home Basic, Home Premium, Professional, Enterprise, and Ultimate. It doesn't cost MS any more to stamp out an Ultimate disc than a Starter one, so why not just have the Ultimate edition only?

    The reasons are economic. If you only had one version of Windows, what do you charge for it?

    I'm not going to bother to look up the actual prices for the editions, so let's make 'em up. Let's say that Home Premium is $50 and Ultimate is $199.

    If we take away the tiered pricing and MS sells Ultimate only, they'd probably settle on an average price, let's say $129.

    The people that really needed or were willing to pay $199 are now getting a bargain at $129, but Joe User who was previously willing to pay $50 is either shut out of the market or forced to pay more, for features he didn't need.

    In chip manufacturing, like any other manufacturing, it's cost-prohibitive to have too many production lines going on at once. You can have tools, materials, and manpower divided into two production lines pumping out low-end chips and high-end chips - that probably cost the same to manufacture once R&D is finished, actually - or you can streamline, and produce one chip. Which is what Intel's doing. They're offering a Intel Home Basic edition that's affordable and an Intel Ultimate Edition that's pricier. Both prices reflect what the market will bear.

    This allows Intel to market to people of differing needs and socioeconomic strata. I guarantee you, if they didn't do this, and only sold the 'unlocked' chips, then the chip's selling price would be higher than what the locked chip is right now.

    Nobody's getting ripped off, this is just how economics.

  • by v1 (525388) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @11:57AM (#33627812) Homepage Journal

    If they're already doing the serial number, then a unique random code wouldn't be much of a bother.

    There'd have to be more to it than just that though. Usually in those cases (such as with the sat receivers) they have to put in special circuitry in the chip.

    lets say they didn't do that and just put another random number in there, lets not even say they hash the sn, we'll give them benefit of the doubt that they use a real random number and just keep a table at the plant for sn and random unlock code.

    Then when you "purchase your upgrade", they mail you a link to a downloadable program, and an unlock key. You download the program, punch in the key, and the program confirms the key matches your proc and its random number, and the program then tells the processor to bump.

    See the problem? The program is the gatekeeper, not the chip. Ten minutes with a disassembler and you figure out how the program is talking to the chip to unlock it, and it's cracked.

    First, a clarification. It's totally impractical to physically differentiate chips during production. They use lithography, and you can't just have a machine at the end of the line that goes in with tweezers making jumper changes. The chips instead have a grid of blowable fuses. At the end of the line, the machine with the SN list drops down the pins onto the chip and runs the initial tests on the chip, and then blows the fuses corresponding to the serial number of the chip. This is irreversible. This is how they all do it. And this is how they would set an unlock code too.

    Getting back to the problem. If all you are doing is setting another number on the chip, you aren't protecting the chip, you're only using it as a way to store another number. The only reason you need to know the number to unlock the chip is because the unlock program insists on your license key matching the code it reads off the chip. The program is a very weak protection, easily cracked or decompiled.

    The "correct" way to do it is different:

    The unlock code is still blown fuses like the serial number, but with a difference. It's WRITE ONLY. There's no instructions you can send to the processor to ask it what its unlock code is. Instead, there's a new procedure added to the chip that allows the license program to SEND the unlock code to the chip. The chip then, internally, compares the provided number with the burned one, and if they match, it unlocks. If not, it doesn't. And done properly, it won't allow another attempt for some time, possibly until it's been power cycled. This prevents brute-forcing it.

    (some of the more viscous methods used in the cable industry are to only allow a fixed number of attempts, and after so many fails, the chip bricks itself or becomes permanently locked etc, via burning another of its internal fuses)

    This takes protection out of the hands of the program, and puts it in the processor, safely out of reach of most people. But it does require some additional changes to the chip. In retrospect, considering all that's IN the chip to begin with, I suppose it's not that big of a deal to add, but I just wanted you to understand it's not just a matter of writing another number to the fuses.

    If they were stupid, the unlock code would be a hash of the proc sn. In that case, it's quite possible that the hash algorythm could be discovered, in which case anyone could write an unlocker or a keygen for the downloadable app.

    But if they were using a hash, then it wouldn't be necessary to burn the unlock code into the chip, since the proc could run the hash on its sn itself and compare with the provided hash. But as I said, that would be the stupid way to do it, and I doubt it would save them much money in the long run even if it never was broken.

  • by sjames (1099) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:31PM (#33628050) Homepage

    There's no bait and switch, but people instinctively understand that the sale price is supposed to closely track the marginal cost of production. Speculatively including extras but leaving them disabled reveals in bold print that the market isn't sufficiently healthy to drive the price down to it's natural free market level. When it's physically separable extra hardware you can at least argue that it's just distributed warehousing.

    People won't really be able to help thinking that Intel could afford to give them a better deal since flipping the switch costs nothing.

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

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:51PM (#33628228)

    This isn't the same thing, though - these are perfectly good chips that are crippled so that Intel doesn't have to manufacture chips at multiple price points.

    Excuse me, but I fail to see the loser here.

    Intel wins: it can focus resources on manufacturing a single processor for multiple price-points
    Customer wins: for a fee, they can upgrade their processor without having to touch a single piece of hardware

    Why the outrage? If you assume Intel doesn't have enough defects to bin into lower priced models, compare this to their alternative. They manufacture and sell additional processor lines in order to cover all their price segments. Consequently, fewer engineering resources per line, less optimization and likelihood of "free" clock-speed bumps, and higher manufacturing costs per processor (and therefore less downward pricing flexibility).

    "But Intel isn't giving me all I bought!"
    Bullshit. You *bought* the cheaper model. If you wanted the more expensive one, then you pay for it. If you don't like Intel's pricing, then you buy AMD.

  • by paramour (110003) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @01:22PM (#33628460)

    So here are three scenarios:

    1. You have a choice of buying an i5 for $200, or an i7 for $300.

    2. You have a choice of buying an i7 that pretends to be an i5 for $200, or an i7 for $300.

    3. You have a choice of buying an i7 that pretends to be an i5 for $200, or an i7 for $300. If you pay $200, you can later for a payment of $100 turn it into an i7.

    For me, choices (1) and (2) are identical, but choice (3) is without any doubt better. There is no situation where I am worse off than with choice 1 or 2, and in some situations I'm better off.

    You left out one significant scenario:

    4. You have a choice of buying an i7, that acts like an i7, for $200.

    Choice (4) is clearly best for me as a customer.

    For Intel, (4) isn't any worse than (2), as clearly they think they can make a profit selling i7s at $200. For (3) it's only worse to the extent of their conversion rate, probably well under 10%, minus the cost to lock the chip, or less than $10. For (1), they are apparently just overcharging by $90 - $100.

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

    by Reziac (43301) * on Sunday September 19, 2010 @01:23PM (#33628472) Homepage Journal

    True enough, but I think it's going to backfire on them -- by driving down the price of those chips by the $50 everyone knows they'll have to spend to get what they figure they really paid for.

    I think they'd do their market a lot better by releasing a free tool that would helpfully upclock CPUs by as much as the chip can handle (at your own risk, of course). Then people would feel like they got more than they paid for (instead of feeling ripped off), and that always results in good word-of-mouth.

    People generally prefer a gamble to a forced payout.

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

    by Haeleth (414428) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @01:55PM (#33628708) Journal

    This isn't the same thing, though - these are perfectly good chips that are crippled so that Intel doesn't have to manufacture chips at multiple price points.

    Yes, like they have been doing for years. If demand for cheap chips exceeds demand for expensive chips, they cripple some expensive chips and sell them cheaply. This increases their profits and, by decreasing the complexity of the manufacturing process, also reduces the price of the expensive chips. It's a good thing.

    The only new thing here is that they are now also providing a simple way for people who got one of the crippled chips to uncripple it. Which is also a good thing.

    I was outraged when I saw the Slashdot headline too. Then I read TFA. Then I spent a few seconds thinking about the pros and cons of this. And suddenly I'm not outraged any more. I put it to Slashdot that this concept of "thinking" is a useful tool that ought to be applied more widely.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 19, 2010 @05:25PM (#33630048)

    Don't you realise this is written by Intel and not some two-bit DRM-ware vendor? They could very well make it so these chips do the validtion on the CPU (therefore no bits in RAM that can be flipped) and make each CPU require a unique key. Doesn't mean it will be uncrackable, but it isn't the same as DRM, so I wouldn't count on it.

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

    by dargaud (518470) <slashdot2@gd[ ]aud.net ['arg' in gap]> on Monday September 20, 2010 @05:48AM (#33633562) Homepage

    because it makes economic sense

    Nope, because if the extra memory (or cores or speed) is already inside your computer, then it means you have ALREADY paid for it. Paying extra later to unlock it is just a ripoff.

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

    by mrchaotica (681592) * on Monday September 20, 2010 @08:46AM (#33634518)

    But I can understand that the MPEG people want their cut for licensing out their technology

    I think everybody understands that the MPG people want their cut; what some of us don't understand is why the law forces us to give it to them when it doesn't do society any good overall.

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