Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed


Forgot your password?
Intel The Almighty Buck Hardware

Intel Wants To Charge $50 To Unlock Your CPU's Full Capabilities 832

MBCook writes "Turnkey CPU upgrades aren't just for mainframes anymore. According to Engadget, OEMs (including Gateway) are selling computers with the Intel Pentium G6951, which can have extra cache and hyper-threading enabled through a $50 software unlock called Intel Upgrade Service."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

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

Comments Filter:
  • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) * on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:14PM (#33624008)
    but if it does, it's a big opportunity for AMD. Of course, odds are it'll get cracked at some point and we'll be able to grab an "Intel Upgrade Service Crack" torrent.

    Presumably Intel will be using the CPU serial number to keep track of legitimate users and so forth. But here it comes: have we bought a central processing unit which has now become our property because we paid for it, or are we simply buying a "license" to use Intel's "intellectual property"? 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. Will the BSA (or some similar organization) come down on companies that unlock their processors without paying Intel's upgrade fee? This has the potential to get ugly.
  • by crow ( 16139 ) on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:18PM (#33624038) Homepage Journal

    It would be relatively simple for the BIOS to turn off CPU features in such a way that they can't be turned back on without a reset. So the easy way to implement this would be for Intel to partner with a PC vendor and charge for the BIOS upgrade that doesn't disable the CPU features in question. With such a system, it would mean that you could pull the CPU and put it in a different motherboard, and get all the features, but that's not going to be a concern for the business model until they're talking about hundreds of dollars for the added features.

    Putting this into the CPU would require that the CPUs be designed specifically to support this, which is not as likely to be the case, but would be much more difficult to defeat.

  • by Anachragnome ( 1008495 ) on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:30PM (#33624138)

    Don't let the marketing get to you, and do not encourage it.

    If you are shopping for processors, simply disregard the "upgrades" and treat the product accordingly. Does it compare with fully unlocked competitors?

    No? Then don't buy it. Yes? Then buy it but don't upgrade.

  • by hawkingradiation ( 1526209 ) on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:40PM (#33624204)
    Sometimes it is harder to get an OEM computer to use AMD (like apple) but according to AMD's website: Powering ultrathin notebooks to blade servers, all AMD processors shipped are designed to use AMD-V features. [] Where as Intel has been a little less free and more cumbersome. For instance most Atom processors by Intel do not support virtualization but all shipping AMD (and it has been a while) do. Also computer models such as the sony viao (undercapitalized for a reason) use the "feature" provided by Intel to disallow virtualization through the BIOS, meaning that you have to turn in on before booting. Along with other technology that AMD has developed makes you wonder why Intel is so dominant in the space. So for an informed geek, switching to AMD was already a good move, if only the manufacturers would follow.
  • by Da w00t ( 1789 ) on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:49PM (#33624290) Homepage
    How come the software to "unlock" this capability appears to be windows only?
  • Re:I'm all for it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by BrokenHalo ( 565198 ) on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:50PM (#33624294)
    Pirated or jailbroken, that is one CPU I will not buy. Intentionally holding a gun to the customer's head by crippling the device until you pay a ransom is not a way to get my business.
  • by scrib ( 1277042 ) on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:56PM (#33624332)

    "Currently, CPU upgrades are available on selected Windows 7 systems."

    It installs the application. Does it run every time your computer boots? Does that mean the unlock isn't permanent? If I pay to unlock the chip, and then reboot into Linux, is the CPU still unlocked? If I have to reinstall Windows, do I have to reinstall (or re-purchase) the upgrade?

    No thanks...

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

    by mysidia ( 191772 ) on Saturday September 18, 2010 @11:56PM (#33624334)

    You know... Intel being the CPU manufacturer, could make this really robust. Each CPU already gets stamped with a unique serial number. They could stamp each one with a unique unlock code that goes with the serial number, as well.

    Then the only way to 'unlock' the function would be to go through Intel, so they would look up your specific CPU's unlock code in the database.

    That's impossible to pirate, because there's no way you can share the code. As long as they assure the unlock code is the only mechanism allowed to re-enable the capabilities, and there is no BIOS mechanism to override the lock.

  • by Joe The Dragon ( 967727 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:02AM (#33624372)

    Is this some kind of flash update or os based?

    So will it be $50 per os reload?

    Will you be able to buy it one time and make a image and mass deploy it?

    Will Linux just auto unlock the cpu?

    Will some MB auto unlock the cpu?

  • by LordLucless ( 582312 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:06AM (#33624406)

    That's a bit different. They disabled a chip, and sold you the board. You could turn it on if you wanted - with no guarantee that it'd actually work. They do the same with multi-core CPUs. They build em all with X cores, during QA, if one of the cores fails a test, they'll just disable the core, and sell it as X-1.You're perfectly free to try and re-enable your disabled core - but there's a chance it won't work. They can't sell them as X-core processors, because they can't guarantee all cores will work.

    This, on the otherhand, is them selling you a piece of hardware with functionality *that they know is 100% functional* (or they wouldn't be able to offer the upgrade) and are trying to make you pay for what you already own.

  • by mlts ( 1038732 ) * on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:06AM (#33624412)

    This reminds me of an old 486 upgrade chip for the 386DX that was pin compatible. It would run the same speed as a 386DX, but one had to install a .SYS driver in MS-DOS to turn on the internal clock-doubling and such. No driver, no performance gain.

    I wonder if it is the same stuff, where the CPU is fed some sequence to have it allow access to the full cache and such. Of course, I will be almost 100% sure that this driver will be not something open-sourced, so expect the performance boost by "unlocking" the chip to be only in Windows, and no other OS.

    I just hope Intel doesn't spread this crap beyond the bottom of the barrel chips where profit margins are razor thin. For the low-end market where price is everything, maybe. However, for mainstream i5 and i5 chips, much less Xeons -- hell no.

  • Packard Bell used to do something similar.

    my first 486 system I bought back in the early 90s came in two flavors: the SX version and the DX version.(For those that dont remember, the DX had a math coprocessor, the SX didnt.)

      It was about a $50 difference in price between the two models, and so I bought the cheaper one.

    One day I was skimming the manual looking for a motherboard jumper and found a cryptic note for "J12 1-2 SX/2-3 DX). On a whim I swapped the jumper.

    Whadda ya know! suddenly my bios reported DX processor.

    Apparently it was cheaper to build one box, then apply a case sticker/jumper setting to differentiate the two.

    makes perfect sense really.

  • by bieber ( 998013 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:13AM (#33624478)
    ...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...
  • by whoever57 ( 658626 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:19AM (#33624536) Journal

    it would be completely impractical to try to hard code a different key onto each chip during manufacturing.

    Didn't Intel processors have a unique ID []at one time?

  • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) * on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:28AM (#33624606)

    The problem is that it doesn't make sense from the common sense point of view.

    This may come down to economies of scale. If you only have to manufacture one processor, and simply deactivate parts of it, rather than tooling up for multiple chips, there might be a significant savings there. In fact, I'm rather inclined to think that that's all there is to it.

  • by sayfawa ( 1099071 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:36AM (#33624648)
    But this is backwards. In the sane world, the reason why paying less gets you less is because the cheaper product was cheaper to make. Not only is their locked down product not cheaper to make, but it's actually making the whole line more expensive. Some of our dollars are actually going towards the developers for the purpose of making the product worse, by locking it down.
  • I'm not (Score:2, Interesting)

    by symbolset ( 646467 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:43AM (#33624706) Journal

    My first impression was "whoa - Gateway is still in business."

    After that though, yeah. Dumb idea all the way around. They're going to get such a roasting over this. Viral Youtube videos, blog crusaders polluting every tech forum and newsgroup with this one issue, the full Tonight Show treatment. The hate that this spawns will be worth far less than all the money it could possibly bring in.

    And then of course comes the question: if ideas this bad come to market, who's running the ship up there? And then the stock takes a hit.

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

    by Dachannien ( 617929 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:55AM (#33624786)

    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. Maybe their reject rate has dropped enough that it's not a viable way to get lower-performance chips.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 19, 2010 @01:29AM (#33624994)

    Mainframes are not consumer gear. In my opinion, this is a total scam and creating an artificial scarcity and demand where one does not naturally exist. If they can make the chips for $50 less, then charge $50 less or charge $50 more and profit. Sell BETTER chips that cost $50 more instead. CPU's are not bottlenecks anymore, they are milking what they can. It is close to the the hardware version of MS software assurance which may work for some businesses but would NEVER work for consumers. The days of selling a 2x cdrom one month and a 4x two months later and raising it Xx every few months after worked great until the max theoretical value was reached. Is Intel telling us that the CPU is at its theoretical max market value right now?

  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @01:50AM (#33625086)
    No, you can't license hardware unless there is an agreement prior to purchase that you are doing so. U.S. courts have consistently ruled that a tangible product you buy retail is bought outright, not licensed, with complete disregard to any "licensing" language there may be on the package or elsewhere.

    The only exception so far is software, and that's only because almost unbelievably, to date there has been no major court ruling on the matter. To be honest, I do not know why software should be any exception to a rule that applies to literally every other kind of product in existence.
  • Re:I'm all for it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dargaud ( 518470 ) <slashdot2@gdarga[ ]net ['ud.' in gap]> on Sunday September 19, 2010 @02:27AM (#33625230) Homepage

    Pirated or jailbroken, that is one CPU I will not buy. Intentionally holding a gun to the customer's head by crippling the device until you pay a ransom is not a way to get my business.

    I completely agree. This 'method' of doing business has been going on for a long time in the digital spectrometer world and mainframe world. I find it revolting and for the period when I had some decision power on what was being purchased I made it very clear to vendors that I would never consider their equipment for that very reason. Fortunately (for them), I'm back to lowly coder now.

  • by goodforusers ( 1904288 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @03:24AM (#33625426)
    This is not as bad as it looks. In fact, this could be real good for the Customers. This model will allow me to pay less for a machine when I don't need that much performance. If the performace is not meeting my needs, then I may use the upgrade card and increase the life of my machine. I don't see why folks here are making big deal out of it. How is software upgrade different from hardware upgrade? Even Microsoft and Apple do the same where they charge different price for different features and technically charge less for features by disabling some. So I think software and hardware upgrades are analgous. I actually like that Intel is thinking out of the box and trying to do something different. This only means better and more options for the Customer.
  • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @04:37AM (#33625690)
    There's a perception that releasing such tools for Linux will result in cracking them. Such "delicate" tools are often not released to Linux, so I'm doubtful your prediction will come true.
  • by Hymer ( 856453 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @05:00AM (#33625752)
    ...if they provide me with a code or utility to disable hyperthreading.
    Hyperthreading is killing my VM hosts and new servers do not have the "Disable Hyperthreading" in BIOS.
  • by Solandri ( 704621 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @06:31AM (#33626070)

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

    The problem is that if these extras are so cheap that Intel figures they can afford to put them in every CPU even if only a few people buy them, then there's clearly a large disparity between the cost to produce the feature and the current market price for it. Long-term, this typically happens when there's a distinct lack of competition and a natural monopoly is arising. Normally, competition will drive the market price for features down to a small percentage above their cost to produce.

    I'm pretty pro-free market and have eaten my share of down-ratings here for it. But that Intel is considering something like this is a pretty big warning sign that the free market isn't working as it should in this market.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday September 19, 2010 @09:16AM (#33626688)

    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.

    Sounds like an awesome feature for the virus-writers of the future.

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

    by IICV ( 652597 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @12:22PM (#33627984)

    One thing nobody's talking about is why Intel is doing this.

    The only reason I can imagine is that they're sitting on some technology that will greatly reduce fabrication flaws, which means that far more chips will be coming out of their factories that are capable of running at full specification than the market wants.

    That, or they're already outputting a high percentage of chips that are capable of running at higher rates, and disabling them - a much higher percentage than they used to be able to manage, if it makes sense to actually market these chips as upgradeable.

  • by turtleshadow ( 180842 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @02:25PM (#33628884) Homepage

    This could really muck up the depreciation cost of IT data centers.
    Intel has to have run some financial models on this to go this direction.

    Is the $50 unlock going to depreciated or be full cost 3 years after the initial sale?

    If I got a racks that we don't have to have a pull and replace with current CPUs but could get another 1 -2 years by unlocking them I'm going to get a note from the comptroller for not choosing to spend the really low unlock cost but instead going with upgrades which will be higher.

    Next will the unlock transfer?
    That would really bite if it was non-transferable unlock / license.
    This would also be important when a CPU does go casters up and is replaced with a like unit. Would the unlock follow the specific CPU package or the customer installation? Doing any kind of "credit" tracking is a nightmare financially and for license compliance.
    Second hand sales are also a potential problem.

    Anyhow I also see Viking [] and/or SDD makers also doing this stuff with the wacky great Sata DIMM. How many more circuits needed to unlock 1TB RAM drawn from SDD rather than the base 32 GB they sold you a license for.

    Non mainframe datacenters have had "unlockable" storage upgrades for almost over decade (IE tape libs), its almost time for unlockable, SDD, CPU & SDD/SATA memory upgrades.

  • monkey mechanics (Score:2, Interesting)

    by epine ( 68316 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @03:04PM (#33629158)

    Personally, I think that shows that the 'invisible hand' doesn't deliver more and more prosperity to the human race, something that the more enlightened economists such as Stiglitz are beginning to say aloud.

    Of all the economists I've read recently, my own views are closest to Stiglitz. But I don't think he's saying what you seem to imply.

    One problem with the invisible hand metaphor is that an invisible hand never takes a sick day. Everyone just assumes it shows up for work. It works under certain conditions, but those conditions are not guaranteed to exist without a steady hand at the switch. One of the services that government can provide to the economy is arranging for those conditions to exist more often than not. Sure, this is expensive, but the last time the invisible hand spread a fever and then took sick leave, the invisible hand collected a trillion dollar bonus payment. That doesn't seem right to me.

    It also continues a worrisome trend in America of widening income disparity. The entire economy is shifting to drug lord structure: only the guy at the top has money to burn and chicks for free, everyone else functions with an aspirational motivation, to have a life that sucks less by moving another rung up the ladder.

    It works the same in professional sports. The vast majority of athletes who try to break into the pro leagues are lucky to break minimum wage for the time and energy invested, if they don't actually lose money. You might say that the weak aspirants should know better. Try that argument on a pro scout. There's no obvious formula for picking the gems. There's a few dead ringers in every draft year, which is exactly my point. The vast majority have uncertain prospects, even athletes drafted after the top ten from the first round.

    In MLB I once watched a show on the draft process which stated that 50% of the prospects with enough talent and drive to make it fall by the wayside on injuries, esp. rotator cuff. Six months off at a key point in your development is a terrible set back, even with full recovery. Athletes, especially young men, have a lot of ego. Few believe in statistics. The setback will happen to the other guy. I'm better than him. But in reality, it's mostly a coin flip.

    There's a scene in Days of Thunder which I recall because Tom Cruise, posing as a racer in real life on the publicity tour, stated that he really believed his dialog when his character said that avoiding an accident in front of you is more skill than luck. And why wouldn't he? In his own profession, he's one of the chosen few. No matter what he believes in his spare time. IIRC, Tom actually said that the opposing dialog made him furious when filming the scene.

    One of the problems with systems more like Somali and less like Sweden is promoting ruthlessness and cruelty and placing a low value on life at the bottom. This translates into less education for young girls (which drives global population growth), and more boys willing their way to glory with high explosives (which shrouds freedom with the Patriot Act).

    So what kind of society does the invisible hand prefer? More like Sweden or more like Somalia? Or is it somehow value neutral by the virgin birth and the miracle of small government?

    A better question is this: What roles must government play to ensure that privatizing profit comes along with privatizing loss (no more "too big to fail")? And what is the least expensive way for government to provide this function? And what is our rational at the end of the day that Gorden Gecko won't find yet another way to steer us over a cliff? Greed is good, but so is ensuring that the greedy are playing with their own bankrolls, and not cleverly mortgaging the system around them.

    It surprises me that this thing with Intel inflames passions. The practice has been around for a long time. Circa 1980 there were expensive washing-machine disk drives where the vendor would enable half the platters at the time

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

    by MBGMorden ( 803437 ) on Sunday September 19, 2010 @08:35PM (#33631262)

    You know that you probably bought a handicapped chip already, right?

    Of course, but that's not the point. As the OP said, it's about PERCEPTION. Most people don't really think about (or even know about for many consumers) the fact that their CPU may be a downscaled version of another one. If you offer to "unlock" those disabled features for a price though, then it's a firm slap in the face reminding you that this chip most assuredly is just arbitrarily limited.

    Consider it like a John visiting a prostitute. Most of them know that the prostitute is only sleeping with him for money, and they're ok with that in the back of their mind, but they certainly don't want to be reminded of that fact the whole time.

    Or consider when World of Warcraft came out: in an effort to reduce excessive playtime, developers built in a "fatigued" mechanic. As long as you rested at an inn your character would return to normal, but eventually if you gained too much XP without letting your fatigue wear off you started gaining XP at half the normal rate. There was public outcry. So, rather than changing the mechanic AT ALL, Blizzard changed the wording so that instead of the extended play time XP being "halved", IT was renamed to the normal rate and the other state was renamed from normal to "rested" and the claim was that you get DOUBLE the XP in that state. Numerically identical, but the community accepted this version pretty well because the prospect of a reward that builds over time was more palatable than a penalty that decreases with time, even if they might work out the same.

    Presentation of the situation is as important as the details of the situation.

Never buy from a rich salesman. -- Goldenstern