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Intel Upgrades Hardware

Intel To Offer CPU Upgrades Via Software 499

derGoldstein writes "Intel will again offer CPU upgrades through software. In the past, the upgrades gave you HyperThreading and more L3 cache. This time upgrades will actually increase CPU frequency: 'Intel Upgrade Service offers three different upgrades on second generation Core processors: Intel Core i3-2312M processor, Intel Core i3-2102 processor, and Intel Pentium G622 processor.' The page provides benchmarks of the 3 upgrade options."
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Intel To Offer CPU Upgrades Via Software

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  • by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @11:52AM (#37085928) Journal

    I know I shouldn't be RTFA but I couldn't read it. Slashdotted already?

    I just wanted to know if these "upgrades" is done by changing the micro-codes. Or are there some FPGAs in the chips? Just curious, very obviously I'm not a chip designer!

    Also, does this mean that someone (who REALLY knows what they're doing), could upgrade a "cheap" chip into something more expensive? Or add new features/try new designs or instructions? Isn't there some "hardware" encoded security aspects to these chips that might become vulnerable (like DRM)?

  • disgusting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by v1 ( 525388 ) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @11:55AM (#37085954) Homepage Journal

    and Ford, they're going to sell you a car, and you can purchase an upgrade on your fuel economy, cooler air from the air conditioning, and enable the side-curtain airbags and heated seats too, for an additional fee, all as software upgrades.

    The issue here is the manufacturers are starting to realize just how much overhead they're spending making so many different models of products, and that it's cheaper to just manufacture one model, the best one, and then cripple it if you don't want to pay for the best.

    You could damage it (don't want the run-flat bladdered tires? they'll just shank the bladders with an ice pick near the end of the assembly line) or by disabling it via software. It's only natural to expect buyers to look for ways to re-enable disabled features. And we've seen so many times how manufacturers like to think they still somehow can tell you how you are and aren't allowed to use the product you purchased from them. (they want to sell it to you, but not really sell, as in, it's your property to do with as you please) God I hate that.

    I'm really quite surprised that by now we're not seeing manufacturers trying to license physical goods. So you buy a computer. But you didn't really buy it, you licensed the use and Dell still owns it and is just loaning it to you, and can legally tell you how you are and aren't allowed to use it. (or cancel your license for any reason at any time, and demand you return it)

    But closer to back on topic, so what's the going wager on whether they'll play the ever-popular DMCA card (for circumventing a protection device) if these get hacked back to top specs? I'm betting near 100%.

  • Evolving to FPGA (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @11:56AM (#37085974) Homepage Journal

    Intel now sells [] Atom CPUs, with embedded FPGA []. Xilinx, the top FPGA maker, offers ARM CPUs with embedded FPGA []. Both CPU lines run Linux now.

    FPGA is logic gates, the building blocks of CPUs (and other computing chips) that can be interconnected on demand to create different logic circuits - and therefore custom instructions. Logic implemented in FPGA on a CPU can be revised by over-the-network software upgrades. FPGA was typically used by chip designers to develop candidate designs to be burned into hardware, but has become cheap and fast enough to distribute as end-product "reconfigurable computing" devices.

    Imagine your multimedia codecs configured directly into logic circuits on the CPU. They'd be really fast, and lower power than moving data across the CPU/RAM/bus boundaries. Upgrades by SW, just like now. Load/unload them as circuits on demand rather than as instruction codes in banks of RAM. Bring the network wires to FPGA pins on the CPU, and the data can route to codec processors on the chip for parallel operation. Of course these features apply to any "media" data, including business data in streams or large datasets.

    Intel's move to SW upgrades of CPU microcode is creating the tech and business infrastructure for regular FPGA upgrades to these new hybrids. Soon enough the literally hardwired CPU logic might become the minority of the chip. Already FPGAs with embedded DSPs [] are like that, so a chip that's mostly FPGA with just some ALU and CLU circuits already optimized to close to their theoretical performance (in speed or power) are foreseeable.

  • Re:Preposterous. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Cute Fuzzy Bunny ( 2234232 ) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @12:05PM (#37086066)

    Because it costs the same amount of money to make a fast chip or a slow one. But many people wont pay more than $xx for a cpu at a specific performance level.

    This sort of thing has gone on in the electronics and computer business for 50 years. Back in the 60's and for several decades IBM offered a single printer that could print at three different speeds at three different monthly lease points. The only difference between them was a rubber belt. You'd ask for the upgrade, IBM would raise your lease fee, and a guy would show up to change the belt.

    While some chips get binned lower due to inability to run at a certain speed or having a bad core, most are simply made to run slower at a lower price point.

    What really is the alternative? Would you like the chip companies to have separate manufacturing process for each speed level, causing an overall increase in cost across the line? Just charge everyone the top cost and give them all the fastest chip?

    I think its a cool thing that you can buy an inexpensive computer, pay a small fee, and have it go faster rather than buy a new computer. Why someone would work overtime to find an issue with this is preposterous...

  • Re:Go AMD! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by xigxag ( 167441 ) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @12:59PM (#37086552)

    I think I'm going to pick up their new Bulldozer when it comes out. Intel makes great processors but these shenanigans have got to stop.

    What shenanigans?

    Except for the CPUs at the very top of their respective product lines, ALL processors are crippled. Compared to the i7, the i3 is just a permanently gimped chip. But its wasteful, both from a manufacturing perspective and from a user perspective, to make physically different chips. It's more efficient to make the low end chip upgradable through software. Fewer physical chip lines result in lower manufacturing costs which can then be passed on to the consumer or shareholder. It also results in lower upgrade costs for the end user, who doesn't have to actually pay for the shipping, delivery, and installation of a new chip. So this is a win-win. Except for people who think all software should be free and therefore feel ripped off at having to pay for additional functionality. I mean, any piece of software, even say Photoshop or Crysis2, is just "unlocking" the capability that your computer already in principle possesses. Why should you have to pay for that, amirite?

  • Re:Wow (Score:4, Interesting)

    by batkiwi ( 137781 ) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @06:09PM (#37089178)

    I do not completely agree with Intel here, but my take on the situation is as follows:

    Intel knows their market, and sees that there are 10X people willing to pay $Y, 5X people willing to pay $2Y, and 1X people willing to pay $10Y. Each of these groups of people expect to get more than the group under them, but the group under them is not willing to pay more.

    Up until now, they've been "binning" chips. If a chip can't pass the speed tests to be worth $10Y, then sell it as $2Y. If it cant' pass those tests, sell it as the cheap chip.

    However, what if in this line of chips ALL of the chips start passing the higher speed test? The market will not bear selling all of these chips at $10Y, so they have two options:

    -permanently "bin" the chips with some sort of laser cut trace
    -soft-"bin" the chips

    They've chosen the second, and since they have, there's no reason not to allow people to re-upgrade them later.

  • by camperslo ( 704715 ) on Sunday August 14, 2011 @06:23PM (#37089284)

    Well maybe the employees that work for Intel can decide that if they're not getting wages that seem fair in proportion to what managers are getting, they can just move a little slower. No need to have different employees, they can just adjust their productivity to match the price. How efficient that would be. Management has already set a precedent, so they shouldn't have any ground to complain, right?

    Burger stands could just use some slightly foul dressing to offer lower priced options without having to cook differently otherwise. I wonder if Intel is violating some prior art, like spit in the soup for customers that don't tip well?

    If chips have a back-door to control one feature, what else is in there? Can they be really secure if they've got hidden controls or debug modes? People were upset when Intel was going to digitally serialize their chips. Whatever happened with that? Of course if chips can be uniquely upgraded it seems we know.

    I hope Intel products get more serious competition. Also, the fuss about power consumption should be just for laptops. Feel the top of a recent iMac sometime. Hopefully Steve pressuring them will help. Did Intel ever come up with some answer to small geometry leakage currents besides lowering the voltage? Shutting down sections helped too, but a process that isn't prone to the problem is needed. The Core series was a huge leap from the Pentium 4, but it doesn't really seem like we've seen that much since considering how long it has been. It could be worse. At least CPUs aren't licensed by the year, waiting to expire after some freshness date. (the way it feels with Apple expiring old apps by omitting Rosetta in Lion)

You know, Callahan's is a peaceable bar, but if you ask that dog what his favorite formatter is, and he says "roff! roff!", well, I'll just have to...