Intel Test Marketing Artificially Constrained "Upgradeable" Processors

Intel's marketing division has a long history of partnering with OEMs in order to jointly promote a product, but the company's most recent initiative could create blowback from unhappy customers. According to information unearthed this past weekend, Intel is quietly testing the concept of "upgradeable" CPUs. Instead of buying a physical CPU and going to through the hassle of installing it, customers who purchase one of these systems could optionally purchase an upgrade card (current price: $50).

Right now the program appears to be confined to Best Buy and a single Gateway, the SX2841-09e. There's no mention of that system at either companies' website; the specs for the SX2840-01 are available here. For now, the psuedo-upgrade only applies to one processor (the Intel Pentium G6951) and requires either an Intel DH55TC or DH55PJ, both of which use the Intel H55 Express chipset. If that model number sounds familiar, it's because Intel released the G6950 in Q1 of this year. We're guessing the G6951 either has a different GPU clock than its predecessor, or was specially designed to take advantage of this software 'upgrade.'

The G6951 is a 32nm dual-core Core i3 processor at 2.8GHz with 3MB of included L3 cache and no Hyper-Threading. After purchasing and entering an authorized activation code, the G6951 is upgraded into a G6952 and gains both Hyper-Threading and an additional 1MB of L3 cache. According to Intel's Retail Upgrade website, the performance difference between the two configurations looks like so:



Nearly all of these tests are Hyper-Threading friendly tests—single-threaded performance would only rise if a program was limited by the original 3MB of L3 cache

The best thing about Intel's Retail Upgrade plan is that it should work flawlessly and without any need to crack open a case. In days of yore, Intel included upgrade paths for its customers (think 486SX, OverDrive, Pentium OverDrive, etc). The compatibility, performance, and stability of the upgraded system often varied widely, making it difficult for a would-be buyer to determine which computer would be able to take advantage of a new processor (and which wouldn't). None of these factors would apply to an upgraded G6951 system; users could buy the G6951 solution and confidently plan to unlock the G9652 at a later date.

The $50 price tag, however, isn't much of a deal. According to Intel's own records, the G6950 currently sells for $87 in 1K lots. $51 higher up the ladder, there's the Intel Core i3-550. Compared to the G6950/6951, the i3-550 is 400MHz faster, includes Hyper-Threading, offers the same 4MB of L3, and officially supports DDR3-1333 as opposed to just DDR3-1066. As an added bonus, its GPU is 200MHz faster than the G6950's (though we don't know the 6951's GPU clock yet). Given Intel's current price structure, a Core i3-550 system is likely to be a better deal. (We'd feel a bit differently about this if the upgrade included Turbo Boost and/or a modest speed increase).

There are two other points of interest buried in the fine print. Intel states that in order to qualify for an upgrade "the computer system to have an upgrade-enabled Intel CPU, BIOS, and chipset, network hardware and software, as well as connection with a power source and the Internet." This is a rather interesting qualifier, given the fact that Intel is one of the largest OEM motherboard manufacturers. If this program takes off, we might see various other motherboard manufacturers licensing the right to build upgrade-capable motherboards in the not-too-distant future.

The other bit of information deals with revenue-sharing. According to this page meant for System Builders, Intel Upgrade Service offers revenue shares to you and your customers when upgrades are sold. (emphasis original.) This is classic Intel manuevering at work—if the program becomes popular, all of the major OEMs will sign up rather than risk missing out on a competitive advantage.

It's anyone's guess how consumers will react to the idea that they're buying what we'll politely call "constrained" processors. This is a potential issue Intel will have to handle with great care. As the original Pentium FDIV bug proved, consumers don't care if an issue actually impacts them or not. The same thought patterns that led millions of consumers to demand a new, flawless Pentium could lead to an outcry over allegedly crippled microprocessors. 
Via:  Engadget
Comments
AlanH 4 years ago

this will not hold up in the consumer world imo, the cpu already has those features, you shouldnt have to pay $50 for a code to turn those on, they should just stick with fully unlocked cpus in different price ranges. just another ploy to make money

 

I must add, that the website the author linked to to look at specs says that it comes with hyper threading, majorly misleading

3vi1 4 years ago

@Alan:

>> this will not hold up in the consumer world imo, the cpu already has those features, you shouldnt have to pay $50 for a code to turn those on

You do realize that all the Windows 7 CDs are the same, and the license key you pay for determines exactly how uncrippled your installation will be, right? As with Intel's plan - MS will let you pay them money to "upgrade", i.e. unlock the crippled features.

Keith Schmidt 4 years ago

Someone earlier compared these unlockable processors with the fact that Windows 7 cd's contain the entire Windows 7 software and what is enabled is determined by the unlock code you pay for. This is NOT an appropriate analogy. I am running Windows 7 64-bit Professional. I could have afforded Ultimate but there were no additional features in Ultimate that I would have any use for whatsoever. Who among us, however, would have no use for extra processing power to, hmmm...let's think of some basic examples... (what was that guy thinking comparing processing power to O/S features I have no idea):

1) Who doesn't want their games to run more smoothly (there are quite a few games out there where things like frames/second are extremely dependent on processing power of the CPU as well as the GPU);

2) Who doesn't want to finish their work more quickly so they have more free time for other pursuits (or to do additional work, for the workaholics));

3) Who doesn't want their video editing software to render frames as quickly as possible (personal experience; side-by-side test; old computer versus my new build with all hardware the same...except for the processor and mobo);

Let's try one more example cars: If I buy a sports car (processor) with an 8-cylinder engine, I shouldn't have to pay extra to go from single port fuel injection to multi-port or pay extra to use all my cylinders. Of COURSE I want to get from point A to point B in the shortest, safest amount of time. However, the way the car is decked out/equipped (like Windows), I don't NEED the cup holder, DVD player with flatscreen in the back and the heated seats (Windows features) to go from point A to point B. THAT is a more appropriate analogy.

Resin 3 years ago

[quote user="Keith Schmidt"]

Let's try one more example cars: If I buy a sports car (processor) with an 8-cylinder engine, I shouldn't have to pay extra to go from single port fuel injection to multi-port or pay extra to use all my cylinders. Of COURSE I want to get from point A to point B in the shortest, safest amount of time. However, the way the car is decked out/equipped (like Windows), I don't NEED the cup holder, DVD player with flatscreen in the back and the heated seats (Windows features) to go from point A to point B. THAT is a more appropriate analogy.

[/quote]

I'm glad I read this because I was about to post the exact same analogy (well I was gonne say V6 but you see the point).

So +1

I want a company I can be loyal to, because thry give me the fastest, highest quality, product, at the lowest price they can produce it for ( and yeah earn profit, but also a reputation).

lonewolf 4 years ago

I don't like this idea, kind of seems shisty to me. A better way of going about this would be to do like AMD does and make upgrading possible like the AM2 and AM3 backwards compatible. Intel changes sockets so quick its no fair. I am no fan boy of AMD by any stretch but that is the way they countered Intel's dominance by keeping their base and allowing them an easy path to upgrade.

Joel H 4 years ago

AlanH,

The question is whether or not consumers will see it as fairly paying for additional performance or being sold crippled processors that they have to pay to unlock. I'm on the fence about this one, partly because I'm concerned what happens if consumers either have to replace a motherboard (via the OEM), want to upgrade to a different processor after purchasing the upgrade for the G6951, or the system BIOS needs a flash.

Aside from those concerns, I'd like this concept a lot more if Intel either unlocked Turbo Boost or increased the core clock modestly--say from 2.8GHz to 3.06Ghz. The clockspeed boost in conjunction with HT and an extra 1MB of L3 would guarantee that *all* buyers gain at least a modest performance improvement, regardless of software or workflow patterns.

AlanH 4 years ago

If it would do something like over clock the cpu, I would be more in favor of that instead of disabling features then paying $50 just to enable them

plus I'm sure someone will figure out a way to bypass this whole upgrade card deal and enable these disabled features for free

in fact, if you could purchase some sort of unlock card to overclock your cpu safely, I may even buy one. it would enable the common user to get a good performance boost without risking damage to their system

Joel H 4 years ago

AlanH,

Breaking those cards might be far more difficult than you'd think. If Intel only pairs them with motherboards that take advantage of the company's Trusted Execution Technology platform the system would be very hard to break.

slugbug 4 years ago

I predict someone will come up with a software hack.

realneil 4 years ago

Hackers are a resourceful bunch. I'd never say that they couldn't do it, but it may be hard to do as Joel says.

I think that I prefer buying something in the traditional way. Knowing what it is and what it's capable of right from the start. Then Overclocking it a little.

The idea of not getting the full capabilities of what I have purchased right from the start doesn't set well with me. I would resent having to "buy it again" and not have a tangible upgrade in my hand, or something I can sell off as a used part or give to another member of my family.

I'll never buy into this idea.

Joel H 4 years ago

Again, the problem here isn't that Intel is charging to re-enable processor features--they've always locked features off at certain price points. The issues is whether or not the features being offered as part of the $50 upgrade will actually improve performance for all customers, and whether or not the cards themselves are any kind of value.

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