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Upgrade Card  (Source: Engadget)

Locked vs Unlocked performance  (Source: Intel)
$50 will get you slightly better performance

It was just last week that we learned that the Intel-backed HDCP DRM scheme for Blu-ray movies had been cracked. Today, however, we learn of another Intel product that is being used to "add features" to its latest line of processors, and it sounds just a little bit like DRM.

According to Engadget, Intel is selling a $50 "Processor Performance Upgrade Card" which will unlock features that are already included on an Intel Pentium G6951 processor, but are disabled from the factory. In the case of the upgrade card detailed by Engadget, it is specific to the Gateway SX2841-09e.

CPU World notes that the 2.8GHz G6951 is sold with 3MB of L3 cache and has HyperThreading disabled. By purchasing and activating the $50 upgrade card, a full 4MB of L3 cache is enabled along with HyperThreading.

The processor enhancements are performed by going to Intel's website and downloading software to your Windows 7-based computer. From there, you'll have to enter in your PIN from the upgrade card in order to boost the performance of your CPU.

Intel says that the added L3 cache and HyperThreading is useful for:

  • Multitasking
  • Rendering of photos, film, or music
  • Most kinds of digital content creation
  • Enjoying high-definition media

Intel also shows a benchmark chart which shows a standard G6951 versus an unlocked G6951 (see figure at right).

As with all forms of DRM and software unlocks, it's only a matter of time before modders/hackers find a way to circumvent Intel's $50 upgrade card.

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By ApfDaMan on 9/19/2010 10:24:54 AM , Rating: 5
Engdaget says this is just a trial with lower level CPU's. if they start doing it with mainstream and enthusiast CPU's they may as well throw money at AMD.

RE: Ha.
By StevoLincolnite on 9/19/2010 10:59:44 AM , Rating: 3
I think this just sucks for the average joe.

But when the modding/hacker community finds a way to circumvent it, I can imagine allot of low-end processors are going to be sold and "unlocked".

Heck I can imagine board manufacturers adding an unlocking feature similar to those found on AMD boards which exploit the ACC bug to unlock Cores and Cache, despite that feature not being present anymore with the 8xx chipsets...

RE: Ha.
By Saist on 9/19/2010 11:06:01 AM , Rating: 5
I first read the title as "intel unlocks HyperTransport" and had a moment of "Intel doesn't use HyperTransport"

Then I actually read the article and wound up shaking my head. From the SMT work done on the Linux kernel, Hyperthreading is only really useful when you have an extra-long pipeline that stalls often enough on commands when running different types of applications to make being able to handle two different types of calls worth it.

I find myself agreeing that this is just going to send the budget buyer straight into AMD's arms. AMD already clobbers Intel on bang for buck across AMD's entire product range... granting that Intel does clobber AMD right back in the binaries on total available processing power... and that since Intel has brought the memory controller on-die with the processor, the pricing on an entire Intel system with equivalent power to an AMD system only verges into RIP-OFF territory, rather than being smack dab on the far side of rip-off.

I also suspect that various vendors will begin doing the same thing with these Intel unlocks that they did with AMD Triple-Core's. How many motherboards would automatically unlock that forth core on a binned AMD Quad-Core?

Then there's the problem of Operating System. According to the article, you need Windows 7. Okay, just how exactly is a Linux going to treat these processors anyways? Will a Linux run at the full L3 cache amount and in SMT mode because there's no software or bios lock?

Why do I suspect Intel hasn't actually thought that far ahead?

RE: Ha.
By Fritzr on 9/19/2010 11:21:31 AM , Rating: 5
This "upgrade" is CPU specific & built in by design at the factory. It is very likely to be a microcode setting internal to the processor. If this is the case, then the lock remains in place regardless of the OS. The DRM tool to unlock only runs under Win7 leaving Linux & OSX sitting on the sidelines unless they install Win7 for the short time it takes to unlock the chip.

This scenario will also give the hacker community great incentive to discover the instruction sequence that will enable the extra features...The *nix community is heavily populated by people who love this sort of puzzle :D

There will be a lot of office pools betting on the crack date of this new idea :P

RE: Ha.
By JonnyDough on 9/21/2010 7:35:02 AM , Rating: 1
Could this be evidence of a relationship between Intel and Microsoft that goes a bit beyond a public business deal?

RE: Ha.
By Fritzr on 9/21/2010 7:54:57 PM , Rating: 2
This was a Gateway specific part and upgrade. Since the computer is sold with Win7 pre-installed, the OS specific tool could be considered legit.

Have to wonder if the same crippled CPU is sold under another part number though :)

RE: Ha.
By Flunk on 9/19/10, Rating: 0
RE: Ha.
By phatboye on 9/19/2010 3:28:44 PM , Rating: 4
You logic assumes that Intel cares about Linux uses, which is certainly not the case.

Intel invests highly in the Linux community. Intel cares a lot about the well being of Linux users. WTF are you talking about. My guess is that since these low end chips are targeted at consumer level products they gave priority for this feature to Windows users since majority of consumer level PC's are Windows users. No where did it say that Intel won't release this ability to MAC and/or Linux users in the future. But to say that Intel doesn't care about Linux users is totally absurd.

RE: Ha.
By sgtdisturbed47 on 9/19/10, Rating: -1
RE: Ha.
By RedemptionAD on 9/19/2010 3:24:28 PM , Rating: 3
Hey, except they are coreliant: amd for intel's x86 and intel for amd's x64 which at this point it could be argued that if they pulled their licenses from each other, intel would be hurt far more. Given the market transition to 64bit and amd having the standard for that.

RE: Ha.
By inighthawki on 9/19/10, Rating: 0
RE: Ha.
By Fritzr on 9/19/2010 7:04:38 PM , Rating: 3
Most new PCs run a 64bit OS ... of course the 32bit apps will run just fine with the 64bit extensions missing. But will they work with the OS disabled?

Until Intel manages to migrate the market to IA64 and end use of AMD's 64bit instruction set, Intel is stuck with licensing AMD's extensions.

Intel *could* stop using AMD64. They tried something similar a few years ago with that other great success story...the Itanium

RE: Ha.
By inighthawki on 9/19/10, Rating: -1
RE: Ha.
By 4wardtristan on 9/19/2010 11:02:39 PM , Rating: 2
has ia64 been forgotten for this topic?

intel would just have to reduce the price by a huge margin thats all :)

RE: Ha.
By StevoLincolnite on 9/19/2010 11:20:54 PM , Rating: 2
Yes, but you can buy and install a new 32-bit OS rather easily, I'd like to see u buy new versions of ALL of your apps in 64-bit versions that don't exist...

And be limited to a 4gb memory pool? I think not.

And the average Joe probably doesn't know how to reinstall windows. (Although I have guided a few friends in the past over a phone.)

RE: Ha.
By sprockkets on 9/20/2010 5:18:32 PM , Rating: 2
Regardless of whether Win7 64 bit runs 32 bit programs, there are still many programs that flat out don't work on it that are 32 bit, and probably never will. And even if they do later, it will cost $$$ in upgrades. No, we aren't talking about $59 end user software, but small to large business software that costs $1000 or much more.

I've already seen it. In fact, some lousy companies still sell POS (in this case point of sale) machines that still need to run on WinXP Pro and IE6. Sad but true. And they are not a small POS company either.

Luckily for the customer, I used the same key on the computer for the 32 bit version of Vista and it took it without issue. Might work the same for 7 as well.

RE: Ha.
By Fritzr on 9/21/2010 8:18:11 PM , Rating: 2
Microsoft has WinXP virtual mode for Win7 available as a free download for computers able to support it.

Scroll down for a post full of links to Virtual XP here
http[del]:// n-US/w7install/thread/65bd4c9f-0e41-434c-9ef7-3d7b4 dff10f5

The start page for Microsoft's explanation of this (one of the links in the post the above link sends you to)
http[del]:// n-US/w7install/thread/65bd4c9f-0e41-434c-9ef7-3d7b4 dff10f5

This would have been nice in Vista, but with Win7 Pro or higher you can keep those XP only programs and use the new OS as well.

As a pro installer I'm surprised you were not aware of this heavily discussed accessory :)

RE: Ha.
By Reclaimer77 on 9/20/2010 9:07:59 AM , Rating: 2
I usually support Intel because their CPU's lately have been amazing, but this kind of scheme is too much like something Apple would pull off for my tastes. Selling the "new upgraded" product that was really just the unlocked version of the old one.

Not sure what they are thinking with this one, but maybe I'm being too quick to judge.

By Spivonious on 9/19/2010 12:30:42 PM , Rating: 5
So instead of spending $15 more for an i3 530, which has the features this adds, you'll spend $50 to unlock the features? Who in their right mind would buy this?

RE: Silly
By Lerianis on 9/19/2010 1:10:33 PM , Rating: 2
No one, but the sad truth is that most people who buy bargain basement laptops and PC's are NOT in their right mind and do little thinking before buying.

RE: Silly
By StevoLincolnite on 9/19/10, Rating: 0
RE: Silly
By Visual on 9/20/2010 5:18:00 AM , Rating: 4
And what part of your post actually shows the quoted statement as "not true"?

If anything, you're confirming it - if you need additional systems to say nice stuff about your desktop system, you indeed are not in your right mind. Also, look up the words "compliment" and "complement" before the confusion kills you ;)

On a more serious note, showing just one exception when the statement referred to "most people" is really pointless.

RE: Silly
By JonnyDough on 9/21/2010 7:40:13 AM , Rating: 3
"It is well to remember that the entire population of the universe, with one trifling exception, is composed of others." ~ Andrew J. Holmes, writer

RE: Silly
By Fritzr on 9/19/2010 7:09:54 PM , Rating: 2
The market is the one created by sales of the locked processor. When it comes time to invest in an upgrade, do they buy and install the faster CPU or buy the card and unlock the installed CPU?

Many will opt for the $50 unlock when they decide on the next incremental upgrade of their bargain PC. You logic implies that there is no market at all for this locked chip because the I3 530 exists with the same functionality as this upgrade gives.

The market exists for the cheaper chip, the existence of the microcode lock creates the market for selling the key to more performance from the installed CPU.

RE: Silly
By SunAngel on 9/19/2010 10:01:33 PM , Rating: 3

RE: Silly
By Spivonious on 9/20/2010 9:52:52 AM , Rating: 2
My point was to ask who is buying the G6950 today, when the i3 530 is only $15 more? If they're building a budget machine, then they're not looking at LGA1156 at all, and are probably down at the LGA775 Celerons.

RE: Silly
By SunAngel on 9/20/2010 10:11:47 AM , Rating: 2
No, I understood you completely. It was the other post. S/He was contradicting her/himself. Most people will pay the $15 difference for the ability to upgrade in the future. The other post says that but then goes on to say a market is created for a non-upgradeable processor that would not be in demand. I just could not figure out where the gal/guy was taking a stand.

Your right, who is going to pay $50 on the back end if all your going to get is the same power you can have today for $15.

RE: Silly
By Fritzr on 9/21/2010 8:26:38 PM , Rating: 2
Remember these are Gateway PCs sold at Best Buy. The choices are whatever the store stocks that day. The sales clerk will be trained to explain the "advantage" of this "easy upgrade". They will be trained to deflect questions about alternatives not sold by Best Buy. The customer looking at prices will be affected by a lower purchase price today & then in 6 months or so when they are in the store again, there is the friendly clerk ready to help them "improve" their computer :P

The target market is not geeks who take the time to search out all the alternatives, then buy from the vendor offering the best deal on their final choice. These are ordinary people who rely on Best Buy sales clerks for tech support :D

Market Segmentation
By ddopson on 9/19/2010 5:57:50 PM , Rating: 5
I posted a response to this on TechCrunch. I was a bit peeved by the negative tone of the discussion on that site. This forum, to its credit, is a bit more all-over-the-map with Linux compatibility and other issues.

Still, the market segmentation problem behind these upgrade cards is really really interesting, so I'll repost what I said here:

"wow. what a lot of hate...

Consider that the variable cost of producing a high-end CPU chip is actually pretty small. The fixed costs (R&D + Fab research / construction costs) dominate.

When Intel produces a chip and turns off portions of the chip due to defects, it becomes a lower cost budget part. This helps improve yields, salvaging otherwise defective parts. And it doesn't seem to bother anyone.

But what if there is more demand for the budget parts than can be satisfied by the normal defect rate??

Imagine that Intel invests ~$10B in fixed costs and can then produce chips for $20 each in some quantity. Low-end parts sell for $40. High end parts for $400.

Intel can:
1) do nothing - budget parts go out-of-stock. This isn't good for anyone.
2) raise prices on budget parts to curb demand. This would narrow the price spread between budget and high-end parts, and could quite likely price some customers out of the market reducing total sales volume. Intel would still have surplus high-end parts.
3) lower prices on high-end parts to stimulate demand. Increased sales volume might not be high enough to compensate for reduced per-unit margins, resulting in an overall loss in revenues. These revenues fund chip development and help repay that $10B up-front investment in Fab technology. And Intel does not function as a charity.
4) take defect-free high-end parts, disable some circuits anyways, and then sell them as budget. This leaves Intel with fewer high-end parts for sale, but assuming their production capacity exceeds demand, this is not a problem. Given that chips can be produced for less than the price point of either low / high end parts, any sale is a profitable sale, helping to recoup capital expenditures. And customers "win", given that they get to buy cheap budget parts.

It's not evil, just marketing. And it's been happening since day one.

So what exactly makes it evil for Intel to offer customers the opportunity to "upgrade" their low-end parts by paying more? There was no deception - the customer was not tricked into buying a defective part. Best Buy advertised a $400 computer with a budget CPU inside. Margins on those boxes are thin, and bumping the price to $450 to include a better CPU would have reduced marketability. And Intel is not going give the upgrade for free. That's equivalent to letting Best Buy include a $400 CPU in their $400 budget computer just because they can't afford to pay more than $40 for the chip. That would undercut the market for high-end chips that funds the development cost of next-generation chips.

So what's wrong with giving the customer the option post-sale to pay for an instant upgrade? Hey, it's "green" - no chemicals or energy gets used creating a new chip, and could quite likely increase the usable life of the computer. What's the downside?

I would posit that the "chip upgrade" marketing tactic causes "internet firestorm" only because it makes visible and obvious the chip segmentation strategies that would otherwise be hidden from the layman's purview.

Be intellectually honest. Take aim at the chip segmentation strategy. And do put forth some reasonable alternative behavior for Intel that doesn't cannibalize the revenues that allow Intel to invest so heavily in developing even newer and faster chips. I think you will find there isn't one."

RE: Market Segmentation
By ddopson on 9/19/2010 6:09:59 PM , Rating: 2
What I wrote before is true, but incomplete.

It's competition that keeps Intel honest. Prior AMD, intel could fetch $10k+ for their next-generation chips. Granted, smaller volumes, smaller market, etc, but the margins were definitely higher than they are today.

Without some level of competition nipping at a company's heels, these market slicing techniques start to dominate the sales strategy as said company tried to wring the last few drops of blood from the stone (see Microsoft).

In general, companies tend to do whatever makes them the most money. Which is why the fundamental market dynamics tend to determine the emergent behaviors - eg, high up-front CAPEX in the CPU market leading to false binning of high-end parts down to the low-end market to meet demand without altering the pricing structure. It's only when those structures are misaligned with our communal interests (such as an abusive monopoly) that we need to be concerned.

My assertion is that the lost efficiency of a few high-end parts sold as budget CPUs isn't enough of a loss to justify worry, and that the overall CPU market is incredibly efficient (Moore's law and $50 chips that spank recent mainframe tech should qualify). This does not mean the CPU market fundamentally HAS_TO and WILL remain efficient forever into the future. It's not wrong to be sensitive to market power abuses, I just don't think this one qualifies.

RE: Market Segmentation
By silverblue on 9/21/2010 4:27:57 AM , Rating: 3
It's competition that keeps Intel honest.

You could argue that, for a long time, honesty wasn't at the top of their agenda.

RE: Market Segmentation
By SunAngel on 9/19/2010 9:15:00 PM , Rating: 2
The question then becomes how to differentiate between a real defective cpu and one where features have been intentionally disabled.

Which do I buy? A CPU950, which is a true defect, for $50; or a CPU951, which is an upgradeable cpu for $85? Both are the same speed rating to begin with. Why would Intel want to lock out features but still sell the processor under the same rating scheme number?

I only see people buying the upgradeable cpus and not the defective one that never will be able to change its speed. In the end, what do we have? A single processor generation that begins at the low end and consumers making up their mind whether to purchase upgrades.

Those $10B fabs are a thing of the past. One massive $50B fab is all its going to take. Once those fixed costs are recoup, R&D and variable selling costs are all that's left. Sell the initial processor to cover those costs and all the upgrade revenue will be 40% taxes, 12% G&A, and 58% profit.

RE: Market Segmentation
By MGSsancho on 9/20/2010 3:40:10 AM , Rating: 2
But they (chip industry) build new fabs on a continuous cycle. they are are always building at least two fabs at once. each fab has to turn a profit. you make it sound like fabs are a one time deal and they dont always need to make smaller chips and thus more fabs

RE: Market Segmentation
By YashBudini on 9/21/2010 11:02:35 PM , Rating: 2
4) take defect-free high-end parts, disable some circuits anyways, and then sell them as budget.

You gotta wonder how many AMD tri-cores fall into this category.

I think Nabisco discovered this process years ago. They used to have all these accidentally busted up Oreos with no purpose. Then "cookies and creme" came out and now they have to bust them up on purpose. The rest is history.

Give it a week...
By quiksilvr on 9/19/2010 10:59:47 AM , Rating: 3
And you'll see a hack of this online.

RE: Give it a week...
By aegisofrime on 9/19/2010 9:52:00 PM , Rating: 2
Actually, I was wondering how this works. Can software installed into Windows actually unlock hardware features? A BIOS hack seems more likely.

More importantly, can this be used on the Core i5-750/760?

RE: Give it a week...
By Reclaimer77 on 9/20/2010 9:16:11 AM , Rating: 2
More importantly, can this be used on the Core i5-750/760?

I'm pretty sure there's no such thing as an i5 which has locked out features like these, so I wouldn't think the "upgrade card" or future hack would apply.

Nice Going intel
By sprockkets on 9/19/2010 1:57:28 PM , Rating: 5
I love those graphs. I love the fact that there is no numbers or way to reference what the actual improvement is. I'm willing to bet that if they did they would see the improvements as worthless.

Want an upgrade that actually you can see? Get a Sandforce SSD.

Kind of like....
By overlandpark4me on 9/19/2010 5:47:08 PM , Rating: 3
selling me virus software, then charging me for the definition updates

RE: Kind of like....
By Descenteer on 9/24/2010 10:50:44 PM , Rating: 2
If your emphasis is on "kind of," then I'd agree. However, the similarity is minimal.

When Intel sells a chip, they're done with it; the chip purchased will always be that chip, locked or not. It will have a maximum potential and a realized potential. The only thing Intel can do is sell you a code to raise the realized potential to the maximum potential (ignoring overclocking, obviously). They do nothing to make your chip more efficient or faster than it was already was capable of being, they are merely unhobbling it.

Antivirus software (I assume you meant antivirus, anyway; I've never seen subscription-based viruses:-P) on the other hand is continually updated. Antivirus Soft Inc. isn't done with its software just because it sold it to you; it continues to keep it up to date to cover viruses that pop up AFTER your purchase date. This costs money, and therefore a subscription fee. Granted it's still a money grab, but at least it's a clearly justifiable one.

As for Intel's new trick, I don't know what I think about it. Interesting idea, and if I trusted Intel and the OEM industry, I might approve. However, since trust is something I seem to be lacking right now...

How is Intel rolling out HyperTransport?
By Sahrin on 9/19/2010 8:49:03 PM , Rating: 3
By plewis00 on 9/20/2010 2:05:39 AM , Rating: 2
Citing Wikipedia as a source is never 100% safe but if you read the links, Hyper-threading says 'officially Hyper-Threading Technology, and abbreviated HT Technology, HTT or HT' and HyperTransport says 'Not to be confused with Hyper-Threading, which is also sometimes abbreviated "HT"' so HT is not exclusively one or the other.

And to be honest, if I saw HT I'd think Hyper-threading first because it's optional on Intel CPUs whereas HyperTransport appears on all current AMD64 processors, 'with HT' implies something other than the norm is present.

Maybe this means
By rocky12345 on 9/19/2010 11:52:17 AM , Rating: 2
Maybe this means that Intel plans in the future to release only release one CPU on each socket & then sell you a upgrade board to get extra features. Depending on which upgrade you get will give you a different set of feature & clock speeds. If this is true it is a very creative way to make some extra cash I guess. This is just a very wild guess as to what Intel is planning to do with these upgrade boards both now & int he future. All this could be wild fodder who knows.

RE: Maybe this means
By PrinceGaz on 9/19/2010 3:21:47 PM , Rating: 2
They still have to bin the CPUs by functionality (faulty cache for instance) and stable clock speed.

SX/DX again?
By Jalek on 9/19/2010 9:18:50 PM , Rating: 2
This failed in 1994, so I suppose a retry is about due. I think it failed primarily because Intel had two competitors that were including math coprocessors on the chip while they were trying to keep it as a separate product. Had that not happened, you'd probably still be buying a "helper" chip for Intel processors.

Microtransactions seem to be the future according to most in marketing. Maybe Toyota can sell the Prius at 20MPG with incremental firmware upgrade options for better mileage. New HDTV's sold with 720p resolution with higher available, and 3d as at an additional cost?

RE: SX/DX again?
By vectorm12 on 9/20/2010 10:32:22 AM , Rating: 2
Actually there are quite a few professional monitor manufacturer's who do that already.

TVlogic for sell SD monitors capable of HD provided the user purchases a code to unlock the display for HD input.

Qlogic is selling several Fibreswitches capable of stacking provided you purchase a cable and a code in order to activate the feature.

It's damn weird but that's what happens when companies have little to no real competition(in a certain pricerange) I suppose.

What worries me is...
By vectorm12 on 9/20/2010 10:26:58 AM , Rating: 2
If this becomes mainstream and I purchase a CPU at a given performance level at one point and I decide to "upgrade" it using software.

What's gonna happen if Intel decides they are not going to support x Linux distro I've decided on using in a particular system?

Another thing would be if the Windows 7 users purchase an "upgrade" and then later install Windows 8 on the system and Intel suddenly decides not to support Windows 8 because of <insert random BS>?

If Intel aren't offering the updates as hardware unlock but is instead relying on software passing microcode into the CPU to unlock parts of the CPU they are gonna burn for it.

RE: What worries me is...
By GoodBytes on 9/20/2010 1:17:11 PM , Rating: 2
Or how about, 2 years after you purchase your computer, you need more performance, you want to buy the card, but Intel pulled it, because they released a new CPU.

worth a shot
By plopke on 9/19/2010 11:32:57 AM , Rating: 2
Well looking at some pricelist you have like increments of below 10,20,30dollars until you reach the 1366 platform and high ends 1156. And with products like E8400 , E8500, core i3 530,540,550 it might be simpler for intel to make just one version and sell upgrades instead.

Personally I might see some people going for this , most who feel their pc is getting to slow or something(which is more likely the fault of bloatware,...). And then there is the never ending battle of how to control this. I guess they wanne experiment a bit with it. Would be suprized to see this in the gaming/enthausiastic markets.

And to end isnt 50$ stupidly expensive for this kind of upgrade? You might as well have bought a system with a 530 instead? Dont know the price of these oem cpus anyway. I guess it is all about oem machines.

RE: worth a shot
By SunAngel on 9/19/2010 11:58:12 AM , Rating: 1
Would be suprized to see this in the gaming/enthausiastic markets.

These are exactly the people that are going to go for it and destroy the entire market for everyone else. Why? 10-to-1 Intel is going to stretch out the product cycle forcing upgrades rather than new cpu purchases. With no new cpus being introduced the only upgrade path is one or more of these 'upgrade cards'.

But on the otherside, if i purchase a low end cpu i can just buy some upgrade cards and make it an easier upgrade rather than buying a new cpu socket and a new cpu.

I'll be damned if this isn't going to stick it to AMD again. If you think about the pricing strategy AMD has no choice but to follow suit with Intel's upgrade card scheme.

I'll admit its a hell-of-a-pricing scheme and will probably go over very well once introduced mainstream. But the end result will be you'll end up paying more in the long run that buying the high-end cpu from the outset.

By azcoyote on 9/20/2010 7:40:04 PM , Rating: 2
If I spend the extra $50, will it play Crysis?????

"Well, we didn't have anyone in line that got shot waiting for our system." -- Nintendo of America Vice President Perrin Kaplan
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