New Asus motherboard tries to unlock "hidden" cores on AMD processors

New Asus motherboard tries to unlock "hidden" cores on AMD processors

Summary: Here's an interesting product that DIYers might embrace and system builders may tread warily around. Asus' new M4A89GTD PRO motherboard, based around AMD's new 890GX chipset, has the skills to circumvent the design of certain AMD multi-core processors.

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Here's an interesting product that DIYers might embrace and system builders may tread warily around. Asus' new M4A89GTD PRO motherboard, based around AMD's new 890GX chipset, has the skills to circumvent the design of certain AMD multi-core processors. The chip maker disables a core when creating certain dual-core and three-core CPUs, and Asus has devised a Core Unlocker switch and placed it on its board. When enabled, the switch attempts to open up those disabled cores for more bang for your computing buck.

According to PC Magazine, Asus doesn't guarantee that the Core Unlocker will succeed with every processor, and while AMD won't say if using the board's feature on your CPU will void its warranty, it did say that it won't official support the motherboard's feature. Sounds like a dare for those who build and overclock their own systems in the face of voiding their warranties already. Especially since the M4A89GTD Pro includes Asus' TurboV EVO processor to help you find the highest clock speed to overclock to while keeping your system stable.

Would a boutique builder try to use this board to unlock processors for its customers, guaranteeing them with their own warranties, as some do now with factory-set overclocking? Would "get a quad-core processor for the price of a three-core CPU" work as a value proposition against the competition? We'll keep an eye out to see if any desktop makers take a chance on this motherboard and its Core Unlocker feature.

Topics: Hardware, Enterprise Software, Legal, Processors

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20 comments
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  • Nice

    I'm sure AMD had a hand in this somewhere. They get a little mysterious value-add buzz by allowing for the possibility of unlocking 'hidden' cores.
    Tim Patterson
    • Or AMD looks like scam artists...

      ...for hiding perfectly good cores and forcing you to pay to access them *from exactly the same design*. If Intel did that they'd be bringing in the nukes...

      On the other hand, if AMD disabled the cores because they were defective (it happens) then unlocking the cores is a guaranteed disaster.

      Either way, AMD wouldn't want to be associated with it.
      wolf_z
      • It isn't a scam, you get what you pay for.

        Many companies do this sort of thing: IBM has done it with their servers, Caterpillar (diesel engines) where the product is capable of more but it is deliberately held back to ship at a cheaper price. This way the company holds down costs. I knew a trucker who needed extra power and for a price was able to upgrade his existing caterpillar engine to get significantly more horsepower. This is done in the pacemaker industry where the same platform is deliberately de-featured so that it can sell for less. In some cases the locked away features can be re-enabled for a price. In other cases it is permanently de-featured during manufacturing.

        Or did I misunderstand your point?
        DevGuy_z
        • "Everybody's doing it" doesn't make it not a scam

          NT
          masonwheeler
        • Not a Scam

          Processors and memory are manufactured in large quantities, the products are tested and sorted by how fast they respond and how accurate they are. If a part fails at a high speed but passes at a lower speed then that part is sold for the lower speed.

          What the manufacturer warranties is that the product meets spec. In this case the locked cores might work well but not up to spec.
          sboverie
      • At one time...

        ...your second scenario - locking cores because they didn't meet spec - was indeed the case; i assume it still is.

        However, the cores might not be actually "defective" - they might simply fail some QC test. Since QC tests often are designed to test products to the edges of the specs, the cores may well be perfectly functional.
        fairportfan
        • RE: At one time....

          Your point: [i]However, the cores might not be actually "defective" - they might simply fail some QC test.[/i] is quite likely the case. I would not be surprised to find that many double and triple core processors are actually quad cores with one or two cores that failed QC. For the chip maker, this has the potential to keep costs low, as it improves the "yield" from a batch. ("Yield" in this case being revenue generating devices from a production batch. A higher "yield" means less devices that are discarded as unusable.)
          fatman65535
      • This practice is commonplace

        After a processor has been out for a while, as the yields get better and the price gets lower, it is not uncommon for a processor vendor to use a single-sort. In other words, all cores good, and the rest are tossed.

        All the processors, regardless of speed rating or number of cores, is the same speed. It is simply not cost-effective to run multiple sorts when the yields are good.

        Of course, there is no guarantee that you will get more than you paid for, but it is very, very common.
        CattleProd
      • I bought an ASRock board and a 550 BE.

        Last June I built a new computer. I used a Phenom II X2 and unlocked the other 2 cores. It over clocked very easy, I am now running X4 at 3.6 on air. I think I could probably get it to 3.8 without much more heat, but because of not warranting the CPU, I will leave it at 3.6.

        Why is this just being discussed now, Asus was one of the only boards that didn't unlock 9 months ago.
        mjolnar@...
        • Me too

          I did the same with my Gigabyte and the 550BE (785
          chipset), 3.5mhz on air
          stano360
  • RE: New Asus motherboard tries to unlock

    This is news?

    Google "unlock Phenom core", and you'll get
    over 3 million hits.

    My son and I built a cheapie system, using an MSI motherboard, and 3-core Phenom. Took about 5 minutes to unlock the 4th core.
    CattleProd
  • RE: New Asus motherboard tries to unlock

    This is not new. I have a MSI 785GTM-E45 based on the based on the amd 785 chipset. With it I was able to unlock a AMD Phenom II X2 550 Black Edition to be a X4 processor.
    jshelton@...
  • RE: New Asus motherboard tries to unlock

    Interesting! When AMD comes out with six core desktop processors, will this allow us to unlock two locked cores on what looks like a quad core for an inexpensive six core?
    jim77kahn@...
  • This reminds me of what NVIDIA did with 7800/7900 and 8800 series cards...

    Because they got such great yields for those particular
    GPUs in manufacturing, NVIDIA would, at first, disable
    pixel pipelines and other parts of their GPUs with software
    (BIOS ROM). When savvy hackers figured out that they
    could get a 7800 GS and turn it into a 7800 GTX by forcing
    a different ROM on the card, NVIDIA then had to resort to
    using lasers to disable those hardware features on
    perfectly good cards.

    I remember reading about something similar for the 8800
    Series as well, except that features were disabled by how
    the card itself was configured. I also wouldn't be surprised
    if they're still doing this.
    nix_hed
  • RE: New Asus motherboard tries to unlock

    I guess I'm showing my age when I mention about Intel 386SX versus 386DX processors, where the onboard math coprocessor is diabled on the DX processor so they could sell it as the cheaper SX. Then they would sell you the separate math coprocessor to make even more money!

    So it's definitely not the first time and won't be the last.
    crap@...
    • Hey!

      I was JUST about to mention the SX/DX thing! Well, beat me to it fair and square... I wonder, can I unlock my Atom 270 and get anything out of that???
      zach.winchester
    • 386DX/SX and 486DX/SX

      The 386SX was a 386 (32-bit processor) with an external 16-bit bus, and was packaged as a surface-mount device (not socketed).

      The 486SX was a 486 with a defect in the floating-point coprocessor.
      jacques.tredoux@...
  • RE: New Asus motherboard tries to unlock

    MSI has been advertising the same thing on their site for the past few weeks via a BIOS update / switch for their 785G base boards. Link here: http://us.msi.com/landing/amd_quadcore/amd_quadcore.html
    jbr6700
  • Unlike IBM...

    Which used to (and may still) sell a system loaded with software, but only allow you to use the software that you license. Meanwhile, you had to pay for the extra memory and storage space, etc. that the overhead created!
    FiOS-Dave
  • Doesn't Microsoft do this?

    The same installation XP installation CD could install multiple versions . . . and why should the "Home" version cost less than the "Pro" version . . . haven't they done all the work to create the Pro version, and then more to create a limited version?
    sporkfighter