Facepalm of the Day: Intel charges customers $50 to unlock CPU features

Facepalm of the Day: Intel charges customers $50 to unlock CPU features

Summary: Sometimes it seems that companies do something so monumentally bone-headed you have to wonder whether anyone is awake at the helm and OKing these crazy moves. Today brings word that chip giant Intel is allowing OEMs to sell CPUs with certain features locked - that the customer can unlock by paying $50 for a software code.

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Sometimes it seems that companies do something so monumentally bone-headed you have to wonder whether anyone is awake at the helm and OKing these crazy moves. Today brings word that chip giant Intel is allowing OEMs to sell CPUs with certain features locked - that the customer can unlock by paying $50 for a software code.

The CPU is a Pentium G6951 and the scheme works like this. OEMs sell suckers consumers a computer featuring a CPU that has some features disabled (in the case of the G6951, 1MB of L3 cache and HyperThreading is disabled). Customers buy a card that contains an unlock code, visit Intel's website, enter the code, download some software, run the software and the locked features are unlocked.

Note: In the case of the G6951, it's upgraded to a G6952, which is roughly equivalent to a Core i3 520.

Intel seems to be marketing the Intel Upgrade Service as a way for system builders and OEMs to increase margins:

System builders: Build upgradable desktop PCs that enable your resellers to upgrade CPU performance down-the-wire.

Resellers: You can configure CPU performance down-the-wire at your point of sale, and increase your margins while doing so.

Intel currently seems to be testing this upgrade mechanism at the budget end of the market in selected markets.

Thanks to an eagle-eyed Engadget reader for spotting the upgrade cards at a Best Buy store:

Now, it's common knowledge that chip makers already tune and de-tune CPUs to create different models in a line-up. CPUs are tested after manufacture and the speed, cache and cores and so on are locked to create the different models depending on the performance and flaws of the individual piece. The process is called binning. Over the years I've seen processors that can have features unlocked on them using a variety of means - for example, via the BIOS, or by careful soldering, or with a pencil line. Then there's the whole overclocking business which revolves around squeezing as much as you can from hardware by taking it way beyond the tolerances that the manufacturer deems acceptable. Silicon nowadays is so reliable that an overclocked part can last just as long as one running at stock speeds as long as a little care is taken.

However, this arbitrary software lock is odd in that Intel is offering to remove it for a fee. Basically it seems processors have become so powerful and so cheap, and the failure rates so low, that the only way that Intel can supply the low end demand is through artificially downgrading chips. Doing that brings with it the opportunity to upgrading the hardware ... for a fee ...

The software world abounds with similar examples. An easy example is Windows, where the features that a user has access to is determined by the key that is used to unlock the software, which is in turn determined by how much the user is willing to pay. Games are another are where this happens, but the practice is rife in the entire software industry.

This seems like a plan by Intel to simplify its CPU lineup and allow some sort of "dial-a-power" mechanism so that a single CPU could be set into a series of different configurations depending on price paid by the consumer and the unlock code entered. Imagine a scenario where Intel could make one CPU, sell that one CPU to OEMs who could them configure it through the use of unlock codes. It would undoubtedly streamline inventories. Sure, it's a trick that can only work at the budget end because not even Intel could afford to ship Core i7s and have them downgraded to cheaper chips. But the budget end is dominated by people who don't really know what they want.

But, despite the upsides, this is still a bone-headed move for Intel to make for a variety of reasons.

  • First and foremost, it's more than likely that the upgrade mechanism here is a basic one, and so it won't be long until the process is hacked.
  • Secondly, it's highly confusing for the consumer. I really don't see consumers parting with $50 given the description on the upgrade card. People clever enough to know what they want and what the upgrade means aren't buying from Best Buy.
  • The flipside is that it is Best Buy we are talking about here as an example. I can see salespeople pressing this on customers, much like warranties pushed. Intel is selling out customers for the sake of $50 ...
  • It's a crap upgrade. To be honest, It's not really worth the $50 and customers could spend their money better.
  • It makes Intel look cheap. Remember, the features are already packed into all the CPUs, it doesn't matter if they are switched on or not. The cost of adding these features is obviously insignificant, but Intel is still willing to charge people $50 to switch the feature on.
  • It's an enormous stick for AMD PR to batter Intel around the head with. Going to such lengths to double-dip customers isn't good PR.

Note: Let's be clear here - I'm not saying this is a scam because users aren't being deceived at any point.

That said, I'm not surprised. In fact, I'm surprised it took this long coming. Much of the hardware business revolved around artificial market segmentation already. The cost different between low-end and high-end hardware is nowhere near the price difference that consumers pay.

Thoughts?

Topics: Hardware, Intel, Processors, Software

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155 comments
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  • It doesn't have to be a scam to be a rip-off

    Intel should be ashamed of themselves.
    sismoc
    • No shame in what they are doing.

      You pay for features, not hardware. This is a good way for someone to pay a low price for an item, and then upgrade it down the line without having to open up the hardware and change something out by hand.

      EMC will ship you cabinet of SAN disks and charge you when you spin them up.

      Fibre-channel switches can be purchased with, say, 24 ports, but you buy a license that only turns on 8 of them. Then if down the line you need more ports, you buy another license and turns on another 8 or 16 or whatever.

      The only real mystery is why anyone would use the dipsh-t word "facepalm".
      RationalGuy
      • Yes there is

        The features should be turned on by default. If that means paying a little more upfront, then I might consider buying into it. But to have them disabled before the fact only smacks of greed and nickle and dimeing people.
        ahh so
      • I agree

        @RationalGuy
        I agree. Any opinion that what Intel is doing is in some way greedy, underhanded or new would be purely naive. The only reason I read this article was to find out if in fact there was a facet to what Intel was doing which strayed from other, similar, soft locking approaches...which appears not to be the case.

        Sure, there are some risks around what Intel are doing, but equally, it's nice to see a bit of innovation in how the technology is making its way into peoples homes.

        Facepalm of the day? Highly unlikely.
        lindsay.whitbread@...
      • RE: Facepalm of the Day: Intel charges customers $50 to unlock CPU features

        @RationalGuy
        Are you one of those dipsh-t guys who would pay the money?
        josullivan@...
      • RE: Facepalm of the Day: Intel charges customers $50 to unlock CPU features

        @RationalGuy It doesn't cost them anything different. The EMC model is not apt because EMC's business is primarily derived from support... The reason EMC is so successful isn't that they sell disk drives it's that they sell best-in-class support. Intel on the other hand is not.

        Intel's cost to produce those CPUs is no different, those features have already been paid for at a fixed cost (hardware developer hours) and the silicon is paid for. The only thing they're doing is artificially inflating the price, why would they sell the lower end chip at a loss? They wouldn't, so they could sell the higher end chip for the same price and just not sell the lower end chip.
        snoop0x7b
      • No, I pay for hardware...

        that can support the features of the software I purchase.
        jasonp@...
      • @snoop0x7b: You are under the delusion ...

        ... that price is a function of cost.
        RationalGuy
      • RE: Facepalm of the Day: Intel charges customers $50 to unlock CPU features

        @RationalGuy You are a total IDIOT, it's thinking like yours that has people paying out the nose for things that should be in one bundle,
        bgibson@...
      • RE: Facepalm of the Day: Intel charges customers $50 to unlock CPU features

        @RationalGuy I agree completely, pretty much with everything you said. I have mixed feelings about this and at this point am not sure which way to go with it.

        The mystery you speak of, I don't think we want to hear the truth. Just a "blogger" being a douche and planting words to get us to read his garbage thoughts.
        SteelTrepid
    • RE: Facepalm of the Day: Intel charges customers $50 to unlock CPU features

      @sismoc

      I grow tired of corporations and their corrupt ways to increase profits! I'm done buying into the product hype and supporting the punks that run these companies!
      Rob.sharp
      • RE: Facepalm of the Day: Intel charges customers $50 to unlock CPU features

        @rob.sharp@...
        Well said ;-)
        josullivan@...
      • RE: Facepalm of the Day: Intel charges customers $50 to unlock CPU features

        @rob.sharp@...
        +1

        Best wishes, G.
        mrgoose
    • RE: Facepalm of the Day: Intel charges customers $50 to unlock CPU features

      This is nothing new to the computing industry. In the mid 1960's GE slowed down their GE225 systems by slowing it down and selling a GE215 for less price. When our workload increased and we needed more speed we could pay for an upgrade and they would remove the board that slowed down the processor. We had to pay for this upgrade.
      I know this ages me but it was done all the way back in the 1960's.
      Harry Hardin
      • "Governors" anyone? Nanny McFee ??

        @Harry Hardin "
        Yeah, one must admit that for many generations running now, putting "governors" on engines of all sorts, to throttle back and blockade off the "hi revs" top-end capabilities from us drivers/owners has been common practice, ...of course it's just to altruistically protect us from ourselves,... right? Thanks Big Bro! How would we consumers ever have survived past 1984 without you? Please won't someone put a length limit governor on these data entry boxes to protect me from carpal tunnel syndrome? My keyboard is just too fast for my own good! I'll be willing to pay $50 some time down the line, when I'm ready to learn to use all these extra extended shift characters on this fancy keyboard. I promise. Meanwhile, save me from all this technology! Too much... too fast... can't throttle back... losing con scious nesssss... aggh!
        KnowBuddy
    • RE: Facepalm of the Day: Intel charges customers $50 to unlock CPU features

      I find this practice penny-wise and pound foolish. Thanks Intel for treating the customer like a second class consumer. Did the mob take Intel over in some merger with an offer they can't refuse? Well, it is an offer I can refuse and my next chip set purchase will be an AMD until Intel gets its corporate act together.
      jmp_omaha@...
      • RE: Facepalm of the Day: Intel charges customers $50 to unlock CPU features

        @jmp_omaha@... AMD sort of does this as well with the black-edition CPUs. It doesn't cost AMD anything to unlock the multiplier on the CPU.
        snoop0x7b
      • Freeware CPUs please! My Linux world needs some.

        @jmp_omaha@... Amen & Awoman. Me too. As a life-long Wintel sheep, I've just converted to Linux, and the multiverse of freeware. <br>I feel the Wintel cartel has overstepped the bounds of techno-decency. I too am ready to jump ship and move to AMD CPUs for the foreseeable future, until some visionary NonProf.Org creates and gives the world a freeware series of CPU hardware. Please! Computing Peoples' Unit (CPU) for the masses! Any charitable foundations listening out there at the gates of FREEdom?
        KnowBuddy
    • RE: Facepalm of the Day: Intel charges customers $50 to unlock CPU features

      @sismoc
      I only buy AMD, best move I ever done.
      josullivan@...
  • RE: Facepalm of the Day: Intel charges customers $50 to unlock CPU features

    @peter_erskine@...

    Funny... every PC I saw with 'Vista-Ready' stickers on them WERE period and done with.... VISTA-READY!
    That was a big scam that Intel was pushing chips and computers that were labeled Vista-Ready when they really weren't. It was a LIE!
    Lerianis10