CHIPMAKER Intel is offering customers another way to upgrade their processors by purchasing gift cards to unlock features that are already in its chips.
These magical gift cards allow users to download an application from Intel's website that will unlock features already present in compatible processors. Apparently $50 is all that's needed for customers to gain access to Hyperthreading and some more Level 2 cache. Intel calls this dial an upgrade procedure "down-the-wire hardware upgrades".
Processor manufacturers typically cut down chip capabilities at the fabrication plant in order to sell them at different price points. While customers have become accustomed to this binning procedure, Intel's down-the-wire upgrade plan is likely to be unpopular with users who dislike having the true potential of their purchased processor chip curtailed by a software lock.
As features such as Level 2 cache and Hyperthreading are already physically present in the chip, there is no price saving to be had by either Intel or the system builder by restricting it. Rather it raises the question of whether both parties are simply doing this to extract some more cash from customers at a later date.
Then there is the question of whether these 'upgrades' offer particularly good value for money. However the placebo of buying a shiny bit of plastic and seeing another CPU graph on Windows' Task Manager might do it for some.
Currently the upgrade gift cards work with low end 'Pentium' parts that are actually rebranded Core i3 chips, however it will be interesting to see if Intel will release something similar for the more expensive parts favoured by enthusiasts. That is unlikely given that Intel can probably make more than $50 either directly or indirectly through licensing or flogging a mainboard chipset and CPU combination.
Intel's move is likely to cause discontent among those who see it as intentional crippling of hardware that the user has already paid for. However for Intel and some of its OEM partners this offers them another way to make more money by doing absolutely nothing. µ