Intel testing upgrade cards that unlock existing CPU features

Intel is testing a scheme where customers can buy a $50 dollar upgrade card to unlock some hidden features on their CPU.

The trial system involves buying what effectively amounts to a scracthcard which gives you a code that unlocks additional aspects of your processor, stuff that was already present when you bought it, but cannot be utilised without the code.

For example, the Pentium G6951 has a locked spec of 2.8GHz processor, two cores, two threads, and a 3MB L3 cache. Users who fork out the extra 50 will be able to unlock an additional 1MB L3 cache and the Hyper Threading feature, which will effectively increase performance by a modest amount – perhaps too modest for an extra $50.

The problem with this system is that it doesn’t actually upgrade your processor at all. The G6951 already had that extra cache and Hyper Threading, but instead of Intel giving users these features it decided to be a little on the greedy side and lock them, forcing customers to fork out an extra few bob to get the full power from their systems. So, technically the term “upgrade” is a tad deceiving.

Some believe that this will be a good thing for the industry, allowing users small upgrades at reasonably small costs and giving the likes of Intel and AMD additional revenue streams with which they can develop better processors. However, we fail to see how the customer truly benefits from having to pay extra to go full throttle with their processor.

There is also the issue of cracking the codes. With software piracy there’s an awful lot of people out there who know how to create artificial codes or crack the requirement for a code in the first place.

It is probably only a matter of time before this is applied to locked CPUs, which opens several more cans of worms. Is Intel really benefiting if it doesn’t get the additional money and will it attempt to break processors where users have cracked the unlock code?

Intel is operating a small pilot programme of the upgrade cards in the US, Canada, the Netherlands, and Spain, but if it is successful we can probably expect to buy locked processors in the future, potentially feeding Intel and others a constant dribble of funds to make our CPUs do what they should have been doing in the first place.