Intel has quietly begun a trial program, Intel Upgrade Service, that charges customers to unlock the full performance of a chip. Certain PCs, such as Gateway's SX2841-09e, are running an artificially limited Pentium G6951 processor and asked to buy a $50 Processor Performance Upgrade Card to get the built-in feature set. Installing a Windows app switches on Hyperthreading, giving the system support for up to four program threads, and reenables another 1MB of Level 3 cache.
The rollout isn't a full one and is limited to a "small pilot program" in parts of Canada, the Netherlands, Spain and the US. Intel hasn't said whether it's leaning towards continuing or cancelling its plans.
While potentially a way to simplify upgrading, the practice is already controversial as it shows the company capable of selling a full processor at a given price but charging a premium to get its full support. In the past, Intel, AMD and other processor makers have sold full-fledged chips with reduced features only when production yields generate chips that have lose some features. Some Intel single-core processors, for example, are dual-core chips that shipped with one defective core or too little cache to drive a full set of cores.
It's unlikely every computer manufacturer would agree to the strategy. Performance-oriented builders are likely to balk as they depend on performance as a selling point. Budget PC designers may look to the option to fuel low-end sales by promising a system at one price but knowing some customers will pay a premium later.