Unlocking Intel's $50 CPU Upgrade Program - InformationWeek

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9/21/2010
11:20 AM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Unlocking Intel's $50 CPU Upgrade Program

Sometimes you can't win for losing. Intel is getting hammered by the Web-o-sphere for purportedly ripping off consumers by selling a $50 upgrade to unlock some hidden processor features, when the chip behemoth's main intent is to help its authorized system builders earn a little extra cash. Read on for a possibly deeper dive than you may be interested in.

Sometimes you can't win for losing. Intel is getting hammered by the Web-o-sphere for purportedly ripping off consumers by selling a $50 upgrade to unlock some hidden processor features, when the chip behemoth's main intent is to help its authorized system builders earn a little extra cash. Read on for a possibly deeper dive than you may be interested in.Engadget broke the story (see Intel wants to charge $50 to unlock stuff your CPU can already do). They did a decent job, as did Tom's Hardware, but both stories are missing a key data point, which provides deeper context.

Namely, the "$50 upgrade" seems to be a somewhat tangential consumer angle, whereas the main thrust of the Intel Upgrade Program, as far as I can tell, is channel-oriented, aiming at Intel-authorized resellers and system builders.

Not that Engadget and Tom's are incorrect to raise consumer-side questions. You gotta ask yourself what type of casual customer is buying processor upgrade certificates at Best Buy. I'll tell you who: an uneducated consumer, which, as those clothing ads used to assert, is not the best customer. A retail PC buyer should not be paying to add enhanced multitasking features which aren't going to goose the performance of their copy of Microsoft Word one whit. So in that sense, yes, one should resoundingly ding Intel for what amounts to trying to separate grandma from the money she was planning to use to buy some floppy disks. (She's wondering why she can't find them anywhere in the store; she's going to go ask that nice Best Buy salesman what the deal is.)

OK, so back to the Intel Upgrade Program, which as I mentioned is intended as a channel play. Here's the explanation from Intel's own reseller site:

"Intel Upgrade Service enables down-the-wire upgrades of PC platform capabilities after the initial hardware shipment, offering unprecedented flexibility to resellers. Now your customers have more options with an easy upgrade path for additional performance or features when they are needed. In 2010 we are rolling out a small pilot program offering performance upgrades on Intel® Pentium G6951 Processors."

The G6951 happens to be the same processor Engagdet identified as the object of the Best Buy upgrade offer. Turns out that the G6951--a desktop processor--is the only chip to which this upgrade program currently applies in its pilot phase. As to what those upgrade features are, the channel documentation enumerates a lengthy list, probably to give resellers something to "sell" their customers on. Here's the data dump, again via Intel's site:

"Intel Upgrade Service enables down-the-wire hardware upgrades after a system's been purchased, providing new levels of platform flexibility to service providers and end users alike. With the purchase of a PC with qualifying CPU and upgradeable chipset, you'll get future-ready flexibility designed to change with your growing needs.

Level III Manageability Upgrade

Asset inventory, HW alerting, SOL/IDE-R, remote configuration, agent presence, and system defense plus:

  • DASH 1.0 compliance for support of industry standards. Support for profile updates.

  • Measured Intel Active Management Technology (Intel AMT) allows Intel AMT to be part of trusted platform

  • Host VPN gives support for local management VPN tunneling

  • Fast access to fix PC problems inside or outside the firewall

  • Remote scheduled maintenance allowing IT to pre-schedule when a PC connects for maintenance

  • Automatic remote alerts so IT is aware when computer issues arise

    Level I Manageability Upgrade

  • Fast access to fix PC problems inside or outside the firewall

  • Remote scheduled maintenance allowing IT to pre-schedule when a PC connects for maintenance

  • Automatic remote alerts so IT is aware when computer issues arise

  • Microsoft NAP support allows your computer to gain access to enabled 802.1x networks regardless of PC health or power state

  • Access monitoring provides oversight to support security requirements."
  • This is clearly very incremental stuff, so one wonders how much revenue opportunity it actually provides. One would think that such monitoring features are geared more towards larger enterprise and are of minimal interest to SMBs, unless they're paying their VARs to remotely oversee their installations. (Perhaps this'll often end up being bundled into the build price, as an incomprehensible charge, like that minibar item you didn't ask for but mysteriously ended up on your hotel bill anyway. )

    Or, as the most astute story on the subject, ChannelWeb's Intel: Upgrade Service Beneficial To Partner quoted Todd Swank, vice president of marketing at system builder Nor-Tech, as saying: "I'm struggling to see where the benefits are for system builders."

    UPDATE: After I posted this blog, Intel e-mailed me a comment on the upgrade program. Here it is:

    "Intel is exploring a way to give customers the flexibility to determine the level of performance they want in their processor, without having to change hardware. This gives customers an extra configuration option that isn't available on standard Pentium processors.

    We are planning a pilot program in a limited number of retail stores using one Pentium processor SKU that will enable a consumer to upgrade the performance of their PC online. The new CPU upgrade is designed to deliver additional performance as an option on Pentium Processor-based PCs included in the pilot program.

    We will continue to gather customer feedback throughout the pilot program."

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