Intel On-Demand: in-app purchases for processors that could inspire Apple

Intel with its new Xeon processors Sapphire Rapids (the successors to the models built into the Mac Pro) are launching a great feature: On demand. In short, the company offers some features similar to in-app purchases for CPUs.

A way to segment a bit

What is the point of Intel charging for SGX instructions (for example)? It’s simple: not all customers necessarily need it, but some still want to take advantage of it. And so instead of releasing dozens of Xeon references by adding letters or numbers to separate them (this is also somewhat the case in Cores), Intel can use a global reference and enable certain options as needed (and for a small tenth ).

This is not entirely new from the founder: in the early 2010s, some consumer processors could be improved, with the possibility of unlocking cache memory, options (Hyper-Threading is the logical cores, then) and increasing the frequency. We can imagine in the future (although Intel denies it) that the models in the K family will be optional: you can buy a Core i7 14700 (for example) and add the option of turning it into a 14700K for a few tens of euros .

If Apple did the same?

This is pure speculation on our part, let’s be clear. But the Apple series lends itself quite well to this kind of modification. In fact, Apple artificially segments certain areas: the MacBook Air M2 is offered with 8 GPU cores, and an option (upon purchase) allows you to switch to 10 cores for €120. But in practice the chips are identical.

Admittedly, this difference has a theoretical economic justification: Apple can sell M2 chips where part of the cores are unusable at the start (this is called chip binning), but this is usually a temporary situation.

Above all, this solution makes it possible to improve performance at the start of a new series, when the manufacturing process may experience some hiccups. But once it matures, the number of defective chips drops drastically. More specifically, even if Apple sells you an M2 with 8 GPU cores, it actually has 10 of them, and they are most likely all usable.

What if this option was available after purchase?

Given Apple’s experience securing its chips and in-app purchases, imagine the possibility of going from 8 to 10 cores (in our example) after the purchase is not unrealistic. We just have to hope (as with Intel, although the professional market is probably less affected) that the activation process is well protected to avoid customers buying the cheaper model and hack literally works.

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