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Software Defined Silicon Rides Again, Meet Intel On Demand

Everything Old Is New Again

2010 was an odd time in many ways, from the first antimatter captured thanks to CERN, to Wikileaks, through kinky Neanderthals, to the Blackhawks breaking their losing streak.  It was also when Intel fell in love with scratch and sniff cards.  Their idea was to offer a Pentium G6951 which had Hyperthreading disabled and 1MB of it’s L3 cache disabled, and when you were standing in line to pay for it at Best Buy they would tempt you with a $50 code to upgrade it.

See the chip was not a actually a G6950, as it did have the ability to support Hyperthreading and the additional L3 cache was physically present, they were just locked down by Intel.  With the $50 gift card you got a code that unlocked the processor, upgrading your two core CPU to a four thread processor with 4MB of L3 cache.  There were several problems with this, not least of all that the Core i3-530 essentially matched those new specs and cost only $15-$20 more than the G6951.

Well, it seems that Intel is hoping that businesses didn’t notice the negative consequences of that move, or at least do not recall them, for they are at it again.  The Register and others noticed that Intel is now offering Xeons with a new software-defined silicon (SDSi) service, also known as Intel On Demand.  When Sapphire Rapids is released next year it won’t come with Intel’s Software Guard Extensions (SGX) or Quick Assist Technology enabled, that will instead be a pay for play feature.  In addition their new Dynamic Load Balancer, In-Memory Analytics Accelerator and Data Streaming Accelerator features will also be artificially disabled, at least until you fork over some more money.

It is being advertised as a try-before-you-buy program, letting companies save a bit of money if they do not need those features; though to be fair you will be able to buy a Xeon which has everything unlocked from the start if you so desire.  The question is, does selling an artificially limited Xeon for less cost up front make sense or should there be a separate family of Xeons for sale which simply lack those features completely?  It’s not like there aren’t usually more than 50 Xeon SKUs per generation to choose from.

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