Subscription-based solutions are now all around the world. We watch series on Netflix, listen to music on Spotify, play games on Xbox Gamepass, rent servers from GoDaddy, and so on. The list can go on forever; even the software we bought before is subscription-based, such as Adobe Creative Suite programs or Microsoft Office software. On the other hand, it is easy to transform products into subscriptions for the software and service industries, but now the hardware companies are looking with envy.
Subscribe to unlock your current hardware
Some companies that produce physical products are looking for solutions to bring subscription-based payment models for their products. It is reasonable when looking from the companies’ perspective; trying to stabilize the income makes it easier to plan the future and the investments. However, it can’t be suitable for all kinds of products.
There are some weirdest examples around, such as BMW trying to transform seat heating features into a subscription. And there are a lot of cloud gaming platforms that aim at stopping you from buying a new PC; instead, you pay to play with your old hardware. This situation goes even weirder when you think about the current top cloud gaming service, GeForce Now by Nvidia. Nvidia has been the GPU king for years, and its main business is developing and selling them to gamers. Now, they say “do not buy our GPUs, just pay us every month to play with our machines” ironically.
Is subscription a bad thing for consumers?
No, it is not always a bad thing for consumers. It creates an opportunity to test the product with minimal payment and it almost ensures constant improvement on the company side; because companies know that if they do not improve the product, people will easily cancel their subscription to switch to a competitor. It also helps people who have a low budget to buy a product at once.
That being said, of course, some of the companies will try to abuse this system. BMW’s seat heating feature example seems like one of those bad intentions. You buy a car, and the car has resistance in the drivers’ seat, but you need to pay to unlock it when you feel cold. Subscription-based hardware is a nonmature concept, and companies will try every ridiculous idea unless people oppose it. And it looks like we have one new company coming with a new idea.
Software-defined silicon inside
There were rumors about Intel’s efforts for pay-to-unlock CPUs for a few months. It was a bit hard to believe, but it is clearer now; we can see the post sent from Hans de Geode from Red Hat on kernel.org. The post clearly states “Intel Software Defined Silicon” and it is sent to make sure of rushing into the upcoming Linux kernel 5.18 merge window. You can read the full post below:
« This series adds support for Intel Software Defined Silicon. These patches are the same as patches 4-6 from this series. Patches 1-3 of that series were pulled in during the 5.17 merge window.
Thank you for taking all the feedback from others into account and doing new versions.
I was planning on doing an in-depth/full review of this today, but unfortunately a kernel regression somewhere else has popped up and that is going to soak up all my work/$dayjob time this week, sorry.
Assuming no major issues are found, the plan definitely is to get this in before the 5.18 merge window. I’ve made a note in my calendar to get a full review done no later then February 17th. »
There is also a link following another post from 16th of December, 2021, which again clearly states “adding support for Software Defined Silicon”:
« This series makes changes to the current intel_pmt driver to give it broader support for Intel defined PCIe VSEC and DVSEC features. It moves the implementation from MFD to the auxiliary bus and creates a generic framework for enumerating the extended capabilities. It also adds support for a new VSEC, Software Defined Silicon (SDSi). »
The term “software-defined silicon” indicates unlockable features on the CPUs, which the company has not yet fully detailed. One thing is clear: Intel is trying to rush these features drivers into Linux kernel 5.18. So what does this mean for us?
Intel’s second try for pay-to-unlock
There is no official announcement about any of the details of the feature yet, so take these as a grain of salt. Intel already tried the pay-to-unlock concept in 2010 under the name of “Upgrade Program”. It was aimed at the lower-tier CPUs, which low-budget customers bought.
In this program, customers would buy an eligible product and upgrade its cache by paying extra money once. It is not an actual upgrade since the cache is physically sitting in the CPU itself. The Hyper-Threading feature of Intel also was a subject to this program. The program gained so much negative reaction, Intel withdrew. Now Intel is about to try once more but on their Xeon product line.
Possible positive outcomes for customers
First things first; let’s talk about the possible advantages of the program. The ultimate possible outcome of this action might be cost and waste reduction. The company is developing several products with different features to sell in the current scenario. Developing, manufacturing, and packaging one single ultimate product and changing their features via software can reduce the costs by a lot.
In addition to that, there won’t be an overestimation for a single product that isn’t sold as much as expected; and wasted. Those waste products also add to the final products’ prices to further reduce the costs.
Finally, buying a mid-tier product then deciding to switch to a higher-tier one is currently a pain. Customers will need to pay full price for the higher-price product, then will try to sell the old ones as used ones or try to utilize them somewhere else. Upgrading the CPUs without any hassles like those would be quite appealing on both the end-user side and the companies.
Possible negative outcomes for customers
First of all, it is annoying to pay for a product to own it, but have to pay an additional price to utilize the owned product completely. Thankfully Intel currently seems like aiming only at enterprise products, Xeon CPUs, so psychological effects do not apply here. But it also does not mean they will not do the same for consumer CPUs. Let’s wait and see.
The second possible problem here is the waste of energy and the waste of hardware. The customers who need the lowest tier CPUs will be wasting the additional cores, cache, or other hardware on the chip. In addition, that unutilized hardware will most likely draw additional energy for no reason; having the exact hardware for the needs is a better way to go while the entire planet is trying to lower carbon emissions.
Pay once to unlock or pay forever to keep it unlocked?
Sadly, we don’t know the exact answer since Intel has not made a clear announcement yet. As we mentioned at the beginning of our article, the whole world is chasing subscription-based models. Intel will most likely do the same with those Xeon chips. Data centers and tech companies might need to pay an extra price for the extra cores that already exist on the CPU, but with a lower base price for the CPU itself.
In final words, looking through the window of the consumer or customer side, paying once to unlock additional features on hardware might be acceptable. But a subscription-based unlocking solution might end up in a painful way for everyone. We are keen on seeing Intel’s official announcement for the software-defined silicon.