Processor manufacturer Intel has started to experiment with a novel revenue stream - downloadable content for your processor.
Taking a leaf from the video games market, Intel is trialling "upgrade cards" for its low-end processors, which contain a scratch-off panel which reveals a redeemable code capable of unlocking the true power of your existing hardware.
According to Engadget (opens in new tab), which received the information from one of its readers who spotted such a card in his local Best Buy, the $50 code cards are designed to increase the performance of the Pentium G6951 processor - a low-end processor built for those on a budget.
If you've got such a chip and find yourself yearning after an upgrade, however, the card redeems a code to increase the L3 cache to 1MB and enable Intel's faux-SMP HyperThreading engine - which should translate to a not-inconsiderable boost to real-world performance.
Where Intel has earned the ire of some of its customers, however, is in the nature of the 'upgrade' - the hardware is already present in the customer's system, but locked out by an artificial restriction mechanism which is released by the entering of the unique code present on each upgrade card.
Selling low-end chips that are artificially crippled versions of higher-end parts is nothing new, of course, but offering a software-based upgrade is something the industry has typically shied away from - if only to prevent the image of greed. Clearly, Intel feels that the time has come to exploit that market - and it's almost certainly the success of the downloadable content market for console games that has given the chip maker the push it needed.
Like Intel's upgrade cards, DLC for games often charges to unlock content which is already present on the disc but locked out - and has enjoyed great success, at the cost of some ill-feeling amongst consumers, for the companies that choose to take this path.
Currently Intel is reportedly merely testing the downloadable content model out in "a few select markets," but we could well be seeing the future of the hardware industry: a reduced number of physical parts, differentiated merely by the code you used to active them.