Computer processors and “binning.”

When you buy a lower-tier (less expensive) computer processor, you’ve actually purchased a top-tier model which has been deliberately modified to lower its performance level.  Why would a company artificially reduce the performance of their product in this way?

One reason for this is similar to the example we were given regarding Braille on drive-up ATM keypads. The materials and manufacturing process for computer processors is incredibly expensive, and to make a separate model of processor for each performance level would simply cost too much. Better instead to manufacture one processor and then partially disable some of them.

In addition, this practice allows companies to reduce waste during the manufacturing process, thereby lowering their costs and consequently the prices. Some of the processors manufactured do not meet the performance standards of the top-tier model, but can be altered so they can be salvaged and sold as a lower-cost model. This process is referred to as “binning.” Some people have even figured out how to re-enable the “switched off” parts of their less-expensive processors, effectively giving themselves a free upgrade.  This might lead you to ask why anyone ever bothers to buy anything but the cheapest processors. However, if the cheap processor you’ve bought and attempted to upgrade turns out to be one of the damaged ones, you’re out of luck! A few years ago, Intel actually attempted to sell “Upgrade Cards” containing codes that would unlock disabled components of some of their cheaper processors, but this didn’t go over well and the “product” has since been abandoned.

Here’s an article that explains the concept in some more detail, although this author is specifically referring to graphics processors rather than the central processor.  (same idea, different component.)



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2 Responses to Computer processors and “binning.”

  1. kobzeffr says:

    I have no experience or any clue when it comes to technology, especially computers, and I find this fascinating. While as a consumer, I am slightly annoyed that I must pay additional money for essentially the same product, I do understand and appreciate the economic reasoning. I wonder how much negative environmental externalities they have prevented in only using one manufacturing method and how much material they have saved? In the end I will forever be doomed to pay for the more expensive, yet likely identical product because I lack the capabilities or the friends to ever figure out how to “turn on” the extra features of the processor.

  2. hondoh says:

    Things like this really irritate me because it shows that we are not using our resources efficiently. Planned obsolescence is another thing that comes up in the computer industry quite often where manufacturers intentionally design their products to need replacement somewhere down the road.

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