Upgrade Service was a service offered by Intel allowing specific models to be upgraded via software. The service was introduced in late September 2010 with Westmere and was later expanded with Sandy Bridge in 2011. The service was discontinued in 2013.
Only a handful of models could be upgraded via this service:
|Compatible Model||Post-Upgrade Model|
|Core i3-2312M||2.1 GHz||3 MiB||Core i3-2393M||2.5 GHz||4 MiB|
|Core i3-2332M||2.2 GHz||3 MiB||Core i3-2394M||2.6 GHz||4 MiB|
|Core i3-2102||3.1 GHz||3 MiB||Core i3-2153||3.6 GHz||3 MiB|
|Pentium G622||2.6 GHz||3 MiB||Pentium G693||3.2 GHz||3 MiB|
|Pentium G632||2.7 GHz||3 MiB||Pentium G694||3.3 GHz||3 MiB|
|Pentium G6951||2.8 GHz||3 MiB||Pentium G6952||2.8 GHz + HT||4 MiB|
Additionally, those models can only be upgraded with:
Upgrade could be done by purchasing a scratch-off card from a store such as Best Buy. A software was then required to be installed which requires the code on the card to be activated (validation is done using Intel's activation server). The change is semi-permanent and is associated with a motherboard and not the CPU. Activation is likely saved on the motherboard along with the BIOS. Therefore upgrading the motherboard will get rid of the upgrade. Additionally, in cases such as hardware failure one has to request a new activation code for their upgrade card and re-run the upgrade.
As with most companies, Intel makes use of price segmentation. Price segmentation allows Intel to go after the low end of the market with a lower price devices without compromising pricing of their mainstream and high-end product lines. Upgrade Service was designed for low-end models that were mostly used exclusively by OEM for low-end laptops and tablets. The motivation is to allow customers who obtained a low-end/budget device (i.e., purchase a low end device, bought used, or simply received as a gift) upgrade the computer later on. The upgrade would improve performance by roughly one tier. That is the Pentium models would be at roughly Core i3 level and the Core i3 would be at roughly the low-end Core i5 models.
For a well-integrated device such as a tablet or laptop as well as customers who rather buy a complete system, "virtually upgrading" the processor by unlocking additional performance for a small fee could be a desirable upgrade path for some customers after a few years. This allows them to increase performance should their workload demand it without replacing the entire device.
The introduction of Upgrade Service was seen as a rather controversial program primarily due to misunderstanding of its intended purpose. Many online tech websites such as Engadget describing the feature as "unlock stuff your CPU already has". PC Perspective noted that for the Pentium part, it's only $15 to buy a Core i3 instead of purchasing the Pentium+upgrade card. Furthermore no Clarkdale-based Pentiums had Hyper-Threading enabled - a feature enabled by Upgrade Service.