Chip giant Intel
Reports from Engadget that lead back to an official Intel site point out that certain systems built around a specific Intel processor can now be upgraded by means of a software download. The chips ship with some features disabled, but a $50 upgrade card bought in retail stores can enable the missing goodies again. This program is currently in an early testing phase that includes stores in Canada, the Netherlands, Spain, and has been spotted at a handful of Best Buy
Chips with disabled features are commonplace; Intel, Advanced Micro Devices
From Intel's perspective, this could work out nicely. Assuming that the average computer buyer at Best Buy and other mass-market consumer outlets aren't of the hardcore chip enthusiast ilk (because people like that generally buy their hardware elsewhere), this strategy lets Intel dump unsold chips to system builder partners at a lower price point -- and then make up the difference with an aftermarket upgrade.
If the tests turn out to Intel's liking, I wouldn't be surprised to see "package deals" with a computer plus upgrade card popping up like dollar weeds across the retail landscape. The first systems compatible with the cards come from Acer subsidiary Gateway, but Dell
Engadget and other enthusiast sites expect a firestorm of irate backlash, but chances are that this will simply become standard practice in due time. If you want a cheap computer, leave the card on the shelf. For the full experience, you can always go back and upgrade later. Intel gets rid of unwanted inventory, system builders get cheap chips, and consumers get more choice. Everybody wins, even if some of us will complain about it.
Do you agree with my rosy view of the upgrade program or with the angry critics? Either way, start a discussion in the comments below.
Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Best Buy and Intel are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Best Buy and NVIDIA are Motley Fool Stock Advisor picks. Motley Fool Options has recommended buying calls on Best Buy. Motley Fool Options has recommended buying calls on Intel. The Fool owns shares of Best Buy and Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.