Multiple sites are reporting that some AMD's Radeon R9 290 cards could be software-unlocked into 290Xs with a simple BIOS update. While the difference in performance is minor, free extra shader processors might be tempting for some existing owners.
"Binning" is when a manufacturer increases yield by splitting one product into several based on how they test after production. Semiconductor fabrication, specifically, is prone to constant errors and defects. Maybe only some of your wafers are not stable at 4 GHz but they can attain 3.5 or 3.7 GHz. Why throw those out when they can be sold as 3.5 GHz parts?
This is especially relevant to multi-core CPUs and GPUs. Hawaii XT has 2816 Stream processors; a compelling product could be made even with a few of those shut down. The R9 290, for instance, permits 2560 of these cores. The remaining have been laser cut or, at least, should have been.
Apparently certain batches of Radeon R9 290s were developed with fully functional Hawaii XT chips that were software locked to 290 specifications. There have been reports that several users of cards from multiple OEMs were able to flash a new BIOS to unlock these extra cores. However, other batches seem to be properly locked.
This could be interesting for lucky and brave users but I wonder why this happened. I can think of two potential causes:
- Someone (OEMs or AMD) had too many 290X chips, or
- The 290 launch was just that unprepared.
Either way, newer shipments should be properly locked even from affected OEMs. Again, not that it really matters given the performance differences we are talking about.