Intel wants to give overclockers some peace of mind with its new Performance Tuning Protection Plan.
PC performance enthusiasts will know that Intel has always taken a hands-off approach toward overclocking. Among other reasons, by advising its customers to ramp the speed of its CPUs beyond their shipped settings, Intel would invite liability if the overclocking resulted in damage to the system or its components.
Instead, Intel has taken a more passive approach to overclocking. By shipping its "K" series CPUs, for example, with unlocked clock speed and memory bus settings, advanced users and boutique PC vendors are free to squeeze out more power from their chips. Intel just won't tell you how to do it, and any warranty on Intel CPUs become invalidated as soon as you push one of its chips beyond its shipped specifications.
By offering its new Performance Tuning Protection Plan, Intel extends that passive embrace of overclocking, lending tweakers and boutique PC vendors an insurance policy against overclocking-derived chip damage. It also gives Intel a new stream of revenue.
Intel offers its plan for only five CPUs. It will cover your Core i5 2500K for $20, your Core i7 2600K or 2700K for $25, and your Core i7 3930K or 3960X for $35. In the event that you damage one of those chips through overclocking, Intel will send a one-time replacement if you've purchased the Protection Plan.
Currently in a pilot phase, for now Intel's plan covers individual CPUs purchased at retail, as well as chips in systems from four custom PC vendors: Cyberpower, Canada Computers and Electronics, U.K.-based Scan Computers, and Australian outfit Altech Computers. Intel says it plans to add four additional PC vendors on February 13, and that it will re-evaluate over the next six months to determine whether to continue.
Overclockers and the vendors that sell overclocked chips will likely all appreciate Intel's efforts here. Custom PC sellers in particular benefit, since they tend to be smaller shops, and while they can turn a large profit from more-expensive overclocked systems, they also take a large hit to those earnings every time they're bogged down with a customer service issue or, worse, a return. Intel's plan lets those small vendors help customers in a faster, more cost-effective manner if the company can simply swap out the CPU at no cost. That, in turn, means happier partners, and thus more sales of Intel CPUs.
For individuals the plans are perhaps less appealing. Many chipsets have thermal and voltage safeguards built in to prevent the exact kind of damage against which Intel's protection is supposed to guard. Typically, when a CPU falls victim to overclocking instability, it automatically returns to its factory-default settings before it's damaged. It is possible to disable those safeguards and push a CPU past its breaking point, but I would wager the number of overclockers pushing their chips out of the safe zone is relatively small. That would mean Intel is making a safe bet in terms of the income it will generate from these plans, as compared with what it stands to lose by shipping out replacement chips.