Chip binning, or why Intel, Apple and AMD release lines of weak processors

Most power computer users are likely to have experience overclocking their computer. After all, the temptation is great to increase the frequency of the processor or video chip, thereby improving their performance. Sometimes fortune favors and it is possible to achieve significant acceleration. But skeptics are able to darken the joy a little by declaring that the chip has fallen into your hands.

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What are binning processors?

What are binning processors?

The word bin itself means “basket”. But what is the connection between your new and working even slightly better than the planned chip with a known defect? In fact, the reason is in the very technology of manufacturing electronic components.

Binning refers to the categorization of components, including processors, graphics chips, memory chips, based on quality and performance criteria. Modern microcircuit production involves the use of highly complex manufacturing processes. The basis is made of ultrapure silicon disks, which are coated with layers of components.

The highest quality tools and material are required to ensure that the final product meets the stated requirements. In addition, production facilities are maximally protected from dust, and employees wear protective suits to prevent microscopic particles of their skin or hair from getting onto materials or equipment.

manufacture of processors

The result is a finished round plate, very expensive. Its honeycomb structure is similar to a waffle. The plate is cut with a diamond into finished crystals, while the pieces on the edge immediately become waste. Their share can range from 5% to 25% of the total area.

11.8-inch (300 mm) plate for 9th Gen Intel Core processors

11.8-inch (300 mm) plate for 9th Gen Intel Core processors

The remaining crystals are mounted on printed circuit boards and placed in a case, providing a heat sink if necessary. This is how the processors we know are born. But now the time has come for their verification and selection.

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Slow processors = fast defective processors

There are several key building blocks in a modern processor: cores, cache memory, memory controllers, video core, and others. The architecture is created one for the whole family. But are there really any other plates for the production of younger models? Of course not, it’s just not profitable. The manufacturer has specific standards for how each processor works.

If the chip does not show proper results during the test, then a certain block or blocks are disabled for it. This is how the younger processor appears, a little slower. The more blocks are disabled, the younger the processor will be.

For example, a plate for the manufacture of Intel Core i9 can give output to almost two dozen models operating at different frequencies, with a different number of cores, the level of heat dissipation, the GPU is disabled or not. In fact, these are all chips that are discarded from the top-end and have not passed testing. This is how the lines of processors i7, i5, i3, etc. are obtained:

Chip binning

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Why is this happening?

The manufacturer understands that neither technology nor materials can be 100% perfect. It is almost impossible to achieve absolute flawlessness of the insert. When working in the nanometer range, incidents and noises that are invisible to us begin to manifest themselves. And a speck of dust is a real disaster. And the defects are not always obvious. For example, one part of the chip may simply get hotter than the other. The plate is tested even before cutting, and disturbing spots are marked. And after slicing and assembling, the processors are tested again.

During the stage of severe stress tests, the chips operate at a given voltage with a base frequency. How much power the processor consumes and how much heat it generates is rigorously tested. This is how it is found out which element meets the given parameters and which does not. Some chip requires more voltage, while some heats up more. There are those who cannot pass the tests at all. Chips already marked with defective ones are also checked in order to understand which blocks they have remained complete.

As a result, the entire useful output is divided into different groups. The chips in them differ from each other in their capabilities. This sorting process is called chip binding. For example, if one core is damaged in a top six-core processor, then it or a couple of them are turned off. This is how the junior quad-core processor is born. The manufacturer plans the architecture of the chip in advance so as to be able to disable certain blocks and get lower models.

So did Apple with the release of the new M1 processor. If you look at the specs of the 2020 MacBook Air, you’ll notice that the 256GB version of the laptop has a 7-core GPU, while the 512GB version has an 8-core – binning in action.

M1 Apple processor

Interestingly, marketers sometimes interfere with chip binding. Sometimes the demand for a certain low-cost model exceeds the demand for a more expensive one that is abundant. Then the manufacturer simply turns off some of the obviously working blocks from the top processor, turning it into a “cut”. And the buyer does not even know that he received the best chip initially. Of course, it is ready to work at higher frequencies and generates less heat. There have been cases in history when, even by software, users managed to unlock additional cores and computing units. Thus, a dual-core Athlon X2 5000 could get two additional cores, and Athlon II X3 with a Deneb / Rana core received an increase in cache memory in addition to an additional core. Such cases are inspiring, but today such “magic” is almost impossible due to the hardware limitations of the manufacturer.

As you marvel at the overclocking capabilities of your processor, you will now understand why this is happening. Sorting is a prerequisite for the production of modern chips. And your processor will exactly match the declared parameters, but with luck, it can show a little more.

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