Semiconductor manufacturing is an imprecise process, sometimes achieving as low as 30% yield. Defects in manufacturing are not always fatal, however; in many cases it is possible to salvage part of a failed batch of integrated circuits by modifying performance characteristics. For example, by reducing the clock frequency or disabling non-critical parts that are defective, the parts can be sold at a lower price, fulfilling the needs of lower-end market segments.
A speed bump, in computer terms, is a slight increase in frequency (e.g., from 1.8 to 1.9 GHz) or a slight increase in functionality (e.g. Nvidia GeForce GTX260 to GTX260 Core 216). Some time after the initial release of a product, manufacturers may choose to increase the clock frequency of an integrated circuit for a variety of reasons, ranging from improved yields to more conservative speed ratings (e.g., actual power consumption lower than TDP). These models are binned as different product chipsets, which places the product into separate virtual bins in which manufacturers can designate them into lower end chipsets with different performance characteristics.
In order to undergo binning, manufactured products require testing. Finished products enter a machine that can test hundreds of pieces at a time, taking only a few hours to complete. Each piece can be tested to determine its highest stable clock frequency and accompanying voltage and temperature while running.
Binning allows large variances in performance to be condensed into a smaller number of marketed designations. This ensures coherency in the marketplace, with tiers of performance clearly delineated. The immediate consequence of this practice is that, for liability reasons, products sold under a certain designation must meet that designation at a minimum. Individual products may still exceed advertised performance.
Overclocking & Core Unlocking
Overclocking is the increase of clock speed beyond the manufacturer's maximum rated clockspeed. Since manufacturers are only required to meet the minimum advertised specifications, the potential for overclocking of a product is not typically tested during the binning process. Therefore, it should not be assumed that higher-rated products will overclock better than lower-rated ones.
Similar to frequency binning, products may also be binned based upon the number of cores which are enabled. As with overclocking, some chips may have more cores than marketed. It may be possible for the end user to enable these cores.
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- Philips Lumileds LUXEON Application Brief: an example of a documented binning structure