NVIDIA Calls A Feature A 'Bug,' Strips Away Overclocking Option On Its Mobile Device Cards

from the you-can-buy-it-but-you-can't-have-it dept

In theory, the marketplace for goods works like this: a purchaser hands over $$$ and in return receives a product that they own and can use as they see fit. In reality, purchasers often hand over $$$ and find that the product they purchased is still in the grips of the company that took their money but seems loathe to honor its end of the deal.

Case in point #38,909: guess what NVIDIA thinks is a “bug,” not a “feature.”

Starting with the Fermi drivers, though, a software overclock was possible in the drivers, which allowed you to adjust your laptop GPU’s clockspeeds at will. Tools like AfterBurner from Micro-Star International Comp., Ltd. and Turbomaster by ASUSTek Computer Inc. allowed users to more easily and safely tweak their GPU’s clockspeeds on select gaming laptops with cooling solutions designed to cope with the higher thermal load. Companies like the Clevo Comp., Sager, ASUS, MSI, and Dell’s Alienware regularly sold models billing overclockability as a sales feature.

What OEMs apparently didn’t expect was that NVIDIA would rob customers of that feature. But that appears to be precisely what happened.

NVIDIA pushed out new drivers last December that took away customers’ ability to overclock their cards. These were targeted at cards for mobile and hybrid devices, where the chance of overheating (and causing serious damage) was more pronounced. Those who had overclocked their cards but now were unable to do so demanded answers from the manufacturer. And wouldn’t you know it, the explanation for NVIDIA’s removal of this option cites “safety” as the primary motivator.

Unfortunately GeForce notebooks were not designed to support overclocking. Overclocking is by no means a trivial feature, and depends on thoughtful design of thermal, electrical, and other considerations. By overclocking a notebook, a user risks serious damage to the system that could result in non-functional systems, reduced notebook life, or many other effects.

There was a bug introduced into our drivers which enabled some systems to overclock. This was fixed in a recent update. Our intent was not to remove features from GeForce notebooks, but rather to safeguard systems from operating outside design limits.

“Safeguard systems from operating outside design limits” sounds an awful lot like “your purchased items are only as flexible as we allow them to be.” Sure, warranty departments handling burnt up/out devices may have been making some noise about dealing with the aftereffects of careless overclocking, but if so, they’re no less blameless than NVIDIA. Overclocking is generally one of those warranty-voiding activities, and if companies didn’t want to be replacing torched devices, they should have handled it better at their end. (And, as Daily Tech points out, they should probably stop advertising overclocking as a “feature” if it’s truly that much trouble in the warranty department.)

But NVIDIA’s action takes the purchased product out of paying customers’ hands. Most people who dabble in overclocking are technically adept and know the limits of their hardware (and the terms of their warranties). There will always be those who push too far or get in over their heads, and a few overclockers who disingenuously expect the device’s manufacturer to bail them out when things go wrong, but these customers are in the minority.

When a company takes away a feature (especially one that has been advertised by the devices’ manufacturers) and calls it a “bug,” it’s basically telling customers that they won’t ever own what they purchased. In this case, NVIDIA is hurting some of its most loyal customers — people who know their devices inside and out and will pay good money to stay ahead of the tech curve.

And NVIDIA’s being a bit disingenuous itself. It calls overclocking a “bug” when explaining why it took this feature away. But if it truly was a bug, why didn’t it issue a patch rather than eliminating the option? The obvious answer is that overclocking is no bug and NVIDIA knows it. But it has apparently chosen to placate its OEMs at the expense of some of its most reliable customers.

NVIDIA hasn’t issued any further statements on its “bug fix,” so it’s safe to assume it doesn’t really care whether it’s angered a number of its customers. Its position in the graphics accelerator market is virtually unassailable, especially in the area (mobile/hybrid) where it has just guaranteed its customers will get less product than they paid for.

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Comments on “NVIDIA Calls A Feature A 'Bug,' Strips Away Overclocking Option On Its Mobile Device Cards”

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69 Comments
Geno0wl (profile) says:

Re: Reasoning

Or the more EVEN obvious “reasoning”. Legal said that the warranty wouldn’t be able to detect if a user overclocked their system and it burned up. So Nvidia removed the feature.
Basically some lawyers likely said “some guy can OC his netbook, burn it up and file a warranty and there is nothing we can do. Fix this”.
This is why we can’t have nice things.

scotts13 (profile) says:

Re: Reasoning

I may not get the gamer market, but was this “feature” ever advertised BY NVIDIA to end users as a feature? Overclocking, by definition, is operating a device outside its design parameters. If manufacturers using the chipset advertised this misuse as a feature, this is all on them. NVIDIA seems to be doing what’s right for their own protection and customer safety.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Glad I use AMD

I can go back and forth for both AMD and NVidia. Before the overclocking issue, I had a problem with AMD cards operating quite hot and having stability issues. You can be brand loyal or go with the underdog but either way, both will have their ups and downs as they continue to release hardware.

Rabbit80 (profile) says:

Somehow, I agree with nVidia on this one… Laptops are prone to overheating anyway and one of the most common faults is the GPU needing reballing due to heat.

If a hardcore user really wants to overclock then they can most likely still use nibitor to overwrite the default clock settings in the cards BIOS. Essentially, removing this bug / feature is just another hurdle.

Anonymous Coward says:

perhaps nvidia will start to care when these loyal users migrate to ATI now!!
yet another example of US courts allowing the various manufacturers to get with this double take! how the hell can any sound person think that when you’ve bought something, it still belongs to the manufacturer or seller? and even worse, this ridiculousness has spread, making even greater profits for the above!!

BettyLu Krabobnik says:

I would guess that the author has no experience in software development or system administration. As someone who does both for a living, what NVIDIA did was the correct thing. This was a potential flaw in the driver that could cause damage to a user’s machine. Setting fire to someone’s laptop is not a “feature.” Legally and ethically, NVIDIA acted properly.

If users want to keep overclocking available, they can simply use an older version of the driver. There’s nothing really new a driver update can do for an existing card anyway. Updates are mostly about bug fixes and adding support for newer video cards. If you upgraded your driver and lost overclocking, stop whining and go download and install an older version. You’ll have your overclocking back, and NVIDIA has protected itself from potential liabilities as well as future users from damaging their machines.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

All overclocking can cause damage to a user’s machine. That’s why whenever you do it on a desktop, you get a splash screen from your overclocking software saying that you do this at your own risk, it voids your warrenty, etc etc.
Obviously it’s not a good idea to do it on a laptop, since you’ve so much less room to work with in terms of cooling, but if the hardware supports overclocking, allow it.

The problem with your line of thinking is that you don’t follow it through. Software not vetted and signed by Microsoft could damage your machine, so, according to your logic, Microsoft shouldn’t allow programs you write yourself to install in Windows.

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yeah, that’s why I think BettyLu is lying about their experience in software development. You don’t develop software and then go on to not think about the implications of manufacturers having control over the functionality of consumer purchased hardware.
I can very easily get malware on my machine, but no computer manufacturer to the home market would write-lock the hard drives in order to prevent this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I am betting it was the marketing guys saying that “we allow overclocking of everything” and forcing the software guys to enable that feature. Then you have the engineers who find out and know the risks in laptops due to cooling constraints and then make the software guys remove it. I control the budget for all IT purchases and marketing, a lot of times, will over promises whatever they are selling and get someone else to try to make it work on whatever they said.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

See this is where I think it’s up to the individual manufacturer to request that the overclocking be turned off.
Since when does a GTX980M have to be in a mobile platform or even than with bad cooling. IE: iMac’s run crappy GTX700M series, and there’s a bunch of ultra compact PCs coming out with similar setups.

BentFranklin (profile) says:

This article is very weak sauce. They have every right and, if you ask personal injury lawyers, the obligation, to prevent users from burning themselves up. Would rather see TechDirt focusing on dirtier dirt.

OTOH, the overall practice of pushing software updates with unknown and undocumented effects is a very rich vein to mine in terms of bad practice by companies. Consumers should very much be told in advance what their updates are doing.

SkullCowboy (profile) says:

Actually, there are multiple manufacturers (Asus is a big one) that sell Gaming Laptops. The are specifically built with much higher thermal capability than your Chromebook. Do some Googling. These machines were (and still are, funny enough) being marketed as having the ability to be overclocked.
Asus copy:
“With ASUS TurboMaster technology, the G751 offers stable GPU overclocking along with an optimized dual-fan cooling system that keeps everything cool even in the heat of battle.”

A lot of people bought them just for that reason. Now that capability is gone.

If this was a ‘bug’, the OEM vendors sure used it to drive sales. And funny how this ‘bug’ has existed for YEARS…

Rekrul says:

Re: Re:

Actually, there are multiple manufacturers (Asus is a big one) that sell Gaming Laptops.

Every time I see the phrase “gaming laptop” I flash back to the time I tried to install Angry Birds on a friend’s Win7 laptop and was told that the game couldn’t run due to some mode not being found. Like Angry Birds really pushes the envelope of gaming…

Anonymous Coward says:

i fucken hate nvidia. for some reason i bought their shield tablet and controller.. I wanted to use the controller on my PC but to install the controller drivers you have to have an nVidia graphics card???? fuck you nVidia for that. there is a feature to stream from your PC to the tablet but you guessed it, you need an nVidia graphics card to do that too. trash company.

Jeff Green (profile) says:

What I bought ...

I got a new car, it could do 150mph, all the reviews said so, admittedly the manufacturer didn’t but he didn’t exactly go out of the way to deny it.

6 months later I got into my car one morning and the red led panel didn’t tell me the time and the outside temperature it said “bug fix installed”

Now when I pull away I find the car will do no more than 30mph. When I took it to the garage for a service they explained the original speed was a bug and was never safe this new mode is correct.

Anyone else gonna buy cars from Nvidia?

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: What I bought ...

To answer your question…unfortunately yes. Nvidia cards are superior to AMD cards (I’ve got two machines, one with an Nvidia card, the other AMD). Just like how, despite the fact I don’t like the direction Intel is going with partnering up with Anita Sarkeesian, I have to buy their CPUs if I want good hardware, since they’re miles ahead of AMD in that regard.

Anonymous Coward says:

Common Sense

Am I the only here who feels that overclocking any part of your laptop is a seriously stupid thing to do?

Don’t get me wrong, I have a corsair H50 water cooler slapped on my 3770k which has been running stable at 4.5ghz for over a year now. But the last time I overclocked my GPU was almost 10 years ago given the fact that long ago I discovered it’s better to milk out better quality and performance by either using a tool like Nvidia Inspector and/or altering the video configuration files of a game among other things…

The only people I can see overclocking their mobile GPU are children and it would be a damn shame if they some how managed to blow their laptop up in their faces. I mean if the cmos battery or laptop battery are way too close to the gpu, I’m pretty positive they’ll overheat and explode…

Rikuo (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Common Sense

Sure. Your comment was trying to make an emotional argument about how no parent wants to see their children’s eyes getting damaged by battery acid.
Thing is, this is a fallacy. Gaming laptops and the people using them to overclock are generally not children. They’re more than likely adults, who can make an informed decision to do something that is dangerous. So your comment that is basically saying “Think of the children!” is a non sequitur.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Common Sense

“So your comment that is basically saying “Think of the children!” is a non sequitur.”

In my defense, I was ‘thinking of my own childhood experiences’ back in the late 90s in which I made many stupid decisions. Such as overclocking things to the point of catching on fire in computer class (which got me expelled) and I even got chemical burns once while attempting to resolder the connections of an overused PS2 port. Little did I know that the ‘cmos battery’ was ready to blow and was the reason why the cmos kept on flaking out all of the peripherals…

Have you ever seen a video of a battery exploding?

Regardless, overclocking should never be a mainstream consumer feature for more reasons than I can count.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Common Sense

Just like nobody seems to understand that driving safely at speed takes lots of experience, preferably gained on a race circuit. Not having that experience before driving fast, and injures and kills people, and often not the driver but some innocent bystander. However top speed and acceleration are still used to sell cars.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Common Sense

I was thinking of my own childhood experiences back in the mid 00s in which I made many stupid decisions including getting behind the wheel of my parents’ car and driving it as fast as it would go down the M60 near Salford. I was chased by the police and wound up flipping the vehicle too many times to count, sustaining multiple simple and compound fractures during the crash. I was still recovering when I was in court, being convicted of taking a vehicle without consent, speeding, driving without a licence, driving without insurance, and underage driving. Of course, just like a car, gaming laptops aren’t marketed to children…
Disclaimer: the above is something that could have happened if I was that stupid, and I wrote it only to make a point.

Cynyr (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Common Sense

Think of the children! Give Police a “stop!” button for all cars, and require manufacturers to limit the cars speed to 5MPH below the speed limit, unless it’s raining then -10MPH, or snowing/icy then -25MPH, or dark -7MPH to protect drivers from exceeding their ability to drive, and to allow police to prevent you from starting a highspeed chase and getting hurt.

SkullCowboy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Common Sense

I disagree. That laptop was marketed and sold with overclocking as a major feature. As such it certainly should be easily accessible. In fact, instead of using settings in software provided by the manufacturer the general populace you speak of now have to resort to hacked drivers or other workarounds to get the performance they paid for.

It’s kind of like the red key and the black key for the Hellcat. You would be pretty upset if all of a sudden that red key didn’t work anymore…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Common Sense

I’m referring to Nvidia’s marketing. If anyone is to blame, it’s the manufactures (Asus, MSI, etc) for taking advantage of what Nvidia is claiming to be a bug in their drivers.

Now that I think about it, you have every legal right to ask for a refund according to consumer protection laws…

Personally, I think overclocking features on laptops should be hard wired through an old school dip switch (rather than through software) which can only be reached if you have the knowledge on how to rebuild them. That way, people with cheap laptops, who don’t know any better, don’t blow up their sh*t up and people who have laid down the cash can make their OC wet dreams come true…

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 Common Sense

A physical switch would be a decent compromise, but that will never happen. Hardware companies spend a lot of engineering dollars in an attempt to eliminate components like that, because it’s big money in savings due to the effects of scale (and the fewer components something has, the more reliable it is.) A company I worked for was once able to eliminate a $0.50 part and it saved the company millions of dollars.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Common Sense

That’s a fair argument but in this case I think the cost of implementing dip switches to enable overclocking greatly outweighs the cost of returns for those who completely destroyed their systems via the current methods.

I mean this is a pretty drastic move by Nvidia and I’m willing to lean towards the assumption that the situation is a lot worse than what is being reported…Otherwise, why would they do this to begin with?

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 Common Sense

Of course, there is a very low-cost way. Instead of using a DIP switch, just put in a little wire-loop “jumper”. Cut the jumper to overclock.

“I think the cost of implementing dip switches to enable overclocking greatly outweighs the cost of returns for those who completely destroyed their systems via the current methods.”

Probably not. I’m guessing that only a very tiny percentage of customers overclock the card, and that it’s a minority of those who that destroy their equipment in doing so.

“I mean this is a pretty drastic move by Nvidia and I’m willing to lean towards the assumption that the situation is a lot worse than what is being reported”

I don’t think that Nvidia thought this was a drastic move.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:8 Common Sense

I suppose I should clarify that I’m speaking in terms of high end systems in which the quality and cost of components is not a factor.

For low end systems, it’s pretty obvious that they just want things to work minus all of the fluff.

“I don’t think that Nvidia thought this was a drastic move.”

Well they managed to piss off everyone that spent the money to exploit this feature so…I don’t know what else to say?

tom (profile) says:

This was probably brought about by that certain percent of customers who happily overclocked their laptops to the max so they could claim they got 3 more FPS in game Y then their clan mates. And when the magic smoke came out 30 minutes later, they with great amount of public yelling, exclaimed what a POS said laptop was and sent it back to the seller, all the time disavowing any knowledge about overclocking.

Perhaps the drivers should be modified to allow overclocking only after the user agrees to having the laptop’s and GPU’s serial numbers sent the manufacturers of both with a screen notice that overclocking voids the warranty. Now there would be a record that the end user knew the dangers and did it anyway and accepted the loss of warranty.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I don’t think it’s necessary to have to be entered into yet another corporate database to accomplish that. The firmware could certainly detect whether or not the card has been overclocked. On detecting that, it would be pretty easy to blow a virtual fuse whose state could be checked by the company performing the warranty service. That way it would act in a manner similar to the shock and moisture detectors in your cell phone — the warranty violation would be detectable and provable without requiring that anyone register their hardware.

DeComposer (profile) says:

The REAL reason Nvidia has disabled overclocking on mobile GPUs

Given their rocky history with mobile GPUs, Nvidia was crazy to even consider overclocking.

Back around 2008, Nvidia made changes to their mobile GPU manufacturing process—particularly to the solder “bumps” that both bonded and electrically connected the GPU chips to computer circuit boards. The cumulative result of these changes was an astonishingly high failure rate in notebook computers. The technology press predictably hung the label “bumpgate” on the whole mess.

It would be another year before Nvidia would officially acknowledge that the problem even existed and another year before they would settle the class-action lawsuit for $200 million. Add the inevitable direct suits from computer manufacturers and years of consumer distrust, and it’s easy to understand why Nvidia’s stock value took such a severe hit (from which it still hasn’t fully recovered).

Given Nvidia’s troubled past with thermal stress and GPU failures, their choice to disable overclocking for mobile GPUs is not terribly surprising, nor especially controversial.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: The REAL reason Nvidia has disabled overclocking on mobile GPUs

“Given Nvidia’s troubled past with thermal stress and GPU failures, their choice to disable overclocking for mobile GPUs is not terribly surprising, nor especially controversial.”

Perhaps not surprising, but this is obviously controversial. Understandably so, since this is yet another case of a company retroactively removing features from a product that people had already purchased.

That’s not OK.

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