Intel Adding”Software Defined Silicon” Mechanism to Linux: Pay Money to Unlock Additional CPU Features via Software Updates

Image: Intel

Intel has cooked up a new mechanism that could allow the company to charge its customers for additional CPU features even after they’ve purchased them.

Dubbed Software Defined Silicon (SDSi), the mechanism was initially teased in the fall by an Intel software engineer who explained in a Linux kernel mailing list post about how it enables additional features in a processor through a software-based, license activation process. SDSi will be introduced in the next major release of Linux (5.18), according to the latest patches released for the OS, indicating that Intel is eager to squeeze more money out of businesses that want more out of their future Xeon processors.

Charging customers to unlock CPU features isn’t anything new from Intel. Over a decade ago, the company allowed Pentium G6951 users to unlock features in that processor by paying for a $50 software code.

Intel Software Defined Silicon Planned For Integration In Linux 5.18 (Phoronix)

  • We still don’t know what features Intel is planning to capitalize upon with their Software Defined Silicon “SDSi” functionality in future CPUs, but it turns out the kernel mainlining of the necessary software support is now expanded to land with Linux 5.18.
  • The kernel driver is about handling the necessary cryptographic-based activation of “additional silicon features” but the infrastructure is rather generic and doesn’t outline to what extent Intel is planning to now make CPU features available as an additional upgrade/license.
  • One possibility that comes to mind is Intel gating AVX-512 with Alder Lake Xeon chips as an SDSi upgrade feature. We know Alder Lake’s P cores have AVX-512 when the E cores are disabled and enabling AVX-512 from the BIOS, but more recently motherboard vendors have begun outright removing that functionality from their Alder Lake S consumer desktop motherboards.

Intel teases ‘software-defined silicon’ with Linux kernel contribution – and won’t say why (The Register)

  • SDSi popped up around three weeks ago in a post to the Linux Kernel mailing list, in which an Intel Linux software engineer named David Box described it as “a post-manufacturing mechanism for activating additional silicon features”.
  • “Features are enabled through a license activation process,” he wrote. “The SDSi driver provides a per-socket, ioctl interface for applications to perform three main provisioning functions.”
  • Between that GitHub mention and the three functions added to the Linux kernel, it seems plain that Intel could ship Xeons with latent features you could enable by sending it some cash.

Facepalm of the Day: Intel charges customers $50 to unlock CPU features (ZDNet)

  • Today brings word that chip giant Intel is allowing OEMs to sell CPUs with certain features locked – that the customer can unlock by paying $50 for a software code.
  • The CPU is a Pentium G6951 and the scheme works like this. OEMs sell suckers consumers a computer featuring a CPU that has some features disabled (in the case of the G6951, 1MB of L3 cache and HyperThreading is disabled).
  • Customers buy a card that contains an unlock code, visit Intel’s website, enter the code, download some software, run the software and the locked features are unlocked.

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