Archive for AMD

Amazon, AMD, Apple, ARM, Google, Intel & Microsoft Are Asked To Answer Spectre And Meltdown Questions

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , on January 25, 2018 by itnerd

It seems the Spectre and Meltdown gong show just got real. The leaders of Amazon, AMD, Apple, ARM, Google, Intel and Microsoft have been asked via a letters to answer questions about the two CPU bugs by Republican members of the US House of Representatives.

Specifically, the politicians want to know about a secrecy agreement that was put in place by these same companies. In short the agreement demanded silence from June 2017 which is when researchers recognized the seriousness of the processor design flaws, through the planned date of coordinated disclosure on Tuesday, January 9, 2018. Except that The Register found out about the flaws and dropped the details on an unsuspecting world a week before the deal expired, which caused these companies to scramble to get fixes out.

You have to suspect that this is the first step in the eventual public flogging known as a Congressional Hearing. Given that this is an election year, that won’t end well for any of these companies. But we’ll see if congress decides to go there.


Microsoft Details Performance Impact of Spectre & Meltdown Mitigations On Windows Systems…. And You Won’t Like Them

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , on January 9, 2018 by itnerd

In case you were wondering how fixes for Spectre and Meltdown will affect you from a speed perspective, Microsoft has done the work for you to find out. Delivering the news is Microsoft’s Windows chief Terry Myerson via this blog post:

With Windows 10 on newer silicon (2016-era PCs with Skylake, Kabylake or newer CPU), benchmarks show single-digit slowdowns, but we don’t expect most users to notice a change because these percentages are reflected in milliseconds.

With Windows 10 on older silicon (2015-era PCs with Haswell or older CPU), some benchmarks show more significant slowdowns, and we expect that some users will notice a decrease in system performance. With Windows 8 and Windows 7 on older silicon (2015-era PCs with Haswell or older CPU), we expect most users to notice a decrease in system performance.

Windows Server on any silicon, especially in any IO-intensive application, shows a more significant performance impact when you enable the mitigations to isolate untrusted code within a Windows Server instance. This is why you want to be careful to evaluate the risk of untrusted code for each Windows Server instance, and balance the security versus performance tradeoff for your environment.

For context, on newer CPUs such as on Skylake and beyond, Intel has refined the instructions used to disable branch speculation to be more specific to indirect branches, reducing the overall performance penalty of the Spectre mitigation. Older versions of Windows have a larger performance impact because Windows 7 and Windows 8 have more user-kernel transitions because of legacy design decisions, such as all font rendering taking place in the kernel.

Take home message, if you’re PC is recent, it’s a non-issue. If it’s older, it sucks to be you. And if you’re running Windows Server, well…. You’re taking a hit no matter what CPU you have and it truly sucks to be you. This is one of the reasons why this CPU bug from Intel, AMD, and ARM is a big bloody deal. Because while the security implications are extremely problematic, the cure for them may be worse than the disease.

Microsoft Stops AMD Meltdown Patches After Reports Of Bricked PCs Come In

Posted in Commentary with tags , on January 9, 2018 by itnerd

PC owners with AMD-powered machines running Windows are finding out that when they apply the patches for the now infamous Meltdown CPU bug, it is leaving their PCs unable to boot. This has led to a flood of complaints on Microsoft’s support forum which forced Microsoft to stop issuing the patches for Meltdown on the AMD platform. Followed by posting this statement on its support page:

Microsoft has reports of customers with some AMD devices getting into an unbootable state after installing recent Windows operating system security updates. After investigating, Microsoft has determined that some AMD chipsets do not conform to the documentation previously provided to Microsoft to develop the Windows operating system mitigations to protect against the chipset vulnerabilities known as Spectre and Meltdown.

That kind of sounds like they’re blaming AMD. Not that AMD users who have bricked PCs care as all they want is a fix. I assume AMD and the folks in Redmond are working on this and hopefully a fix will come sooner rather than later.

Intel, AMD, ARM All Make Statements About Epic CPU Bug… Alongside New Details About The Bug

Posted in Commentary with tags , , on January 3, 2018 by itnerd

This morning it came to light that there was a memory access design flaw in Intel processors and fixing it could lead to a performance drop.

Security researchers have now shared details about two separate critical vulnerabilities impacting most Intel processors and some ARM processors. Called Meltdown and Spectre, which sound like the names of James Bond movies. But I digress. The vulnerabilities offer hackers access to data from the memory of running apps, providing passwords, emails, documents, photos, and more. In short, if you have bought a computer or smartphone since 1995, the pwnage is real for you but it is patchable. However, Spectre impacts all processors, including those from ARM and AMD, and while it is harder to exploit, there is no known fix. Fully addressing Spectre will require a re-architecture of how processors are designed. Google has also shared details on the exploits. Full research papers on Meltdown and Spectre are available here. Oh yeah, proof of concept exploits are in the wild as we speak. It’s not known if hackers have exploited Meltdown and Spectre. But if they haven’t, they will.

Late today Intel came out with a statement posted on its website, Intel says that it planned to disclose the vulnerability next week when additional software patches were available, but was forced to make a statement today due to “inaccurate media reports.” Whatever that means. Here’s part of the statement:

Intel and other technology companies have been made aware of new security research describing software analysis methods that, when used for malicious purposes, have the potential to improperly gather sensitive data from computing devices that are operating as designed. Intel believes these exploits do not have the potential to corrupt, modify or delete data.

Recent reports that these exploits are caused by a “bug” or a “flaw” and are unique to Intel products are incorrect. Based on the analysis to date, many types of computing devices — with many different vendors’ processors and operating systems — are susceptible to these exploits.

Interesting. A statement that’s designed to create plausible deniability and avoid a massive lawsuit. But wait, there’s more!

Intel has begun providing software and firmware updates to mitigate these exploits. Contrary to some reports, any performance impacts are workload-dependent, and, for the average computer user, should not be significant and will be mitigated over time.

That’s clearly designed to blunt any criticisms of the whatever patches are needed to fix this. Interestingly,  AMD came out with a statement that says this:

There is a lot of speculation today regarding a potential security issue related to modern microprocessors and speculative execution. As we typically do when a potential security issue is identified, AMD has been working across our ecosystem to evaluate and respond to the speculative execution attack identified by a security research team to ensure our users are protected.

To be clear, the security research team identified three variants targeting speculative execution. The threat and the response to the three variants differ by microprocessor company, and AMD is not susceptible to all three variants. Due to differences in AMD’s architecture, we believe there is a near zero risk to AMD processors at this time. We expect the security research to be published later today and will provide further updates at that time.

And ARM says this:

I can confirm that ARM have been working together with Intel and AMD to address a side-channel analysis method which exploits speculative execution techniques used in certain high-end processors, including some of our Cortex-A processors. This method requires malware running locally and could result in data being accessed from privileged memory. Please note our Cortex-M processors, which are pervasive in low-power, connected IoT devices, are not impacted.

We are in the process of informing our silicon partners and encouraging them to implement the software mitigations developed if their chips are impacted.

Sounds like of the three, ARM is the most honest. With AMD coming in a very close second. Intel strangely says nothing about reading kernel level data in their statement. You have to wonder why that is.

Annual AMD ExtravaLANza On Nov.18-19

Posted in Commentary with tags on November 18, 2017 by itnerd

Canada’s eSports industry has taken off in the last year, from the launch of the country’s first 24-hour eSports channel to packed competitions at the Air Canada Center.

To celebrate Canada’s passion for competitive gaming, AMD is hosting one of the biggest celebrations of eSports in Toronto, AMD ExtravaLANza from Saturday, Nov. 18 – Sunday, Nov 19.

Last year, over 2,000 people attended, and even more are expected this year, to experience free-play battle stations, VR demos, and watch local eSports athletes vie for a $9,000 prize pool.

AMD and its partners like EvenMatchupGaming and Gigabyte will also showcase the newest technologies in graphics, gaming and visual displays, including:

  • 120 Cybertron gaming PCs for tournaments in CS:GO, Dota 2, and Super Smash Bros.
  • Single- and multiplayer VR demos featuring AMD partners HTC and Oculus
  • High Dynamic Rage (HDR) 4K Displays with Radeon RX Vega graphics cards

AMD ExtravaLANza will take place from 10 a.m. – 10 p.m. from Saturday, Nov. 18 – Sunday, Nov. 19 at 99 Sudbury in Liberty Village. You can go to 99 Sudbury St in Toronto to join the fun.


Intel To Settle Anti-Trust Issues With AMD

Posted in Commentary with tags , on November 12, 2009 by itnerd

Intel has a few anti-trust issues right now, starting with the EU and the State Of New York. But their longest running anti-trust battle has been with rival AMD who sued them back in 2005. It looks like the latter is about to be settled:

Under terms of the deal, Intel will pay AMD US$1.25 billion, and has agreed to a set of business practice provisions, according to a statement from the companies.

AMD and Intel also said they have agreed to a new five-year cross-license agreement, and have given up claims of breach of contract from the previous license agreement.

“While the relationship between the two companies has been difficult in the past, this agreement ends the legal disputes and enables the companies to focus all of our efforts on product innovation and development,” the companies said in a statement.

On its part, AMD has agreed to drop all regulatory complaints worldwide and all pending legal disputes, including a case in U.S. District Court in Delaware and two cases in Japan. The agreement will be made public in filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the companies said.

This news is great for the value of AMD stock which is up by 22% as I type this. Intel stock has barely moved however. Could this be the start of Intel settling the other anti-trust issues that they have? Stay tuned.

Intel Gets Bitch Slapped By The EU To The Tune Of $1.44 Billion

Posted in Commentary with tags , , on May 13, 2009 by itnerd

The European Union has decided that chipmaker Intel has been abusing it’s position as king of the hill to keep rival chipmaker AMD down. As a result, the EU has fined Intel $1.44 billion USD. To nobody’s surprise, Intel doesn’t agree with the decision:

Intel president and CEO Paul Otellini said the company would appeal to the EU courts because “the decision is wrong” and “there has been absolutely zero harm to consumers.” The company promised to comply with the EU order but criticized it as extremely ambiguous.

However, AMD is doing cartwheels:

AMD’s Europe president Giuliano Meroni said the EU order “will shift the power from an abusive monopolist to computer makers, retailers and above all PC consumers.”

So what did Intel do to tick off the EU? According to them, they did a bunch of things:

The EU says Intel gave rebates to computer manufacturers Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo and NEC for buying all or almost all their x86 computer processing units, or CPUs, from Intel and paid them to stop or delay the launch of computers based on AMD chips.

Regulators said the company also paid Germany’s biggest electronics retailer, Media Saturn Holding — which owns the MediaMarkt superstores — from 2002 to 2007 to only stock Intel-based computers.

This meant workers at AMD’s biggest European plant in Dresden, Germany, could not buy AMD-based personal computers at their city’s main PC store.

“Intel has harmed millions of European consumers by deliberately acting to keep competitors out of the market for computer chips for many years,” said EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes. “Such a serious and sustained violation of the EU’s antitrust rules cannot be tolerated.”

This will be tied up in court for years before it gets resolved, and they’ll likey be in line behind Microsoft.