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Hardware

RISC-V Linux Development in Full Swing

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Linux
Hardware

Most Linux users have heard about the open source RISC-V ISA and its potential to challenge proprietary Arm and Intel architectures. Most are probably aware that some RISC-V based CPUs, such as SiFive’s 64-bit Freedom U540 found on its HiFive Unleashed board, are designed to run Linux. What may come as a surprise, however, is how quickly Linux support for RISC-V is evolving.

“This is a good time to port Linux applications to RISC-V,” said Comcast’s Khem Raj at an Embedded Linux Conference Europe presentation last month. “You’ve got everything you need. Most of the software is upstream so you don’t need forks,” he said.

By adopting an upstream first policy, the RISC-V Foundation is accelerating Linux-on-RISC-V development both now and in the future. Early upstreaming helps avoid forked code that needs to be sorted out later. Raj offered specifics on different levels of RISC-V support from the Linux kernel to major Linux distributions, as well as related software from Glibc to U-Boot (see farther below).

The road to RISC-V Linux has also been further accelerated thanks to the enthusiasm of the Linux open source community. Penguinistas see the open source computing architecture as a continuation of the mission of Linux and other open source projects. Since IoT is an early RISC-V target, the interest is particularly keen in the open source Linux SBC community. The open hardware movement recently expanded to desktop PCs with System76’s Ubuntu-driven Thelio system.

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Open Hardware: Raptor Computing Systems' Talos II and RISC-V in India

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Hardware
  • Hands On With The Most Open-Source, High-Performance System For 2018

    While there are several vendors working on open-source hardware systems with goals of fully open designs and open-source software down to the firmware, there is only one vendor that has achieved that mission while delivering server/workstation class performance as we approach the end of 2018... Raptor Computing Systems' Talos II. We finally have this dual POWER9 system in our labs for some interesting benchmarks ahead.

    We have done remote benchmarks in the past of the Talos II POWER9 system that is fully open-source, but only this past week were we able to touch one of these systems for the first time with Raptor Computing Systems kindly sending over a unit so we can run more benchmarks on it and the POWER9 architecture moving forward.

  • Research Team From IIT Indigenously Develops And Fabricates India’s First Microprocessor “Shakti”

    Designing and building microprocessors from the ground up is no easy task. But a research team from IIT-Madras managed to create India’s first indigenously built microprocessor.

    Unlike China, India doesn’t have massive fabrication plants, so innovations like these help improve self-reliance on an import based sector. The processor was fabricated by the Semi-Conductor Laboratory (SCL) in India, which is based on the old 180nm fabrication process.

    The Shakti line of microprocessors are based on RISC V, which is an open-source instruction set architecture. An initial batch of 300 chips, codenamed RISECREEK was produced under Project Shakti, in July this year, but it was fabricated on Intel’s Multinational Chip Manufacturing facility at Oregon, USA. The chips fabricated in the US were on the 20nm process. Lead Researcher on the project, Prof. Kamakoti Veezhinathan stated “With the advent of Digital India, there are several applications that require customizable processor cores. The 180nm fabrication facility at SCL Chandigarh is crucial in getting these cores manufacturers within our Country“.

AMD Sends Out Linux Temperature Driver Patches For Zen 2 CPUs

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Linux
Hardware

It looks like my report on AMD kicking off Zen 2 Linux enablement from last month is panning out. Earlier this week they posted the initial AMD Zen 2 "znver2" support for the GCC compiler and they are ending the week back in kernel space with an updated hardware monitoring driver for being able to report the CPU core temperatures of these CPUs shipping in 2019.

The patch series sent out a short time ago add k10temp support for AMD F17h M30h. The k10temp driver is the "hwmon" subsystem driver for reading the CPU core temperature on recent generations of AMD hardware, including Zen 1 and soon Zen 2. Family 17h Model 30 and newer is Zen 2, which is also firmed up by the aforementioned znver2 compiler patches.

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Intel Inclusive While Selling Defective Products

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Hardware
Security
  • Intel CPUs fall to new hyperthreading exploit that pilfers crypto keys
  • Researchers Exploit Another Intel Hyper-Threading Flaw
  • PortSmash: A New Side-Channel Vulnerability Affecting SMT/HT Processors (CVE-2018-5407)

    A new CPU side-channel vulnerability made public today that's unrelated to Spectre and Meltdown speculative execution vulnerabilities is dubbed "PortSmash" but more formerly referred to as CVE-2018-5407. 

    University researchers discovered this side-channel vulnerability that results in data leakage due to execution engine sharing on processors with Simultaneous Multi-Threading, like Hyper Threading on Intel CPUs. This can lead to stealing a private key from a TLS server in a reported example. PortSmash can leak encrypted data from the CPU. Most of the research thus far has been around Intel processors with Hyper Threading but it's believed other CPUs with SMT like IBM POWER and AMD CPUs are also potentially affected.

  • Update: Intel CPUs Impacted By PortSmash Side-Channel SMT Exploit, AMD Likely Also Vulnerable

    When it comes to impactful processor vulnerabilities, the two most well-known attacks announced the year are Spectre and Meltdown. The hardware and software industry scrambled to push out fixes to prevent these, and Microsoft is still working to minimize the performance impact of its mitigations.

    Today, however, we're learning of yet another side-channel vulnerability, which is being dubbed PortSmash. In layman's terms, a side-channel vulnerability uses complex methods to sniff out encrypted data within a CPU or system memory in an effort to gain escalated privileges and access "protected" data.

  • [Update: Intel Responds] Yet Another Side-Channel Vulnerability Discovered – Verified on Skylake and Kaby Lake

    Intel doesn’t seem to be catching a break… Security researchers have now discovered another chip flaw that could allow attackers to leak encrypted processor data. Dubbed as PortSmash, researchers have verified the exploit on Intel Skylake and Kaby Lake processors. However, they suggested that all CPUs that use a Simultaneous Multithreading (SMT) architecture are impacted.

    SMT allows multiple computing threads to be executed in parallel on a CPU core and with this security flaw, attackers can run a malicious process next to legitimate processes using the architecture’s parallel thread running capabilities. By doing this, the malicious process can then exfiltrate data from the legit processes running on the same core.

  • PortSmash attack punches hole in Intel's Hyper-Thread CPUs, leaves with crypto keys

    Brainiacs in Cuba and Finland have found a new side-channel vulnerability in Intel x64 processors that could allow an attacker to sniff out cryptographic keys and other privileged information.

    Following disclosure of the flaw to Intel at the beginning of October, boffins from the Tampere University of Technology in Finland and Technical University of Havana, Cuba, today published proof-of-concept they're calling PortSmash.

    The research team used the PoC to steal an OpenSSL (version 1.1.0h or less) P-384 private key from a TLS server. (Subsequent versions of OpenSSL aren't susceptible.)

  • 'Pure technical contributions aren’t enough'.... Intel commits to code of conduct for open-source projects

    Chip maker Intel has embraced guidelines to make its open-source software projects more open-minded and inviting.

    Citing the company's commitment to creating inclusive communities, Imad Sousou, corporate veep and general manager of the Intel Open Source Technology Center, on Thursday said the center is adopting the Contributor Covenant as a code of conduct for its projects and developers.

How open source hardware increases security

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Hardware

Hardware hacks are particularly scary because they trump any software security safeguards—for example, they can render all accounts on a server password-less.

Fortunately, we can benefit from what the software industry has learned from decades of fighting prolific software hackers: Using open source techniques can, perhaps counterintuitively, make a system more secure. Open source hardware and distributed manufacturing can provide protection from future attacks.

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System76 on US Manufacturing and Open Hardware

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GNU
Linux
Hardware
  • System76 on US Manufacturing and Open Hardware

    We’ve been working on the Thelio design for about three years. The philosophy around Thelio’s design was fourfold. The design should reflect our company character and culture, the design must support the maximum performance of the fastest available components, be easy to service and upgrade, and must represent the open source roots of System76. Early on, there was a lot of testing and experimentation. We engineered prototyping techniques to quickly iterate on ideas, optimize performance and thermal characteristics, and develop a strategy to open source as much functionality as possible.

    Eventually we were ready to move from acrylic prototypes to metal. Then we tried finding factory space in Colorado. That was much harder than expected and it took a full year.

    We moved an eight-person engineering and operations team over in March of this year and the rest of the team a few months later. We began converting the design from prototype to production. At our facility, we take in US-sourced sheet metal, aluminum extrusions, and other raw materials. We use production machinery to cut it, bend it, powder coat, etch, and then assemble the parts together along the way to producing the final product. We use components that we source outside the US, like the motherboard, memory, and drives to assemble orders to the customers’ needs. Technically, Thelio is “Designed and manufactured in the US with domestic and foreign components”.

  • System76 Comments On Their Open-Source Hardware Plans & US Manufacturing

    System76 is finally announcing the Thelio system on Thursday with plans to begin shipping it in December. Ahead of that announcement they've clarified a bit around their US manufacturing and open-source hardware plans.

  • System76 shared some more details to clear up some questions about their open hardware manufacturing

    In their recent blog posts titled 'System76 on US Manufacturing and Open Hardware' the Linux hardware vendor shared some details and thoughts about what they're up to.

    For those not up to speed, System76 will soon be putting up their new Thelio desktop computer for pre-order. This will be their first in-house production using a case they made themselves. It's going to be quite exciting, so it's good to get some details cleared up before the big reveal on November 1st.

    They've been working on the design of the Thelio system for three years, a lot longer than I originally thought. The actual design of the unit is made to offer "the maximum performance of the fastest available components" along with being easy to service and upgrade.

How Linux thin clients have improved

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GNU
Linux
Hardware

In the past, Linux thin clients had too many shortcomings to be a realistic option for users to access their virtual applications and desktops from, but times have changed.

Older Linux thin clients were cheap devices that really only worked for the simplest of tasks and couldn't support many peripheral devices. Graphical performance was low and often only allowed for a single display with no dedicated graphics adapter. In addition, for users working with Windows apps and desktops, the Linux OS would often invade their experience. It might just be the Linux cursor replacing the Windows pointer, but in extreme cases, the whole Linux desktop would show up when users were expecting only Windows applications.

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Papa's Got a Brand New NAS: the Software

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GNU
Linux
Server
Hardware

My NAS uses the ODROID-XU4 as the main computing platform, and so far, I've found its octo-core ARM CPU and the rest of its resources to be adequate for a home NAS. When I first set it up, I visited the official wiki page for the computer, which provides a number of OS images, including Ubuntu and Android images that you can copy onto a microSD card. Those images are geared more toward desktop use, however, and I wanted a minimal server image. After some searching, I found a minimal image for what was the current Debian stable release at the time (Jessie).

Although this minimal image worked okay for me, I don't necessarily recommend just going with whatever OS some volunteer on a forum creates. Since I first set up the computer, the Armbian project has been released, and it supports a number of standardized OS images for quite a few ARM platforms including the ODROID-XU4. So if you want to follow in my footsteps, you may want to start with the minimal Armbian Debian image.

If you've ever used a Raspberry Pi before, the process of setting up an alternative ARM board shouldn't be too different. Use another computer to write an OS image to a microSD card, boot the ARM board, and at boot, the image will expand to fill the existing filesystem. Then reboot and connect to the network, so you can log in with the default credentials your particular image sets up. Like with Raspbian builds, the first step you should perform with Armbian or any other OS image is to change the default password to something else. Even better, you should consider setting up proper user accounts instead of relying on the default.

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POWER9 On Linux Will See Faster Context Switching, Other Optimizations

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Linux
Hardware

The POWER architecture changes have been submitted for the in-development Linux 4.20~5.0 kernel cycle, including more optimizations on the POWER9 front for these latest-generation IBM CPUs.

The code around the IBM POWER SLB (Segment Lookaside Buffer) miss-handling has been rewritten in clean C code rather than Assembly and improved upon from there. This cleaned up and optimized C code for their SLB entries is seeing a 27% speed-up in the context switching performance on one of their internal POWER9 benchmarks.

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System76 'Open' Hardware With GNU/Linux

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GNU
Linux
Hardware
  • System76’s new ‘open-source computer’ will be available for preorder November 1

    Details on what the hardware will entail specifically are still a little light, and we’ll likely only know for sure when the system goes up for preorder, but there’s a few things that we can say for sure. In reply to a tweet sent by Liam asking whether or not they’d have a custom motherboard, the CEO clarified that “we’re pulling proprietary functionality off the mainboard and onto a custom, open source (hardware and firmware) daughter board.”

  • System76 Thelio Systems Being Announced Next Week

    The past month Linux PC/laptop vendor System76 has been teasing its open-source fan-base about building a new "open-source" PC with their new Colorado factory.

    Last week they expanded a bit more on these open-source plans about how they are pursuing a daughter board approach. Now next week they will be revealing the "Thelio" systems in full.

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