Intel Posts Updated "Software Defined Silicon" Driver To Activate Licensed Hardware Features

Written by Michael Larabel in Intel on 21 November 2021 at 08:07 AM EST. 41 Comments
Back in September we were first to report on Intel developing "Software Defined Silicon" support for being able to activate extra licensed hardware features not otherwise exposed. Intel hasn't talked about the controversial feature in terms of product plans but this weekend they posted a new revision of this Intel "SDSi" Linux driver.

Intel Software Defined Silicon "SDSi" is about being able to securely activate additional features of the processor's silicon that won't otherwise by exposed out-of-the-box. This is likely with Intel Xeon processors in mind where Intel could offer additional features as an up-charge for those wanting to opt-in to extra features like say theoretically AVX-512 or AMX but without that license the feature wouldn't be exposed even with being baked into the processor. A decade ago Intel tried a similar concept with the "Intel Upgrade Service" that if paying for an activation code could allow additional cache to be exposed, higher clock frequencies, and/or Hyper Threading for select processors.

Intel Software Defined Silicon looks like it will be more workstation/server focused given the prompt Linux work. Officially this SDSi Linux driver is about providing a "post-manufacturing mechanism for activating additional silicon features." The SDSi kernel driver exposes the ability for user-space to provide a certificate that would be written to internal NVRAM and then to basically activate it as well as being able to read existing SDSi configuration state for a processor.

The SDSi Linux code is the generic infrastructure around it and doesn't expose what sort of hardware features Intel may be toying with as possible licensed upgrade features for future processors. Sent out on Saturday were these four patches making more changes around the Intel platform code (Platform Monitoring Technology) and ultimately introducing that Intel SDSi driver. As part of the series is the introduction of the Intel Vendor Specific Extended Capabilities (VSEC/DVSEC) driver code as well.

We'll see if Intel tries to mainline the Software Defined Silicon driver for the 5.17 kernel cycle or if it keeps kicking around the mailing list for a while, which would indicate how imminent or not Intel may be seeking to advertise this functionality with select products.
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