Weekend Discussion: How Concerned Are You If Your CPU Is Completely Open?
Written by Michael Larabel in Hardware on 23 February 2020 at 07:44 AM EST. 125 Comments
For some interesting Sunday debates in the forums, how important to you is having a completely open CPU design? Additionally, is POWER dead? This comes following interesting remarks by an industry leader this weekend.

Stemming from discussions on Twitter about Raptor's new OpenBMC firmware with a web GUI in tow, one of the discussions ended up shifting to that of open CPU designs and the belief that secretive CPU startup NUVIA could be having an open-source firmware stack.

Former Red Hat Chief Arm Architect Jon Masters who recently joined server CPU start-up NUVIA joined in on the discussion.

While there is OpenPOWER and IBM opening up the ISA for others, on the basis of there being no independent implementation yet of POWER CPUs, he argues that the design is dead. He tweeted, "Power is dead. There are great people who have done great things for that arch. But it’s dead. You can cling as long as you want (have fun), but it will all be wasted effort. Even now it’s “open” nobody is building high perf implementations. That should answer any questions." Jon also went on to add, "IBM tried the path of investing dollars to buy an ecosystem. Arm should have done that too. But the difference is Arm was growing without the money due to mobile so lack of investment just slowed it down. Power needed money to keep it at all relevant."

The other interesting element of this Twitter discussion was some of the first indications on how open (or not) the NUVIA CPUs could be. While no official announcement was made in regards to NUVIA, Masters' personal comment was, "I’ll be honest - I disagree with the need for every aspect of a CPU to be open in that way. I think having UEFI source is essential so customers have a chance to fix issues. It’s nuances beyond that. Specs and docs are a different matter - those are key." From that comment dimmers hope that the NUVIA server CPUs could be backed by completely open firmware, but at least sounding like partially open firmware backed by documentation could be a possibility. Granted, with NUVIA CPUs expected to be based on ARM, there are limitations over how much control NUVIA will have over opening some aspects of their design.

So while POWER and RISC-V are currently more open than Arm and x86 CPUs, how concerned are you to the level of transparency into the inner-workings of the processors? Short of specific secure computing scenarios, do you position open firmware greater than performance and other functionality? Share your thoughts on this weekend discussion by commenting on this article in the forums.
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Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 20,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter or contacted via MichaelLarabel.com.

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