Uncorrectable freedom and security issues on x86 platforms

Paul Boddie paul at boddie.org.uk
Mon Apr 4 18:46:48 UTC 2016

On Monday 4. April 2016 19.00.17 Timothy Pearson wrote:
> ARM is very nice for low end / remote work and embedded systems, there's
> no question about that.  However, at least in my experience, it is
> woefully inadequate for non-trivial content creation tasks (editing
> video, engineering design work, etc.).

I don't know whether the more recent 64-bit products will make a big 
difference here. I remarked in another forum that one benefit of a fully-64-
bit architecture is the ability to address more memory, but then I got flamed 
for saying that people might need more than 2GB RAM (as I sit and write this, 
and that earlier message, on a machine with only 1GB RAM).

Various widely- and wildly- ;-) hyped 64-bit ARM products (Raspberry Pi 3, for 
example, plus Allwinner A64 stuff) don't appear to physically support more 
than 2GB RAM, and I've only seen some Freescale i.MX devices and products 
supporting 4GB, and those were 32-bit devices with extended addressing 

Of course, AMD are getting round to delivering ARM-based products, which might 
bring more emphasis on performance, but then it's AMD with all the objections 
you've raised.

> > I've noticed a lot of IBM promotional activity around POWER8 of late:
> > there was a Fellowship blog post that suddenly appeared promoting the
> > POWER architecture, I've seen targeted adverts featuring POWER, and now
> > there's this message. Indeed, the blog post used very similar language
> > to "POWER is the only architecture currently competitive with Intel in
> > terms of raw performance", which may or may not be true, but I can't
> > help feeling that a bunch of people have been asked to let us all know.
> That statement was based on actual in-house benchmarks:
> https://raptorengineeringinc.com/TALOS/power_advantages.php

Here's the blog post I mentioned:


> We're not paid by IBM to promote their processors by any means.  The
> simple fact is Intel is the dominant processor manufacturer, and they
> lead hands down in price, performance, and power consumption.  They also
> refuse to give machine owners full access to their hardware, putting
> people in a rather sticky situation.

It could be that people have become aware of POWER again and the "news" 
travels fast. I suppose that a lot of people thought that POWER was going the 
way of PA-RISC and Itanium.


> Yes, it's a risk.  However, everything seems to be risky right now.  x86
> cannot be trusted, POWER itself has somewhat poor power efficiency, and

That genuinely surprises me. I thought that Motorola/Freescale/NXP had pitched 
POWER at embedded markets and that apart from IBM's own direction with POWER, 
it had largely followed ARM into the embedded space.


> Yeah, MIPS seems mostly targeted at embedded systems, and honestly this
> is an area where RISCV could shine while it tries to ramp up to
> ARM-level performance.  Regarding POWER, bear in mind the architecture
> was only opened up for licensing / third party manufacture a couple of
> years ago, and China is already manufacturing custom CPUs using POWER8.

One difference here might be that Chinese manufacturers were already 
apparently making MIPS-compatible designs without an architecture licence, 
probably because they weren't infringing any patents, or perhaps because it 
wasn't worth MIPS going after those manufacturers. (OpenRISC was able to exist 
precisely because the original MIPS patents had expired, as I understand it.)

IBM, meanwhile, has historically been aggressive with microarchitecture 
patents: I recall some remarks about litigation against Sun and ARM, with the 
latter successfully defending because one of the originators of the ARM 
architecture dug up some old software from the Acorn era that supposedly 
demonstrated prior art on whichever patents were involved.

But anyway, I see that the laptop project that Tobias linked to intends to use 
Freescale products, which means that a reliable manufacturer is standing 
behind the architecture and actually making products available, so maybe there 
is some mileage in choosing POWER-based products for open hardware designs.


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