Earlier this year, the Spectre and Meltdown security concerns rocked the IT world. These vulnerabilities leveraged the very functionality of modern CPUs which allowed them to perform tasks so quickly – speculative execution. Fortunately for AMD, Meltdown didn’t impact their Zen line of processors (either the original or the slightly tweaked Zen+ cores), but the company where vulnerable to several variants of Spectre.
Intel didn’t get off so lightly, and were found to be vulnerable to a greater number of Spectre attacks, and also had the problem with Meltdown too. In response, the company were fairly quick to start releasing MicroCode updates, but these updates can have negative impact on the performance of the CPU, particularly in memory and IO heavy workloads.
Eventually, Intel will release processors which are hardened against this vulnerability – thus removing the need for the software patch, but this rumored to not be until the Ice Lake series of CPUs. As you can imagine, this has happened at the worst possible time for Intel, given they’re fighting off AMD in the X86 arena – not just on the desktop, but also in the HEDT market with Threadripper and the Server market with Epyc.
Intel have since backtracked on this and have updated their terms as follows:
“Redistribution and use in binary form, without modification, are permitted, provided that the following conditions are met:
- Redistributions must reproduce the above copyright notice and the following disclaimer in the documentation and/or other materials provided with the distribution.
- Neither the name of Intel Corporation nor the names of its suppliers may be used to endorse or promote products derived from this software without specific prior written permission.
- No reverse engineering, decompilation, or disassembly of this software is permitted.
“Binary form” includes any format that is commonly used for electronic conveyance that is a reversible, bit-exact translation of binary representation to ASCII or ISO text, for example “uuencode.”
Intel didn’t given reason to their change of heart, or why they’d had this ridiculous clause in the original license. We can only assume it was an over eager individual in the company, or Intel were hoping they’d not be faced with a major backlash.
So Intel have decided to try and stop the discussion and benchmarks concerning the performance degradation of the MicroCode update by updating the user agreement. “”You will not, and will not allow any third party to (i) use, copy, distribute, sell or offer to sell the Software or associated documentation; (ii) modify, adapt, enhance, disassemble, decompile, reverse engineer, change or create derivative works from the Software except and only to the extent as specifically required by mandatory applicable laws or any applicable third party license terms accompanying the Software; (iii) use or make the Software available for the use or benefit of third parties; or (iv) use the Software on Your products other than those that include the Intel hardware product(s), platform(s), or software identified in the Software; or (v) publish or provide any Software benchmark or comparison test results.”
This was discovered by Bruce Perens, and he (and I suspect a lot of folks) won’t be happy about this. Trying to silence these benchmarks isn’t the right way for Intel to go about this. People will do their own internal benchmarks, and will just release info on forums and so on anyway. IT professionals talk between themselves, and with AMD’s Epyc 7nm coming up next year (using Zen 2), upsetting these users isn’t the best way to keep the server market.
I truly hope Intel reconsiders its course of action here.