Intel conditions prohibit benchmarks on new Linux microcode for cpus

Aug

23

2018

Intel has provided its microcode updates for Linux with new conditions. This includes a restriction that prohibits the company from carrying out benchmarks based on the software. The reason for this change is unknown.

The change in the conditions has been implemented this month and has now been noticed by open source pioneer Bruce Perens . Specifically, Intel writes in the conditions : “The user will not publish or provide test results of software benchmarks or comparisons himself or through a third party.” That text is not present in earlier versions . Perens believes that Intel wants to prevent people from communicating information about the performance differences that the updates entail. For example, the microcode contains patches for the recently published L1TF vulnerabilities and it is known that software mitigations for this category of vulnerabilities may result in certain performance reductions .

In the meantime, benchmarks have already been published, for example by Phoronix or Red Hat . It is unknown whether these parties have violated the conditions by publishing the measurements in the eyes of Intel. No signals are known to date that suggest this. Intel has not yet issued an explanation for the change itself. The chip manufacturer also brought out benchmarks of the effects of the L1TF patches themselves. It comes to the conclusion that the effects are generally minimal, except in data center environments where HyperThreading is disabled. That is one of the suggested mitigations .

According to reports from The Register , the adjusted conditions also have other consequences. For example, the Debian team has problems with a certain other passage from the conditions, which makes it necessary to withhold the patches. Intel lets the site know that it sees no problems and that the conditions permit distribution, but was not asked about the passage that refers to the prohibition on publishing benchmarks.

At first glance, the adjusted conditions seem to be a major limitation on the performance of benchmarks, but until more is known about Intel’s motivation, there is little to say about its consequences. The limitation is in the conditions of the microcode for Linux. What the conditions of the microcode for Windows are not known. Microsoft passes that microcode into the operating system.

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