As early as September, we reported for the first time on the development of “Software Defined Silicon” support by Intel in order to be able to activate additional licensed hardware functions that would otherwise not be disclosed. Intel hasn’t spoken about the controversial feature in terms of product plans, but this weekend they released a new revision of this Intel “SDSi” Linux driver.
Intel Software Defined Silicon “SDSi” is about safely activating additional functions of the processor silicon that are otherwise not disclosed out-of-the-box. This is probably with Intel Xeon processors in mind, where Intel could offer additional features as an extra charge for those who want to use additional features such as, in theory, AVX-512 or AMX, but without that license the feature wouldn’t even be made available when burned into the processor. A decade ago, Intel tried out a similar concept with the “Intel Upgrade Service”, which could enable the provision of additional cache, higher clock frequencies and / or Hyper-Threading for selected processors upon payment of an activation code.
Intel Software Defined Silicon seems to be more workstation / server oriented given the prompt Linux workload. Officially, this SDSi Linux driver is about providing a “post-manufacturing mechanism for activating additional silicon functions”. The SDSi kernel driver offers the user area the option of providing a certificate that is written to the internal NVRAM, and then basically activating it, as well as reading the existing SDSi configuration status for a processor.
The SDSi Linux code is the generic infrastructure around it and does not reveal what kind of hardware features Intel may be playing as licensed upgrade features for future processors. These four patches were sent out on Saturday that make further changes to the Intel platform code (Platform Monitoring Technology) and finally introduce this Intel SDSi driver. Part of the series is also the introduction of the Intel Vendor Specific Extended Capabilities (VSEC / DVSEC) driver code.
We’ll see if Intel tries to keep the Software Defined Silicon driver going for the 5.17 kernel cycle or if it has been floating around on the mailing list for a while, which suggests how closely Intel might or might not be promoting this functionality with select products.