Being more open could give the chip manufacturer the edge against Intel.
The world wants AMD to open its processors. The CIA wishes it could close Vault 7. SHA-1 is open to attack and Microsoft opens Project Olympus.
AMD has launched its new line of affordable octa-core processors, known as Ryzen, to much acclaim – you can read our review on page 16. While many are heralding the new CPU lineup as a return to form for AMD, and a chance to challenge Intel’s near-monopoly over desktop processors, there is also a growing contingent who are pushing AMD to take the fight to Intel even further by releasing the source code of the Platform Security Processor (PSP).
A Change.org petition (which you can find at http://bit.ly/2nRx8v2), calls on AMD to open up the source code for the PSP, which is a networkcapable co-processor, and suggests that doing so could help strengthen AMD’s position. The reasoning behind this is that by giving users control over their own systems, positive word of mouth about AMD will spread through the open source community. The petition goes on to state that AMD “can become the main CPU designer on the high-level mindshare when someone asks for security and control.”
The petition itself seems rather optimistic at times – it suggests that by open sourcing the PSP it will give the FSF (Free Software Foundation) and other organisations a reason to recommend AMD, which seems a bit of a long shot, as you can’t really promise the support of an independent foundation you’re not a part of. However, it’s true that any move made by AMD to open source its hardware would likely be warmly welcomed by the open source community, and could lead some people to choose AMD products over Intel.
Another argument in favour of open sourcing PSP is security – the petition goes on to argue that security through obscurity doesn’t work, and that by opening up the source code, any potential security issues (such as using the network-capable co-processor as a backdoor) could be found and fixed by the community.
The Libreboot project, which has for some time called out AMD as being uncooperative in the libre software movement due to its releasing of nonfree binary-only firmware as well as “tyrant technologies like the AMD Platform Security Processor”, has joined in calls for AMD to release the source code. In particular it asks for “board design guides, datasheets and footprints for CPUs/southbridges and so on” and for AMD to work with Libreboot, Coreboot and Librecore to provide modern, powerful, open source hardware, and to allow them to create fully free software initialisation firmware.
As Libreboot pointed out in a blog post ( https://libreboot.org/amdlibre), AMD has in the past released source code to the Coreboot project, though that has stopped. It also seems that AMD is listening: a post on Reddit by AMD_james, a project manager at AMD, replying to a request for AMD to open source its hardware, states that “this has CEO level attention and AMD is investigating the steps and resources necessary to support this. It is not the work of a minute, so please bear with us as we define what we can do.” Whether or not AMD follows through on this promising initial statement will have to be seen. Nevertheless, the prospect of the chip manufacturer releasing affordable and powerful CPUs – high-end Ryzen 7 CPUs have already been launched, with more affordable Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 3 processors coming later – as well as becoming more receptive to the open source community, is an exciting one.
“The Libreboot project has joined in calls for AMD to release its source code.”