IBM

IBM Unveils the 'World's Smallest Computer' (mashable.com) 164

On the first day of IBM Think 2018, the company's flagship conference, IBM has unveiled what it claims is the world's smallest computer. It's smaller than a grain of salt and features the computer power of the x86 chip from 1990. Mashable first spotted this gem: The computer will cost less than ten cents to manufacture, and will also pack "several hundred thousand transistors," according to the company. These will allow it to "monitor, analyze, communicate, and even act on data." It works with blockchain. Specifically, this computer will be a data source for blockchain applications. It's intended to help track the shipment of goods and detect theft, fraud, and non-compliance. It can also do basic AI tasks, such as sorting the data it's given. According to IBM, this is only the beginning. "Within the next five years, cryptographic anchors -- such as ink dots or tiny computers smaller than a grain of salt -- will be embedded in everyday objects and devices," says IBM head of research Arvind Krishna. If he's correct, we'll see way more of these tiny systems in objects and devices in the years to come. It's not clear yet when this thing will be released -- IBM researchers are currently testing its first prototype.
Google

Dart 2: Google's Language Rebooted For Web and Mobile Developers (infoworld.com) 44

An anonymous reader quotes InfoWorld: Google's Dart language, once positioned a potential replacement for JavaScript in the browser, is being rebooted for client-side web and mobile development in Version 2 of the language. A beta version is now available. Dart 2 features a strengthened type system, a cleaned-up syntax, and a rebuilt developer tool chain.

Dart has a succinct syntax and can run on a VM with a just-in-time compiler, with the compiler enabling stateful, hot reload during mobile development. Developers also gain from fast development cycles where code can be edited, compiled, and replaced in apps running on a device. Compiling code ahead of time provides fast startup, Google said. Dart can be compiled to native code for ARM and x86 platforms. Google has used the language to build applications for iOS, Android, and the web.

Windows

Microsoft Finally Documents the Limitations of Windows 10 on ARM (thurrott.com) 121

For over a year we've been treated to the fantasy that Windows 10 on ARM was the same as Windows 10 on x86. But it's a bit more nuanced than that. Paul Thurrott: 64-bit apps will not work. Yes, Windows 10 on ARM can run Windows desktop applications. But it can only run 32-bit (x86) desktop applications, not 64-bit (x64) applications. (The documentation doesn't note this, but support for x64 apps is planned for a future release.)
Certain classes of apps will not run. Utilities that modify the Windows user interface -- like shell extensions, input method editors (IMEs), assistive technologies, and cloud storage apps -- will not work in Windows 10 on ARM.
It cannot use x86 drivers. While Windows 10 on ARM can run x86 Windows applications, it cannot utilize x86 drivers. Instead, it will require native ARM64 drivers instead. This means that hardware support will be much more limited than is the case with mainstream Windows 10 versions. In other words, it will likely work much like Windows 10 S does today.
No Hyper-V.
Older games and graphics apps may not work. Windows 10 on ARM supports DirectX 9, DirectX 10, DirectX 11, and DirectX 12, but apps/games that target older versions will not work. Apps that require hardware-accelerated OpenGL will also not work.

Linux

Can You Install Linux On a 1993 PC? (yeokhengmeng.com) 253

The oldest x86 CPU that the Linux kernel supports today is theoretically the 486. However is this theory actually true in practice? I decided to put this theory to the test in my project.
His site describes installing Gentoo Linux on an "ancient" IBM PS/1 Consultant 2133 19C (released in 1993), with 64MB SIMM-72 RAM. (Though to speed things up, he compiled that minimal version of Gentoo on a modern Thinkpad T430 released in 2012.) "Due to the age of the PC, the BIOS only supports booting from the floppy drive or internal HDD," so there was also some disk partitioning and kernel configuration. ("Must disable 64-bit kernel for obvious reasons!") A half-hour video shows that it takes almost 11 minutes just to boot up -- and five and a half minutes to shut down. "Despite the many roadblocks I faced, I was impressed by the level of support Linux has for ancient hardware like this."

And there's one more added bonus. "Given the age of the 486 (1989 technology), it does not support branch prediction... Ironically this makes it safe from the Meltdown and Spectre attacks."
Bug

After Intel ME, Researchers Find Security Bug In AMD's SPS Secret Chip-on-Chip (bleepingcomputer.com) 76

An anonymous reader writes: AMD has fixed, but not yet released BIOS/UEFI/firmware updates for the general public for a security flaw affecting the AMD Secure Processor. This component, formerly known as AMD PSP (Platform Security Processor), is a chip-on-chip security system, similar to Intel's much-hated Management Engine (ME). Just like Intel ME, the AMD Secure Processor is an integrated coprocessor that sits next to the real AMD64 x86 CPU cores and runs a separate operating system tasked with handling various security-related operations.

The security bug is a buffer overflow that allows code execution inside the AMD SPS TPM, the component that stores critical system data such as passwords, certificates, and encryption keys, in a secure environment and outside of the more easily accessible AMD cores. Intel fixed a similar flaw last year in the Intel ME.

Intel

Can We Replace Intel x86 With an Open Source Chip? (zdnet.com) 359

An anonymous reader quotes, Jason Perlow, the senior technology editor at ZDNet: Perhaps the Meltdown and Spectre bugs are the impetus for making long-overdue changes to the core DNA of the semiconductor industry and how chip architectures are designed... Linux (and other related FOSS tech that forms the overall stack) is now a mainstream operating system that forms the basis of public cloud infrastructure and the foundational software technology in mobile and Internet of Things (IoT)... We need to develop a modern equivalent of an OpenSPARC that any processor foundry can build upon without licensing of IP, in order to drive down the costs of building microprocessors at immense scale for the cloud, for mobile and the IoT. It makes the $200 smartphone as well as hyperscale datacenter lifecycle management that much more viable and cost-effective.

Just as Linux and open source transformed how we view operating systems and application software, we need the equivalent for microprocessors in order to move out of the private datacenter rife with these legacy issues and into the green field of the cloud... The fact that we have these software technologies that now enable us to easily abstract from the chip hardware enables us to correct and improve the chips through community efforts as needs arise... We need to stop thinking about microprocessor systems' architectures as these licensed things that are developed in secrecy by mega-companies like Intel or AMD or even ARM... The reality is that we now need to create something new, free from any legacy entities and baggage that has been driving the industry and dragging it down the past 40 years. Just as was done with Linux.

The bigger question is which chip should take its place. "I don't see ARM donating its IP to this effort, and I think OpenSPARC may not be it either. Perhaps IBM OpenPOWER? It would certainly be a nice gesture of Big Blue to open their specification up further without any additional licensing, and it would help to maintain and establish the company's relevancy in the cloud going forward.

"RISC-V, which is being developed by UC Berkeley, is completely Open Source."
Bug

'Kernel Memory Leaking' Intel Processor Design Flaw Forces Linux, Windows Redesign (theregister.co.uk) 416

According to The Register, "A fundamental design flaw in Intel's processor chips has forced a significant redesign of the Linux and Windows kernels to defang the chip-level security bug." From the report: Programmers are scrambling to overhaul the open-source Linux kernel's virtual memory system. Meanwhile, Microsoft is expected to publicly introduce the necessary changes to its Windows operating system in this month's Patch Tuesday: these changes were seeded to beta testers running fast-ring Windows Insider builds in November and December. Crucially, these updates to both Linux and Windows will incur a performance hit on Intel products. The effects are still being benchmarked, however we're looking at a ballpark figure of five to 30 per cent slow down, depending on the task and the processor model. More recent Intel chips have features -- specifically, PCID -- to reduce the performance hit. Similar operating systems, such as Apple's 64-bit macOS, will also need to be updated -- the flaw is in the Intel x86 hardware, and it appears a microcode update can't address it. It has to be fixed in software at the OS level, or buy a new processor without the design blunder. Details of the vulnerability within Intel's silicon are under wraps: an embargo on the specifics is due to lift early this month, perhaps in time for Microsoft's Patch Tuesday next week. Indeed, patches for the Linux kernel are available for all to see but comments in the source code have been redacted to obfuscate the issue. The report goes on to share some details of the flaw that have surfaced. "It is understood the bug is present in modern Intel processors produced in the past decade," reports The Register. "It allows normal user programs -- from database applications to JavaScript in web browsers -- to discern to some extent the contents of protected kernel memory. The fix is to separate the kernel's memory completely from user processes using what's called Kernel Page Table Isolation, or KPTI."
Intel

Can Intel's 'Management Engine' Be Repurposed? 139

Long-time Slashdot reader iamacat writes: Not a day goes by without a story about another Intel Management Engine vulnerability. What I get is that a lot of consumer PCs can access network and run x86 code on top of UNIX-like OS such as Minix even when powered off.

This sounds pretty useful for tasks such as running an occasional use Plex server. Like I can have a box that draws very little power when idle. But when an incoming connection is detected, it can power itself and the media drive on and serve the requested content.

The original submission ends with an interesting question. "if Intel ME is so insecure, how do I exploit it for practically useful purposes?"
Intel

Intel's ME May Be Massively Infringing on Minix3's Free Software License (ipwatchdog.com) 251

Software engineer (and IP Watchdog contributor) Fredrik Ohrstrom (a.k.a. Slashdot reader anjara) writes: Almost all Free Software licenses (BSD, MIT, GPL...) require some sort of legal notice (legal attribution) given to the recipient of the software, both when the software is distributed in source and in binary forms. The legal notice usually contains the copyright holder's name and the license text. This means that it's not possible to hide and keep secret the existence of Free Software that you have stuck into your product that you distribute. If you do so, then you are not complying with the Free Software license and you are committing a copyright infringement!

This is exactly what Intel seems to have done with the Intel ME. The Minix3 operating system license requires a legal notice, but so far it seems like Intel has not given the necessary legal notices. (Probably because they want to keep the inside of the ME secret.) Thus not only is Minix3 the most installed OS on our recent x86 CPUs -- but it might also the most pirated OS on our recent x86 CPUs!

Intel

Clear Linux Beats CentOS, openSUSE, and Ubuntu in (Enterprise) Benchmark Tests (phoronix.com) 136

An anonymous reader writes: Recently completed Linux distro benchmarks by Phoronix show Intel's Clear Linux is the most powerful on x86 hardware. A six-way, enterprise-focused Linux distro comparison show Clear Linux being the fastest with a Core i9 and Xeon systems, easily beating CentOS, openSUSE, and Ubuntu in a majority of the tests.

When doing an 11-way Linux distro boot test they also found Clear Linux easily booted the fastest followed by the Clear-inspired Solus distribution. Clear Linux does work on AMD hardware and works on Intel CPUs back to Sandy Bridge but leverages its speed from optimized compiler settings, specially built libraries capable of AVX instructions on supported systems, a specially tuned kernel configuration, and other optimizations/patches.

Debian 9.2 and Fedora 27 "ended up being dropped from this article due to data overload," the article concludes, "and those distributions really not offering anything really different in terms of the performance."
iMac

iMac Pro Will Have An A10 Fusion Coprocessor For 'Hey, Siri' Support and More Secure Booting, Says Report (theverge.com) 164

According to Apple firmware gurus Steven Troughton-Smith and Guilherme Rambo, the upcoming iMac Pro will feature an A10 Fusion coprocessor to enable two interesting new features. "The first is the ability for the iMac Pro to feature always-on 'Hey, Siri' voice command support, similar to what's currently available on more recent iPhone devices," reports The Verge. "[T]he bigger implication of the A10 Fusion is for a less user-facing function, with Apple likely to use the coprocessor to enable SecureBoot on the iMac Pro." From the report: In more practical terms, it means that Apple will be using the A10 Fusion chip to handle the initial boot process and confirm that software checks out, before passing things off to the regular x86 Intel processor in your Mac. It's not something that will likely change how you use your computer too much, like the addition of "Hey, Siri" support will, but it's a move toward Apple experimenting with an increased level of control over its software going forward.
Linux

Linux 4.14 Has Been Released (kernelnewbies.org) 89

diegocg quotes Kernel Newbies: Linux 4.11 has been released. This release adds support for bigger memory limits in x86 hardware (128PiB of virtual address space, 4PiB of physical address space); support for AMD Secure Memory Encryption; a new unwinder that provides better kernel traces and a smaller kernel size; support for the zstd compression algorithm has been added to Btrfs and Squashfs; support for zero-copy of data from user memory to sockets; support for Heterogeneous Memory Management that will be needed in future GPUs; better cpufreq behaviour in some corner cases; faster TBL flushing by using the PCID instruction; asynchronous non-blocking buffered reads; and many new drivers and other improvements.
Phoronix has more on the changes in Linux 4.14 -- and notes that its codename is still "Fearless Coyote."
Intel

MINIX: Intel's Hidden In-chip Operating System (zdnet.com) 271

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, writing for ZDNet: Matthew Garrett, the well-known Linux and security developer who works for Google, explained recently that, "Intel chipsets for some years have included a Management Engine [ME], a small microprocessor that runs independently of the main CPU and operating system. Various pieces of software run on the ME, ranging from code to handle media DRM to an implementation of a TPM. AMT [Active Management Technology] is another piece of software running on the ME." [...] At a presentation at Embedded Linux Conference Europe, Ronald Minnich, a Google software engineer reported that systems using Intel chips that have AMT, are running MINIX. So, what's it doing in Intel chips? A lot. These processors are running a closed-source variation of the open-source MINIX 3. We don't know exactly what version or how it's been modified since we don't have the source code. In addition, thanks to Minnich and his fellow researchers' work, MINIX is running on three separate x86 cores on modern chips. There, it's running: TCP/IP networking stacks (4 and 6), file systems, drivers (disk, net, USB, mouse), web servers. MINIX also has access to your passwords. It can also reimage your computer's firmware even if it's powered off. Let me repeat that. If your computer is "off" but still plugged in, MINIX can still potentially change your computer's fundamental settings. And, for even more fun, it "can implement self-modifying code that can persist across power cycles." So, if an exploit happens here, even if you unplug your server in one last desperate attempt to save it, the attack will still be there waiting for you when you plug it back in. How? MINIX can do all this because it runs at a fundamentally lower level. [...] According to Minnich, "there are big giant holes that people can drive exploits through." He continued, "Are you scared yet? If you're not scared yet, maybe I didn't explain it very well, because I sure am scared." Also read: Andrew S. Tanenbaum's (a professor of Computer Science at Vrije Universiteit) open letter to Intel.
Power

Microsoft Teases Multi-Day Battery Life For Upcoming ARM-Powered Windows Devices (techspot.com) 72

An anonymous reader quotes a report from TechSpot: Microsoft late last year announced a partnership with Qualcomm to bring the full Windows 10 experience to ARM-powered devices. Terry Myerson, Executive Vice President of Microsoft's Windows and Devices Group, promised at the time that Snapdragon-powered Windows 10 devices would be efficient in the power consumption department. We're still waiting for the partnership to bear fruit but in the interim, new details regarding efficiency (and a few other subjects) have emerged. With regard to battery life, Pete Bernard, Principal Group Program Manager for Connectivity Partners at Microsoft, said that to be frank, battery life at this point is beyond their expectations: ""We set a high bar for [our developers], and we're now beyond that. It's the kind of battery life where I use it on a daily basis. I don't take my charger with me. I may charge it every couple of days or so. It's that kind of battery life."
Intel

Former Intel CEO Paul Otellini Dies At 66 (engadget.com) 48

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Engadget: Paul Otellini, Intel's previous CEO, died in his sleep on Monday, the company announced this morning. He was 66. Otellini served as Intel's fifth chief executive from 2005 through 2013, and leaves behind a legacy of the company's dominance in x86 processors. Notably, he also worked with Apple as it moved away from PowerPC chips and adopted Intel's wares. After retiring in 2013, Otellini revealed one major regret during his tenure: not working hard enough to get Intel's chips in the iPhone. Consequently, Intel mostly missed on the smartphone revolution.

Otellini joined Intel in 1974 and served various roles throughout his career, including chief operating officer from 2003 to 2005. He would go on to spend almost 40 years at the company. He was an intriguing choice as CEO, since he was the company's first non-engineer to hold that role.

Mozilla

Donate Your Noise To Xiph/Mozilla's Deep-Learning Noise Suppression Project (xiph.org) 119

Mozilla-backed researchers are working on a real-time noise suppression algorithm using a neural network -- and they want your noise! Long-time Slashdot reader jmv writes: The Mozilla Research RRNoise project combines classic signal processing with deep learning, but it's small and fast. No expensive GPUs required -- it runs easily on a Raspberry Pi. The result is easier to tune and sounds better than traditional noise suppression systems (been there!). And you can help!
From the site: Click on this link to let us record one minute of noise from where you are... We're interested in noise from any environment where you might communicate using voice. That can be your office, your car, on the street, or anywhere you might use your phone or computer.
They claim it already sounds better than traditional noise suppression systems, and even though the code isn't optmized yet, "it already runs about 60x faster than real-time on an x86 CPU."
Hardware

Survey Says: Raspberry Pi Still Rules, But X86 SBCs Have Made Gains (linuxgizmos.com) 82

DeviceGuru writes: Results from LinuxGizmos.com's annual hacker-friendly single board computer survey are in, and not surprisingly, the Raspberry Pi 3 is the most desired maker SBC by a 4-to-1 margin. In other trends: x86 SBCs and Linux/Arduino hybrids have trended upwards. The site's popular hacker SBC survey polled 1,705 survey respondents and asked for their first, second, and third favorite SBCs from a curated list of 98 community oriented, Linux- and Android-capable boards. Spreadsheets comparing all 98 SBCs' specs and listing their survey vote tallies are available in freely downloadable Google Docs.
Other interesting findings:
  • "A Raspberry Pi SBC has won in all four of our annual surveys, but never by such a high margin."
  • The second-highest ranked board -- behind the Raspberry Pi 3 -- was the Raspberry Pi Zero W.
  • "The Raspberry Pi's success came despite the fact that it offers some of the weakest open source hardware support in terms of open specifications. This, however, matches up with our survey responses about buying criteria, which ranks open source software support and community over open hardware support."
  • "Despite the accelerating Raspberry Pi juggernaut, there's still plenty of experimentation going on with new board models, and to a lesser extent, new board projects."

Open Source

Opus 1.2 Released 22

jmv writes: The Opus audio codec, used in WebRTC and now included in all major web browsers, gets another major upgrade with the release of version 1.2. This release brings quality improvements to both speech and music, while remaining fully compatible with RFC 6716. There are also optimizations, new options, as well as many bug fixes. This Opus 1.2 demo describes a few of the upgrades that users and implementers will care about the most. It includes audio samples comparing to previous versions of the codec, as well as speed comparisons for x86 and ARM.
Businesses

Intel: Steer Clear Of Our Patents (axios.com) 87

An anonymous reader writes: Intel posted a long blog post yesterday touting the success and evolution of its 40-year-old x86 microprocessor -- the one that powered the first IBM personal computer in 1978 and still powers the majority of PCs and laptops. But it wasn't just a stroll down memory lane. Intel ended the post with a reminder that it won't tolerate infringement on its portfolio of patents, including those surrounding x86. The company wrote, "Intel invests enormous resources to advance its dynamic x86 ISA, and therefore Intel must protect these investments with a strong patent portfolio and other intellectual property rights. [...] Intel carefully protects its x86 innovations, and we do not widely license others to use them. Over the past 30 years, Intel has vigilantly enforced its intellectual property rights against infringement by third-party microprocessors. [...] Only time will tell if new attempts to emulate Intel's x86 ISA will meet a different fate. Intel welcomes lawful competition, and we are confident that Intel's microprocessors, which have been specifically optimized to implement Intel's x86 ISA for almost four decades, will deliver amazing experiences, consistency across applications, and a full breadth of consumer offerings, full manageability and IT integration for the enterprise. However, we do not welcome unlawful infringement of our patents, and we fully expect other companies to continue to respect Intel's intellectual property rights. Also read: Intel Fires Warning Shot At Qualcomm and Microsoft Over Windows 10 ARM Emulation.
Emulation (Games)

Intel Fires Warning Shot At Qualcomm and Microsoft Over Windows 10 ARM Emulation (hothardware.com) 197

MojoKid quotes a report from HotHardware: Qualcomm and Microsoft are on the verge of ushering in a new class of always-connected mobile devices that run full-blown Windows 10. The two are enabling ARM-based Snapdragon 835 processors to run Windows 10 with full x86 emulation, meaning that devices will be capable of not only running Universal Windows Platform (UWP) apps from the Windows Store, but legacy win32 apps as well. There is little question, Intel is likely none too pleased with it and PC OEM heavyweights Lenovo, Hewlett-Packard and ASUS have also signed-on to deliver Windows 10 notebooks and 2-in-1 convertibles powered by Qualcomm. Until now, Intel sat by quietly while all of this unfolded, but the company today took the opportunity to get a bit passive-aggressive while announcing the fast-approaching 40th anniversary of the world's first x86 microprocessor. The majority of the press release reads like a trip down memory lane. However, Intel shifts into serious mama bear mode, with significant legal posturing, touting its willingness to protect its "x86 innovations." Intel goes on to say that Transmeta tried and ultimately failed in the marketplace, and has been dead and buried for a decade. The company then pivots, almost daring Microsoft and Qualcomm to challenge it by making Windows on ARM devices commercially available. "Only time will tell if new attempts to emulate Intel's x86 ISA will meet a different fate. Intel welcomes lawful competition... However, we do not welcome unlawful infringement of our patents, and we fully expect other companies to continue to respect Intel's intellectual property rights."

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