Showing posts from February, 2024

Firefox 123 on POWER

Finally getting back towards something approaching current. Firefox 123 is out, adding platform improvements, off-main-thread canvas and the ability to report problematic sites. Or, I dunno, sites that work just fine but claim they don't, like PG&E, the soulless natural monopolist Abilisks of northern California. No particular reason. The other reported improvement was PGO optimization improvements on Apple silicon Macs and Android. How cute! Meanwhile, our own PGO-LTO patch got simpler and I was able to drop the other changes we needed for Python 3.12 on Fedora 39, which now builds with this smaller PGO-LTO patch and .mozconfigs from Firefox 122. Some of you reported crashes on Fx122 but I haven't observed any with that release or this one built from source. Fingers crossed.

Early Power11 signals in the kernel

A number of people have alerted me to some new activity around Power11 in the Linux kernel, such as this commit and a PVR (processor version register) value of 0x0F000007. It should be pointed out that all this is very preliminary work and is likely related to simulation testing; we don't even know for certain what node size it's going to be. It almost certainly does not mean such a CPU is imminent, nor does this tell us when it is. Previous estimates had said 2024-5, but the smart money says no earlier than next calendar year and probably at the later end of that timeframe.

That said, the reputed pressures around Power10 that caused closed IP to be incorporated are hopefully no longer as acute for Power11, and off-the-books discussions I've had suggest IBM internally acknowledges its strategic mistake. That would be good news for Power11, but it's not exactly clear what this means for Solid Silicon and the S1 because S1's entire value proposition is being Power10 without the crap. While S1 will certainly come out before Power11, we still don't know when, and if there's a short window between S1 and a fully open Power11 then S1 could go like Osborne.

"Short" here will be defined in terms of how much work it takes to adapt the Power11 reference system. IBM understandably always likes to sell its launch systems first and exclusively before the chips and designs trickle down. The Talos II and to a lesser extent the Blackbird are a relatively straightforward rework of Romulus (POWER9's reference), so one would think adapting Power11 would similarly require little adjustment, though Romulus used the ASPEED BMC and any Raptor Power11 would undoubtedly use (Ant)arctic Tern/Solid Silicon's X1. In contrast, there'd be a bit more work to port Rainier (Power10) to S1 since the RAM would be direct-attach instead of OMI and there may be differences to account for with PCIe, plus the BMC change. The last estimate we had for the S1 machines was late 2024; putting this all together and assuming that date is at all accurate, such a system may have a year or two on the market before Power11 exits its IBM-exclusive phase.

That could still be worth it, but all of this could be better answered if we had a little more insight into S1 and its progress, and I've still got my feelers out to talk to the Solid Silicon folks. You'll see it here first when I get a bite.

Firmware 2.10 available for Talos II and Blackbird

Raptor has released firmware updates for Talos II and Blackbird (version 2.10). I'm still between residences but I intend to install this myself on both my machines in the next couple days. The biggest update is that Skiroot makes a big jump to kernel 6.6 which hopefully should solve glitches like Petitboot pooping its pants on XFS volumes with stuck log entries, not that that's ever happened to me twice, and there is a tweak for sporadic crashes on systems with more than 8 cores. Officially this wasn't a supported configuration on the Blackbirds, but there are people who try, and it's definitely appreciated for T2 and T2 Lite. Hostboot, HCODE, Skiboot, Skiroot and Petitboot are also all pulled up to current, InfiniBand drivers are now live in Skiroot (and thus Petitboot), and the Hostboot runtime has been compressed to give you more headroom in the BOOTKERNFW partition.

An intriguing change for the future also in this release is to enable firmware component signature checks during IPL by default. But using what key, you ask? You didn't sign anything! The key is the insecure known key in the official firmware builds, which adds no security currently and doesn't look any different from before, but provides the framework for you signing it later. At that point you'd sign it with your own key and provide that; now everything is already set up, and the process should "just work" with fewer steps. This is a long-running entry I keep intending to write and this is a good excuse to do that in the near future.

ICYMI: Hugo Landau explains how the Broadcom BCM5719 was freed

In case you missed it, Hugo Landau in December appeared at the 37th Chaos Communication Congress (37C3) to talk about how the Broadcom BCM5719 was freed in our favourite OpenPOWER systems. Sure, he's got lots of information on his blog, and you can look at the firmware written to his spec by Evan Lojewski, but there's nothing like hearing him explain the process of how he got it all open (and your jaw dropping to hear that the firmware never checks the signature). It's a good hero story but also reinforces the standard principles of how to make hardware your own, including hardware not particularly amenable to subversion. And Broadcom's a good example of that, by golly. Thanks to Jeremy Rand for the tip.