How Can AMD EPYC "Rome" 7002 Series Be Even Better? Open-Source BIOS / Coreboot
Written by Michael Larabel in AMD on 8 August 2019 at 07:00 AM EDT. 28 Comments
AMD --
By now you've likely seen the fantastic performance out of AMD's new "Rome" 7002 series processors. The performance is phenomenal and generally blowing well past Intel's Xeon Cascade Lake processors. So that's all good and it can get even better outside of performance: I asked AMD about the prospects of Coreboot / open-source BIOS support and got a surprising response.

At an event in Austin last month when AMD was talking up Rome, when they weren't talking about the new server CPU's performance potential they were often mentioning the chip's security. That set the stage for bringing up open-source support and Coreboot support without coming across as just an open-source zealot/nerd question. After all, if their lower-level bits were (again) open-source it would ensure a more auditable boot process and ensuring the integrity of their Platform Security Processor (PSP) and the like, which in this day and age is important and trying to ensure no nefarious back-doors to the system. Companies like Facebook and Google are also genuinely interested in this open-source functionality with their work on the likes of Coreboot and LinuxBoot.


So I asked Forrest Norrod, SVP & GM of the Datacenter and Embedded Solutions Business Group, over the prospects of seeing such open-source support or Coreboot possibilities. Forrest though to my surprise said they are basically working on it. He didn't offer up any detailed explanation of expected deliverables or any timeline, but that they are aware of the situation and working on it.

Let's not forget - years ago they in fact provided the support. Back in 2011 was when they were talking of Coreboot support for all future CPUs (and did support some CPUs with Coreboot for a few years) and for a while were providing open-source AGESA releases but in the Zen era we haven't seen any of that from AMD. When they were under financial hardship, those ways changed.

Forrest pointed out that seemingly one hurdle they are working to overcome is the ability to publish the source code. He was quick to explain AMD has all of the source code and that they aren't bundling any arbitrary binary blobs for their processors/chipsets, but that they needed to obtain the rights to be able to publish some of the code. That appeared to be at least one of the hurdles slowing down such an open-source effort and something faced by other organizations as well when it comes to open-sourcing large and complex code-bases often with various sorts of middle-ware.

So it was a fairly broad response, but it does appear AMD is working on it and aware of their customer's needs. Especially now with EPYC 7002 series picking up more industry wins including from the likes of Google for their cloud, it does increase the chances of seeing more open-source code out of the company given Google's clout and work around LinuxBoot/Coreboot and wanting to ensure maximum security. If I find out anything more on AMD's plans, it will certainly be passed along when the time comes.

Worth pointing out that is somewhat related is that the Zen-based Hygon Dhyana is working on Coreboot enablement and AMD Picasso APU enablement for Coreboot has also been seeing code churn the past number of months. On the Picasso consumer front that is being driven by Google's requirements around Chromebook hardware. But aside from that, as it stands today, the AMD Coreboot support is mostly limited to generations-old hardware; years later Opteron boards are still popular with the pure free software crowd and even as recently as this year Opteron motherboards are getting blessed by the Free Software Foundation due to being open-source at the lowest levels.

Also, let's not forget Intel is also working to open-source their FSP code. That was a story Phoronix first reported last December. The last I heard from Raja when up in the mountains of Washington for OSTS 2019 was that it was still being worked on and hopefully we would hear more later in the year. So the outlook is good for returning to days of seeing better Coreboot support for modern (and powerful) server hardware platforms besides POWER9/Raptor though in the case of Intel could still be muddled by their Management Engine (ME) and other bits.

Times are certainly interesting moving forward and it's never been so competitive in the server space / data center.
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Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 10,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter or contacted via MichaelLarabel.com.

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