Intel software-defined silicon to debut with the next version of Linux

(Image credit: Intel)

Intel’s plans for software-defined silicon (SDSi) will begin to fall into place with the next version of the Linux kernel, it has emerged.

The company has remained tight-lipped about the SDSi initiative, whereby customers will pay an additional fee to activate certain features built into their processors. Although Intel has acknowledged the existence of the scheme, it has so far offered no specifics as to which capabilities can be toggled on or off and which CPUs will be compatible.

However, a message sent to the Linux Kernel Mailing List by a Red Hat developer has revealed Intel’s SDSi code will be incorporated into the Linux kernel “before the 5.18 merge window”, which commences at the end of March. The finalized version of Linux 5.18 is expected to land in May.

Intel’s software-defined silicon

Intel’s flirtation with software-defined silicon first became apparent in autumn of 2021, when it emerged the company had made a contribution to the Linux kernel that would allow for dormant CPU features to be activated.

In official statements, the company has characterized the SDSi scheme as an experiment that may ultimately lead to nothing. However, as noted by The Register, it is highly unlikely that Linux maintainers would allow Intel to bloat the kernel for the purposes of an idle experiment.

Although Intel has offered no real indication, the objective may be to cut back on the number of specialized Xeon SKUs, instead offering a smaller range of CPUs that allow customers to turn workload-specific functionality on or off as needed. This would benefit the company from a logistical perspective, in addition to simplifying the product catalogue for IT buyers.

The SDSi system could also feasibly allow customers to activate unused CPU cores when running irregular but particularly compute-intensive workloads, or when a permanent upgrade is required.

Speculators have suggested that Intel’s next generation Xeon server chips, codenamed Sapphire Rapids, will be the first to support SDSi. But even if early indications suggest the plans do not extend beyond Intel’s enterprise and data center offerings, who’s to say SDSi doesn’t have a place in the desktop CPU market too? 

TechRadar Pro has asked Intel for additional information about its work on software-defined silicon.

Via The Register

Joel Khalili
News and Features Editor

Joel Khalili is the News and Features Editor at TechRadar Pro, covering cybersecurity, data privacy, cloud, AI, blockchain, internet infrastructure, 5G, data storage and computing. He's responsible for curating our news content, as well as commissioning and producing features on the technologies that are transforming the way the world does business.