AMD Gets ARMed for SecurityJuly 2, 2012
Author: Kevin Krewell
AMD has taken a license from ARM, although not for the purpose of making ARM-based PCs or servers: it aims to secure its x86 processors. AMD will license ARM’s Cortex-A5 core to control a dedicated security coprocessor called the Platform Security Processor (PSP). This security coprocessor will include a number of dedicated and isolated resources, such as on-chip SRAM and ROM, chip-unique cryptographic keys, and a number of cryptographic acceleration engines with support for multiple cryptographic algorithms, all in addition to the Cortex-A5. AMD will include the PSP in an unnamed PC processor in 2013. The chip company could have built its own technology based on an x86 core, but instead chose the already established ARM solution running on a small and power-efficient Cortex-A5.
The PSP’s Cortex-A5 must use a paging mechanism to extend its 32-bit address space to support the x86’s larger 64-bit address space. Because Cortex-A5 incorporates ARM’s TrustZone technology, the PSP could run its own secure OS and create an isolated trusted-execution environment. The trusted-execution environment in the PSP will accelerate secure computing for digital content, sensitive data, e-commerce, and trusted-client-based cloud interactions.
In addition to licensing IP, the two companies joined with three other silicon and IP vendors to form the Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA) Foundation to promote programming standards for parallel computing using GPUs. The other partners are Imagination Technologies, MediaTek, and Texas Instruments. Notably missing were Intel and Nvidia, which is not a surprise considering both those companies have competing heterogeneous strategies. Also missing were other vendors with their own GPU designs such as Broadcom, DMP, Qualcomm, and Vivante. The HSA Foundation plans to add software and system-manufacturer members in the future.
The Foundation intends to deliver a roadmap to enable compliant platforms. A key hardware feature of a compliant platform is a unified coherent-memory architecture shared between the CPU and GPU. The industry is still a few years away from hardware that supports CPU-GPU coherence, but in the meantime, the foundation will work on developing standards for a low-level intermediate language for parallel processing. Since ARM and Imagination Technologies are working together on standards, most mobile platforms can be covered, but the absence of Intel and Qualcomm will create major gaps.