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Background

There are numerous problems with the Intel Management Engine and the AMD Platform Security Processor or similar always-on master key "backdoors". Both practical, and (most importantly) ideological.

According to my extensive research Wikipedia, all Intel CPUs since 2008 and all AMD CPUs since 2013 have this embedded. Fortunately I don't often upgrade my computer and to my knowledge, my current Intel Core2 Q9400 CPU is not affected. I use Linux exclusively, and use it for electronics CAD and embedded software development.

However, my CPU is starting to feel a bit sluggish, especially when building larger projects from source, and I'm now looking for a replacement. Problem is, it's not easy to find, or maybe I just don't know what to look for?

In short: I'm looking for a CPU to use in my home desktop machine, to run Linux and software development. This means that it's OK if if has a lot of cores because my workload is easy to parallelize.

Requirements

  • Faster than an Intel Core2 Q9400 by at least a factor of two
  • Consumer or "Prosumer" grade ATX-like motherboards available with at least 6 SATA channels and a PCI-e x16 slot
  • Does not have to be available to buy in a store anymore! I'm almost counting on having to suffice with an older model.

Bonus

  • x86-64 architecture. This is not strictly necessary, although it would make my life a lot easier.
  • Support for ECC memory
  • Hardware AES acceleration
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    To clarify on "since 2008" and "since 2013": Nehalem and Jaguar. – JMY1000 Dec 15 '17 at 9:19
  • FYI: I read there is a bios update coming to allow users to disable PSP on AMD. Don't know when its coming out. – cybernard Dec 16 '17 at 2:54
  • @cybernard I've heard that as well, but I'm not sure if I am willing to trust that to work reliably, or if I want to support them with my money! But at least it's a backup plan. – pipe Dec 18 '17 at 20:10
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    @pipe I don't know what real choice you have. This was not discovered for decades on Intel, and AMD released it for a PR advantage. However, how do we really know that all CPU don't have hidden access, security through obscurity, that just hasn't been found yet. Firewall the equipment and move on. – cybernard Dec 18 '17 at 23:15
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For maximum performance: 2x AMD 16-core Opteron 6300-series "Abu Dhabi" CPUs in an eATX board. Work down from this point according to your price point.

AMD started shipping CPUs with the TMP starting with Jaguar. AMD added support for hardware AES with Bulldozer. Because we need ECC support, we want to look at AMD's server CPUs. This gives us the following architectures on the following platforms:

  • Opteron 3200-series "Zurich" (32 nm) and Opteron 3300-series "Delhi" (32 nm) on Socket AM3+
    • 4x2.4 GHz to 8x3.6 GHz
  • Opteron 4200-series "Valencia" (32 nm) and Opteron 4300-series "Seoul" (32 nm) on Socket C32
    • 4x2.2 GHz to 8x3.4 GHz
  • Opteron 6200-series "Interlagos" (32 nm) and Opteron 6300-series "Abu Dhabi" (32 nm) on Socket G34
    • 4x3.3 GHz to 16x2.8 GHz

A 32-core monster (if you really want to stay in ATX and not a weird form factor) at this second would cost you about $200 for the motherboard and $200 for the CPUs. However, because this is used server gear from several years ago (see: performance to power consumption ratio is not good), there's a good chance you can find something for a very low price, if you're willing to deal with the normal headaches of server-grade gear. Take this HP Proliant DL385 G7 with 2x Opteron 6174 2.2ghz 12 cores, 24GB RAM, and 2x146GB SAS drives for $300, for example. If you can find something on Craigslist, prices are likely to be even better.

As for performance? Why bother with 2x the performance when you could have over 4x?

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    Just setting up my "new" Super Micro H8SGL motherboard with a 16-core Opteron 6386 SE and 128 GB of ECC RAM. I must say, a perfect replacement! – pipe Jun 8 at 18:52
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A POWER9-based computer

If having an x86-64 architecture is really optional instead of a requirement, there are now desktop motherboards designed around the POWER9 CPU by IBM. I have no affiliation with this company and no experience with the platform but here is an example of a µATX-based motherboard with a single 8-core (32 thread) CPU and consumer-grade expansions like SATA and PCIe.

The only thing not on the checklist is that it lacks two out of six SATA ports - there are only four. Otherwise there's ECC RAM, AES acceleration, etc.

Performance

The POWER9 CPU is used by the two fastest super computers in the world as of november 2018 so it's definitely a powerhorse comparable to the fastest server offerings by Intel and AMD.

Compiler optimizations for the POWER9 is not yet on the same level as the "ultra-tweaked" x86-64 clang/gcc, and certain number-crunching applications currently hand optimized for the x86-64 SSE may still not be as fast but it seems that IBM has people working on this.

Software/OS support

As far as I know this is not an option if you want to run Windows, but Linux and FreeBSD supports it, and my OS of choice Debian supports it.

I'm not sure how things like Wine, QEMU or VirtualBox works when trying to run x86 binaries. It is possible that you can get sufficient performance on certain applications with a good JIT-based translator but I have not read anything about it.

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