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A Guide on Your Options for non-x86 Computers (2017)

Posted: Sun Feb 26, 2017 4:08 pm
by Raion-Fox
So it has come into my own personal interest that it may be good to have a guide for people wanting to leave behind x86-based computers. This is prompted because of the Intel Management Engine and the Platform Secure Processor. There's more info on the Management Engine and the Platform Security Processor

Don't bother trying to rationalize why these have come about - they do have limited legitimate uses in the system administration realm as a partial replacement for IPMI, DRAC etc. but the more obvious use is the NSA's ability to access anyone's computer remotely. There's a partial fix in the form of me_cleaner for Intel CPUs up to Broadwell IIRC, but it doesn't fully remove the risks.

So, we'll go down by architecture and list the pros/cons of what you can do:

ARM

Options: Many. There's Chromebooks, evaluation boards like the rpi, some small integrated desktops, even there's some server solutions available.

Pros: Well supported under Linux, NetBSD, Chromium OS and Android. No known exploits on the scale of ME/PSP. Power efficient, low TDPs. Inexpensive designs available.

Cons: Proprietary architecture, low cost/performance ratio, little to no expandability, no competition with x86 for performance at the high end.

Performance rank: 6 - Low performance - not recommended if performance is a thing for you.

Itanium

Options: HP, SGI, NEC are the three biggest ones. Mostly servers.

Pros: Supported under Windows, Linux, VMS. No ME/PSP. Expandable (some servers have PCIe and can run video cards!)

Cons: Expensive, low cost/performance ratio (better than MIPS/ARM though.) outperformed by x86 and POWER, dead end architecture.

Performance rank: 3 - Moderate performance - better than many alternatives

MIPS

Options: SGI and a few evaluation boards as well as the elusive Loongson Systems.

Pros: SGIs are cool as hell (this is an SGI fan website after all!) Somewhat well supported under Linux, OpenBSD and NetBSD, IRIX is available of course. No ME/PSP shit.

Cons: High cost, low performance, almost entirely vintage hardware, IRIX has poor support for web browsers (due to JS), proprietary architecture, low cost/performance ratio, no modern expandabilty, no competition with x86 (better for SGIs compared to ARM, though!)

Performance rank: 5 - Better, but not great.

PA-RISC

Options: HP

Pros: HP-UX, Linux, NetBSD and OpenBSD support. No ME/PSP

Cons: Dead end architecture, all vintage hardware, later systems lack proper support, no expandability for modern systems. Poor cost/performance ratio.

Performance rank: 4 - Marginally better than MIPS

POWER

Options: IBM, Apple, Tyan, other OPENPOWER manufacturers. Apple stuck at G4/G5 designs - ancient. IBM sells servers, both deskside and rackmount. Tyan and other OPENPOWER sell boards/servers.

Pros: Excellent performance in POWER7 and up. Linux and FreeBSD support, AIX Bi-endian in POWER8 and 8+. Higher end machines outclass x86 by far. Modern chipsets.

Cons: Most costly options here. $1500+ for entry level. No OS X, Windows or other BSDs. Big Endian only in POWER7 means older machines will be obsoleted soon.

Performance rank: 1 - Very recommended

SPARC

Options: Sun, ORACLE, Fujitsu. Some workstations from 7-10 years ago. Modern servers available.

Pros: Solaris, Linux, BSDs all well supported. Inexpensive for okay performance. No ME/PSP.

Cons: ORACLE ruined it. Fujitsu keeps trucking on. Moderate cost/performance. Obviously lags behind x86.

Performance rank: 2 - Decent choice, if you get a recent CPU (I.E. A SPARC64 VII or later)


Conclusions

If you're super concerned, I have these recommendations:

Get an Intel machine that me_cleaner works on and either find someone who has the necessary hardware or someone who can do that for you is a good stopgap. me_cleaner does not completely remove the risk

If you have money to burn, buy a POWER8 server or motherboard that can work in a desktop case.

If you need a somewhat cheaper option, look for a Fujitsu SPARC64 VII or later - VIII at least I recommend if you want decent performance. Do be advised SPARC is generally slower than x86 for general purpose, but it isn't terrible.

Itanium is the low-end option. Don't expect miracles but they're actually decent!

ARM and MIPS are both good low end options.

PA-RISC I don't recommend unless you have a specific application you need from HP-UX.

Re: A Guide on Your Options for non-x86 Computers (2017

Posted: Sun Feb 26, 2017 5:32 pm
by Dodoid
Good write-up! I have been following the Raptor Talos project for a while, but they don't seem to have enough support to deliver a product and it's probably too expensive for myself anyway.

Re: A Guide on Your Options for non-x86 Computers (2017

Posted: Sun Feb 26, 2017 5:33 pm
by commodorejohn
I'm idly curious about the Fujitsu SPARC stuff - I know they've kept rolling with it, but I have no idea in what form it's available.

Anyway, my big problem with this is that nobody seems to make a decent non-x86 laptop that's not either a cheapass unusably tiny Android netbook or a wannabe-Apple Chromebook (dammit, enough of these trackpads with no fucking buttons already! And give me a proper goddamn keyboard, not this chiclet garbage!)

Re: A Guide on Your Options for non-x86 Computers (2017

Posted: Sun Feb 26, 2017 5:55 pm
by Raion-Fox
commodorejohn wrote:I'm idly curious about the Fujitsu SPARC stuff - I know they've kept rolling with it, but I have no idea in what form it's available.


Quick searches on eBay for used hardware has solutions from around $300 all the way to $1600 for decently spec'd systems, and up.

They're servers, but I mean you can install Linux or BSD on them and put an AMD card in them and it should in theory work barring any endianness issues with the AMD card drivers.

Re: A Guide on Your Options for non-x86 Computers (2017

Posted: Mon Feb 27, 2017 4:17 pm
by jpstewart
Raion-Fox wrote:There's more info on the Management Engine and the Platform Security Processor

Thanks for those links. That was some very interesting reading. (The rest of your post was appreciated, too.)

Re: A Guide on Your Options for non-x86 Computers (2017

Posted: Mon Feb 27, 2017 5:19 pm
by Krokodil
What about Alpha?

Runs Tru64, OpenBSD, NetBSD, VMS 7.x-8.4, Debian, Meditech Magic, (whatever that is).

Re: A Guide on Your Options for non-x86 Computers (2017

Posted: Mon Feb 27, 2017 5:28 pm
by Raion-Fox
Krokodil wrote:What about Alpha?

Runs Tru64, OpenBSD, NetBSD, VMS 7.x-8.4, Debian, Meditech Magic, (whatever that is).


Dead end since Compaq killed it off in the early 2000's - the BSDs have been steadily dropping it and performance-wise PA-RISC and Itanium at their highest end both kill it off.

And no, the latest Sunway system is NOT Alpha based. According to a friend of mine, at least.

Re: A Guide on Your Options for non-x86 Computers (2017

Posted: Tue Feb 28, 2017 1:22 pm
by praetor242
I co-administrate a IBM POWER-7 system with a buddy of mine. It's got 419 gigs of ram and 32 processors. So far we have not been able to get this system to burp, and one of our users is running a fairly complex text parsing application on it. They are super sweet. But....if you want Docker or LXC support, you need a little-endian POWER-8 machine. Docker doesn't run on big-endian systems sadly :(

Re: A Guide on Your Options for non-x86 Computers (2017)

Posted: Fri Mar 03, 2017 12:12 pm
by uunix
Interesting read Mr Fox, and something I wonder about a lot of the day.

But my question, and the basis of the question is that I own a Power5 9111 285 (only 1 CPU and 1GB Memory), is, you mention that below Power 7/8 the earlier models will become obsolete?

Is it an OS support you are talking here? App support? I'm currently running AIX 7.1 and I have spent no money on it all, but would think it would be my best bet to break free if I chose.

Re: A Guide on Your Options for non-x86 Computers (2017)

Posted: Fri Mar 03, 2017 12:55 pm
by Y888099
Raion-Fox wrote:MIPS


The MIPS Creator Ci20 development board is now available for only 65 USD.
It comes with MIPS32-based Ingenic JZ4780 SoC, the cpu is clocked @ 1.2GHz
with SIMD, IEEE754 Floating Point Unit, XBurst and very fast ram!

Interesting machine!


Raion-Fox wrote:Performance rank: 4 - Marginally better than MIPS


Bah. I am satisfied. It's better than MIPS, a lot!



p.s.
my problem is: which architecture is supported by ADA ?

Code: Select all


  arch       | gNAT support?               
============================
  amd64      | yes   
  arm        | yes 
  x86        | yes
  powerpc    | no
  power64    | no
  power64le  | no
  hppa       | no
  sparc      | no
  mips       | no
  mipsle     | no 

Re: A Guide on Your Options for non-x86 Computers (2017)

Posted: Fri Mar 03, 2017 1:03 pm
by commodorejohn
Has anybody played around with those MIPS Creator boards? I'm kind of curious about them, but I've already got a couple other SBCs hanging around waiting for me to actually put them to use.

Re: A Guide on Your Options for non-x86 Computers (2017)

Posted: Fri Mar 03, 2017 3:47 pm
by Raion-Fox
They're not worth your time. Qualcomm's ARM offerings outwin them in speed and driver support.

Re: A Guide on Your Options for non-x86 Computers (2017)

Posted: Fri Mar 03, 2017 5:56 pm
by commodorejohn
That's kinda what I suspected. Really though I should just get my Orange Pi setup rolling, only there's a lot of BS involved in getting it to work with monitors that are *gasp* *shock* not 1080p.

Re: A Guide on Your Options for non-x86 Computers (2017)

Posted: Sat Mar 04, 2017 8:41 am
by jsloan
This page, which was recently on the HN frontpage:

https://decentralize.today/uncorrectabl ... .b5ilejf73

has a similar, but different, rundown of alternative (non-x86) platforms and their various pros and cons. Thought it was an interesting addition to the OPs own rundown ...

Re: A Guide on Your Options for non-x86 Computers (2017)

Posted: Sat Mar 04, 2017 1:19 pm
by ClassicHasClass
That appears to have been either written for or cribbed off the Talos updates when the crowd-source campaign was running.

I still want a Talos.