How AMD hopes to turn things around - by adding DRM directly to the CPU

Summary:It's no secret that AMD has hit turbulent times. In a price war against Intel which is ten times larger, AMD has come off the worse for wear. But how does AMD plan to turn things around? Well, it seems that one idea they have is to add DRM directly to the CPU and limit what users have access to.

It's no secret that AMD has hit turbulent times.  In a price war against Intel which is ten times larger, AMD has come off the worse for wear.  But how does AMD plan to turn things around?  Well, it seems that one idea they have is to add DRM directly to the CPU and limit what users have access to.

This DRM will control what users have access to.  In short, it will block unauthorized access to the frame buffer.  This means that unauthorized users (that's you, the people who will be buying these chips) won't be able to save the contents of the display to a file unless the content owner (companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Sony Pictures and so on) gives you permission.  And given the enthusiasm that most of these companies have embraced DRM with as of late, what are the chances that they are going to give you permission to do that?

The grail for content providers is the ability to have a totally secure pathway for media from start (their servers, DVD discs, HD-DVD, Blu-ray and so on) to finish (the end point, namely your PC).  Software mechanisms are proving to be unreliable so why not take a different tact and have the DRM built directly into the CPU.  These mechanisms will be harder to bypass than software restrictions and will also apply to all operating systems, not just the latest releases.

Also, don't be mistaken in thinking that this kind of DRM will apply only to video.  Audio, games and even documents could be protected using this mechanism.  It's also being touted as a way for companies to make it harder for data to leak outside the organization. (Although I don't by this, since what's valuable in most companies are the ideas and future plans, which is low bandwidth information that's easily passed on in a phone conversation. Also, companies aren't all that happy applying DRM locks to their information because it can lead to a situation where they are locked out of their own data.).

Now I know that readers of tech sites like ZDNet will be unwilling to pay for CPUs that limit their ability to do what they want, but the problem is that the tech-savvy are a small minority and the decisions made by the tech-illiterate (if you can call them decisions) will eventual destroy the choices for us all.  There are only two major CPU manufacturers to choose from.  There is no "open source" CPU that we can turn to when our hands have been tied.

With each generation of PC it's clear the title of "owner" is shifting from the person who handed over the cash for it to the companies who want to deliver content to it.  And DRM is only part of the problem.  You also have the hackers and all those craplets to contend with.  Might be easier to go back to scratching messages in the dirt with sticks.

Who's computer is it anyway?  I think the time for a real debate on this is long overdue.

Topics: Processors

About

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is an internationally published technology author who has devoted over a decade to helping users get the most from technology -- whether that be by learning to program, building a PC from a pile of parts, or helping them get the most from their new MP3 player or digital camera.Adrian has authored/co-authored technic... Full Bio

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