Industry stub

HW News - Intel Snags Key NVIDIA Engineer, ASUS Distributes Malware to 1 Million Users

Posted on March 31, 2019

Industry news isn't always as appealing as product news for some of our audience, but this week of industry news is interesting: For one, Tom Petersen, Distinguished Engineer at NVIDIA, will be moving to Intel; for two, ASUS accidentally infected its users with malware after previously being called-out for poor security practices. Show notes for the news below the video embed, for those who prefer written format.

NVIDIA Loses Key Engineer to Intel

This is primarily discussed in the video, but the short of it is this: GN received word from contacts in Intel and NVIDIA that Distinguished Engineer Tom Petersen will be moving to Intel going forward. Petersen follows Raja Koduri, former head of AMD’s Radeon group, Chris Hook, former marketing at AMD, and several former members of the technical media, including Ryan Shrout and Kyle Bennett.

For those who don’t follow industry people, this is a move you should care about. Tom Petersen has been an advocate of consumer, partner, and media interests at NVIDIA, and has been a primary conduit for concerns and questions about GPU features. Petersen was largely responsible for building APIs for overclocking, built or drove the building of software testing utilities (FCAT, FCAT VR), worked on GPU boost and frequency behavior, and has also been a critical point-of-contact for partners and media alike. Petersen’s departure from NVIDIA has two angles to it: On one side, this is exciting, as we now believe Intel has more of a fighting chance to really build something competitive, and NVIDIA desperately needs competition to keep its behaviors in check; on the other side, NVIDIA loses one of its critical team members who kept it grounded with reality and consumers. We are uncertain of how this will affect NVIDIA, but it will most certainly be positive for Intel.

Told You So: ASUS Distributes Malware

According to Kaspersky Lab, ASUS’ Live Update Utility was hijacked and used to spread malware, known as “ShadowHammer.” ShadowHammer is a malicious backdoor that masquerades as a “critical” security update, estimated to have affected over 1 million users.

The threat was detected in January 2019, and is estimated to have taken place between June and November of 2018. Making the attack so tricky to detect was the fact that the trojanized utility used authentic certificates (“ASUSTeK Computer Inc.”) and was hosted on ASUS servers dedicated to updates.

ASUS has since issued a press release, a legitimate security update, and a diagnostic tool users can use to see if they’ve been affected. Not issued was an apology, or an indication that ASUS is taking the matter overly serious, as the press release attempts to water down the findings of the security firm who discovered the attack.

According to Kaspersky, ShadowHammer may be the largest supply chain attack ever discovered, rivaling the Shadowpad and CCleaner attacks.    


Intel 9th Gen Processors Transition To New Stepping

Both ASUS and Gigabyte have readied BIOS updates for their respective 300-series boards, that reportedly prep the platforms for new 9th gen processors with new a stepping.

Intel's current 9th generation chips use a P0 stepping ID, but will soon transition to a R0 stepping ID. According to ASUS, the newer chips using the R0 stepping ID will be coming in the second quarter. Thus far, there’s no indication as to what the new stepping will bring.

Intel uses revised steppings to correct “errata,” and also to augment properties like clock speeds and TDP. Typically, Intel will issue a “Specification Update” detailing changes like this. So, we’re sure to know more once the processors are properly released into the wild.  


Samsung Tempers Earning Expectations Amidst Memory Price Decline

In what has been an unprecedented move for Samsung, the company recently released a statement -- or warning, rather -- that its first quarter earnings expectations are anticipated to miss the mark.

“The company expects the scope of price declines in main memory chip products to be larger than expected,” Samsung said. As we noted in our last episode, memory prices are currently in a “freefall,” with prices expected to hit lows not seen since 2011.

Also affecting Samsung’s earnings are the sluggish demand for display panels, which represents another sizeable chunk of Samsung's business. Prices for both memory and display panels, specifically OLED, are expected to rebound in the second half of the year.  

As noted by Samsung officials, it has never before offered a statement before earnings reports. However, after having to revise their earnings guidance for 4Q18, and again for the first quarter of 2019 due to memory prices, Samsung has evidently decided it was time to break their code of silence.    


PCIe SSDs Approaching Market Share Parity With SATA

According to the clairvoyants over at Digitimes, PCIe SSDs are becoming more ubiquitous, poised to surge to a 50% market share in 2019 and achieve market share parity with 2.5” SATA drives.

The looming NAND oversupply and steep reduction in memory prices have led to 512GB PCIe SSD prices falling off by 11% in the first quarter of 2019, and 256GB options have seen similar price drops. Throughout the year, 1TB models are expected to come down as well, further narrowing the long established price disparity between SATA and PCIe protocols.     


Intel Obtains Court Order In Lawsuit Against Former Engineer

Intel and Micron parted ways on their joint venture to develop non-volatile memory, with each company agreeing to pursue their own non-volatile memory interests independently -- Intel with Optane and 3D Xpoint, and Micron with QuantX.

The divorce got messy so to speak, as a former Intel engineer, Doyle Rivers, jumped ship to Micron, allegedly with Intel IP and trade secrets in tow. Intel subsequently filed a lawsuit against Rivers, and Rivers, Micron and Intel have been locked in a legal skirmish ever since.

Most recently, Intel was awarded a court order that states Rivers “shall not possess, use or disclose any confidential, proprietary, or trade secret Intel documents related to 3D XPoint or Intel’s Optane™ branded products, including about personnel working on those products, that he acquired while working for Intel and that contain information Intel has not disclosed outside of Intel except under a nondisclosure agreement protecting its confidentiality.”

Additionally, the court order gives Rivers three days to return any data that may be in his possession, pursuant to the court order and Intel’s lawsuit. According to his attorney, the embattled Rivers has nothing to return or hide.

"Mr. Rivers doesn't have anything to return," Daniel Sakaguchi, an attorney defending Rivers, said. "We continue to take the position that Intel's claims are greatly exaggerated."

Intel alleges Rivers left the company with sensitive files on a USB drive; Rivers refutes those allegations, stating the files are of personal and sentimental value to him, and in no way constitute IP or trade secret theft. The Register has a thorough breakdown of the events so far, should you want to learn more.


DNA Sequence Successfully Used As A Storage Medium

Apparently, DNA makes for a pretty good memory substrate. Sponsored by DARPA and Microsoft, scientists Christopher N. Takahashi, Bichlien H. Nguyen, Karin Strauss, and Luis Ceze with the University of Washington, demonstrated proof of concept of DNA as a storage medium.

“Our device encodes data into a DNA sequence, which is then written to a DNA oligonucleotide using a custom DNA synthesizer, pooled for liquid storage, and read using a nanopore sequencer and a novel, minimal preparation protocol. We demonstrate an automated 5-byte write, store, and read cycle with a modular design enabling expansion as new technology becomes available.”

Using this system, a 5-byte message (HELLO) was successfully written, stored, and read without data loss over a period of 21 hours.

Scientists have long touted the potential for DNA as a storage medium and its potential over silicon and magnetic tape. Scientists, and companies like Intel, Micron, and Microsoft are all invested in DNA storage. Most of the world’s archival data is stored on magnetic tape, but there’s hope that someday, in the not so distant future, DNA will become the de facto archival storage technology.   


Editorial: Eric Hamilton, TAP section by Steve Burke
Video: Josh Svoboda, Andrew Coleman
Host: Steve Burke