[personal profile] mjg59
Update: Patches to fix this have been posted

There's a story going round that Lenovo have signed an agreement with Microsoft that prevents installing free operating systems. This is sensationalist, untrue and distracts from a genuine problem.

The background is straightforward. Intel platforms allow the storage to be configured in two different ways - "standard" (normal AHCI on SATA systems, normal NVMe on NVMe systems) or "RAID". "RAID" mode is typically just changing the PCI IDs so that the normal drivers won't bind, ensuring that drivers that support the software RAID mode are used. Intel have not submitted any patches to Linux to support the "RAID" mode.

In this specific case, Lenovo's firmware defaults to "RAID" mode and doesn't allow you to change that. Since Linux has no support for the hardware when configured this way, you can't install Linux (distribution installers will boot, but won't find any storage device to install the OS to).

Why would Lenovo do this? I don't know for sure, but it's potentially related to something I've written about before - recent Intel hardware needs special setup for good power management. The storage driver that Microsoft ship doesn't do that setup. The Intel-provided driver does. "RAID" mode prevents the Microsoft driver from binding and forces the user to use the Intel driver, which means they get the correct power management configuration, battery life is better and the machine doesn't melt.

(Why not offer the option to disable it? A user who does would end up with a machine that doesn't boot, and if they managed to figure that out they'd have worse power management. That increases support costs. For a consumer device, why would you want to? The number of people buying these laptops to run anything other than Windows is miniscule)

Things are somewhat obfuscated due to a statement from a Lenovo rep:This system has a Signature Edition of Windows 10 Home installed. It is locked per our agreement with Microsoft. It's unclear what this is meant to mean. Microsoft could be insisting that Signature Edition systems ship in "RAID" mode in order to ensure that users get a good power management experience. Or it could be a misunderstanding regarding UEFI Secure Boot - Microsoft do require that Secure Boot be enabled on all Windows 10 systems, but (a) the user must be able to manage the key database and (b) there are several free operating systems that support UEFI Secure Boot and have appropriate signatures. Neither interpretation indicates that there's a deliberate attempt to prevent users from installing their choice of operating system.

The real problem here is that Intel do very little to ensure that free operating systems work well on their consumer hardware - we still have no information from Intel on how to configure systems to ensure good power management, we have no support for storage devices in "RAID" mode and we have no indication that this is going to get better in future. If Intel had provided that support, this issue would never have occurred. Rather than be angry at Lenovo, let's put pressure on Intel to provide support for their hardware.

Date: 2016-09-26 05:55 am (UTC)
marahmarie: my initials (MM) (Default)
From: [personal profile] marahmarie
If you're talking about my eMachines when you say, "You get to tweak the settings provided. [...] That is not to say that they may not have been a bit zealous on the locking down", "zealous" does not begin to describe it. You simply couldn't overclock it, period. Even the most advanced overclockers were forced to admit it. The machine was reliable enough (I ran it for 11 years, another person for two years before me; it would still run now if soldering bad capacitors was my thing, and it was a gift so I didn't get to choose how modifiable it was) if rather low-end, and it shipped underclocked for what it was actually capable of.

Expecting a manufacturer who are in the market of producing reasonably priced consumer units to allow everything to be tweaked is rather naive.

So only those who sink big money into more user-modifiable rigs or build-your-own Frankensteins should get to tinker more fully with them? This seems to fly counter to logic, as it seems you'd want the ability to destroy cheap crap to know how to do it right by the time you're working on better machines.

It seems to me if you're knowledgeable enough to mess with the clearly obscure settings discussed within the parameters of this post then it's on you if things go wrong, and that anyone knowledgeable enough to mess with such settings should accept that responsibility to begin with. I don't like all this "holding back what you can do for your own good" stuff, sorry.

If manufacturers were so worried about people bricking computers and the odd lawsuit or two (thousand) then why don't they print manuals and instructions and hold "hacking your own BIOS" classes on the regular and charge for them, too, after they make people sign away their rights forever, a la Windows 10 Insider Preview software? No one but the most devoted hackers would sign up, they could run the classes marathon style and everyone involved just might have a blast.

If they can't or won't take such steps to help the hands-on set then something's wrong because it's not like they're guarding state secrets inside those motherboards and CPUs (well, Intel might be, with their nifty little assortment of NSA-friendly backdoored silicon, but that's another story).
Edited (clarity) Date: 2016-09-26 06:00 am (UTC)


Matthew Garrett

About Matthew

Power management, mobile and firmware developer on Linux. Security developer at Google. Ex-biologist. @mjg59 on Twitter. Content here should not be interpreted as the opinion of my employer.

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