Upcoming McAfee Service To Leverage Older Chip Features

It's been nearly a year since Intel announced it would buy security firm McAfee, and the CPU giant has finally shed some light on what it intends to do with its new acquisition.

Initially, there was widespread speculation that Intel might begin baking additional security features into its processors while using McAfee's software to hook into and market the new capabilities. For now, at least, the CPU manufacturer has no such plans. In a recent interview with Reuters, Renee James, head of Intel's software division, stated that the company's upcoming security platform would offer additional capabilities on chips up to five years old.

"It will allow you to subscribe to an enhanced product that's available to those machines. You'll have great security from McAfee in software only, and if you have an Intel core laptop or ultrabook it's going to be even more secure," she said.

James went on to stress that the security features in question had existed for quite some time. "We are taking advantage of existing features in silicon to build new software products that are more robust. We are not embedding the software in the silicon and I want to be clear about that."

vPro may not be the whole of the capabilities Intel has mentioned, but we're betting they're a majority

The "up to five years old" detail is significant. McAfee was seemingly the only consumer-level antimalware developer that sunk time and effort into supporting hardware virtualization options prior to the acquisition, while Intel introduced hardware virtualization support in late 2005. Intel's Vanderpool Technology is likely what James is talking about.

As it happens, AMD and Intel took two very different approaches to the question of x86 hardware virtualization support. When AMD launched its AMD-V technology, it baked virtualization support into all subsequent Opteron and Athlon 64 processors. Certain features, like IOMMU, required Opteron chipsets, but CPU-level hardware virtualization support quickly equalized across the company's products and eventually extended into certain 45nm Sempron parts.

Intel, in contrast, historically treated hardware virtualization as a prize dolled out only to higher-tier customers. Atom support is hit-or-miss (mostly miss), while many of the company's most popular Core 2 Duo CPUs lack the option. The Core 2 Duo Mobile family is divided as well, as most of the T5XXX products don't support Intel VT (the 5600 is an exception).

Anyone with a Nehalem-based desktop or later mobile system is in the clear, but there are still millions of systems in use that won't be able to take advantage of whatever additional security features Intel bakes into the next McAfee product. Anyone curious as to whether their Intel CPU supports VT or not can check Intel's Ark for information.