x86 (PC) System emulator

Peripherals

The QEMU PC System emulator simulates the following peripherals:

  • i440FX host PCI bridge and PIIX3 PCI to ISA bridge
  • Cirrus CLGD 5446 PCI VGA card or dummy VGA card with Bochs VESA extensions (hardware level, including all non standard modes).
  • PS/2 mouse and keyboard
  • 2 PCI IDE interfaces with hard disk and CD-ROM support
  • Floppy disk
  • PCI and ISA network adapters
  • Serial ports
  • IPMI BMC, either and internal or external one
  • Creative SoundBlaster 16 sound card
  • ENSONIQ AudioPCI ES1370 sound card
  • Intel 82801AA AC97 Audio compatible sound card
  • Intel HD Audio Controller and HDA codec
  • Adlib (OPL2) - Yamaha YM3812 compatible chip
  • Gravis Ultrasound GF1 sound card
  • CS4231A compatible sound card
  • PC speaker
  • PCI UHCI, OHCI, EHCI or XHCI USB controller and a virtual USB-1.1 hub.

SMP is supported with up to 255 CPUs.

QEMU uses the PC BIOS from the Seabios project and the Plex86/Bochs LGPL VGA BIOS.

QEMU uses YM3812 emulation by Tatsuyuki Satoh.

QEMU uses GUS emulation (GUSEMU32 http://www.deinmeister.de/gusemu/) by Tibor “TS” Schütz.

Note that, by default, GUS shares IRQ(7) with parallel ports and so QEMU must be told to not have parallel ports to have working GUS.

qemu_system-x86_64 dos.img -device gus -parallel none

Alternatively:

qemu_system-x86_64 dos.img -device gus,irq=5

Or some other unclaimed IRQ.

CS4231A is the chip used in Windows Sound System and GUSMAX products

The PC speaker audio device can be configured using the pcspk-audiodev machine property, i.e.

qemu_system-x86_64 some.img -audiodev <backend>,id=<name> -machine pcspk-audiodev=<name>

Recommendations for KVM CPU model configuration on x86 hosts

The information that follows provides recommendations for configuring CPU models on x86 hosts. The goals are to maximise performance, while protecting guest OS against various CPU hardware flaws, and optionally enabling live migration between hosts with heterogeneous CPU models.

Two ways to configure CPU models with QEMU / KVM

  1. Host passthrough

    This passes the host CPU model features, model, stepping, exactly to the guest. Note that KVM may filter out some host CPU model features if they cannot be supported with virtualization. Live migration is unsafe when this mode is used as libvirt / QEMU cannot guarantee a stable CPU is exposed to the guest across hosts. This is the recommended CPU to use, provided live migration is not required.

  2. Named model

    QEMU comes with a number of predefined named CPU models, that typically refer to specific generations of hardware released by Intel and AMD. These allow the guest VMs to have a degree of isolation from the host CPU, allowing greater flexibility in live migrating between hosts with differing hardware. @end table

In both cases, it is possible to optionally add or remove individual CPU features, to alter what is presented to the guest by default.

Libvirt supports a third way to configure CPU models known as “Host model”. This uses the QEMU “Named model” feature, automatically picking a CPU model that is similar the host CPU, and then adding extra features to approximate the host model as closely as possible. This does not guarantee the CPU family, stepping, etc will precisely match the host CPU, as they would with “Host passthrough”, but gives much of the benefit of passthrough, while making live migration safe.

Preferred CPU models for Intel x86 hosts

The following CPU models are preferred for use on Intel hosts. Administrators / applications are recommended to use the CPU model that matches the generation of the host CPUs in use. In a deployment with a mixture of host CPU models between machines, if live migration compatibility is required, use the newest CPU model that is compatible across all desired hosts.

Cascadelake-Server, Cascadelake-Server-noTSX
Intel Xeon Processor (Cascade Lake, 2019), with “stepping” levels 6 or 7 only. (The Cascade Lake Xeon processor with stepping 5 is vulnerable to MDS variants.)
Skylake-Server, Skylake-Server-IBRS, Skylake-Server-IBRS-noTSX
Intel Xeon Processor (Skylake, 2016)
Skylake-Client, Skylake-Client-IBRS, Skylake-Client-noTSX-IBRS}
Intel Core Processor (Skylake, 2015)
Broadwell, Broadwell-IBRS, Broadwell-noTSX, Broadwell-noTSX-IBRS
Intel Core Processor (Broadwell, 2014)
Haswell, Haswell-IBRS, Haswell-noTSX, Haswell-noTSX-IBRS
Intel Core Processor (Haswell, 2013)
IvyBridge, IvyBridge-IBR
Intel Xeon E3-12xx v2 (Ivy Bridge, 2012)
SandyBridge, SandyBridge-IBRS
Intel Xeon E312xx (Sandy Bridge, 2011)
Westmere, Westmere-IBRS
Westmere E56xx/L56xx/X56xx (Nehalem-C, 2010)
Nehalem, Nehalem-IBRS
Intel Core i7 9xx (Nehalem Class Core i7, 2008)
Penryn
Intel Core 2 Duo P9xxx (Penryn Class Core 2, 2007)
Conroe
Intel Celeron_4x0 (Conroe/Merom Class Core 2, 2006)

Important CPU features for Intel x86 hosts

The following are important CPU features that should be used on Intel x86 hosts, when available in the host CPU. Some of them require explicit configuration to enable, as they are not included by default in some, or all, of the named CPU models listed above. In general all of these features are included if using “Host passthrough” or “Host model”.

pcid

Recommended to mitigate the cost of the Meltdown (CVE-2017-5754) fix.

Included by default in Haswell, Broadwell & Skylake Intel CPU models.

Should be explicitly turned on for Westmere, SandyBridge, and IvyBridge Intel CPU models. Note that some desktop/mobile Westmere CPUs cannot support this feature.

spec-ctrl

Required to enable the Spectre v2 (CVE-2017-5715) fix.

Included by default in Intel CPU models with -IBRS suffix.

Must be explicitly turned on for Intel CPU models without -IBRS suffix.

Requires the host CPU microcode to support this feature before it can be used for guest CPUs.

stibp

Required to enable stronger Spectre v2 (CVE-2017-5715) fixes in some operating systems.

Must be explicitly turned on for all Intel CPU models.

Requires the host CPU microcode to support this feature before it can be used for guest CPUs.

ssbd

Required to enable the CVE-2018-3639 fix.

Not included by default in any Intel CPU model.

Must be explicitly turned on for all Intel CPU models.

Requires the host CPU microcode to support this feature before it can be used for guest CPUs.

pdpe1gb

Recommended to allow guest OS to use 1GB size pages.

Not included by default in any Intel CPU model.

Should be explicitly turned on for all Intel CPU models.

Note that not all CPU hardware will support this feature.

md-clear

Required to confirm the MDS (CVE-2018-12126, CVE-2018-12127, CVE-2018-12130, CVE-2019-11091) fixes.

Not included by default in any Intel CPU model.

Must be explicitly turned on for all Intel CPU models.

Requires the host CPU microcode to support this feature before it can be used for guest CPUs.

mds-no

Recommended to inform the guest OS that the host is not vulnerable to any of the MDS variants ([MFBDS] CVE-2018-12130, [MLPDS] CVE-2018-12127, [MSBDS] CVE-2018-12126).

This is an MSR (Model-Specific Register) feature rather than a CPUID feature, so it will not appear in the Linux /proc/cpuinfo in the host or guest. Instead, the host kernel uses it to populate the MDS vulnerability file in sysfs.

So it should only be enabled for VMs if the host reports @code{Not affected} in the /sys/devices/system/cpu/vulnerabilities/mds file.

taa-no

Recommended to inform that the guest that the host is not vulnerable to CVE-2019-11135, TSX Asynchronous Abort (TAA).

This too is an MSR feature, so it does not show up in the Linux /proc/cpuinfo in the host or guest.

It should only be enabled for VMs if the host reports Not affected in the /sys/devices/system/cpu/vulnerabilities/tsx_async_abort file.

tsx-ctrl

Recommended to inform the guest that it can disable the Intel TSX (Transactional Synchronization Extensions) feature; or, if the processor is vulnerable, use the Intel VERW instruction (a processor-level instruction that performs checks on memory access) as a mitigation for the TAA vulnerability. (For details, refer to Intel’s deep dive into MDS.)

Expose this to the guest OS if and only if: (a) the host has TSX enabled; and (b) the guest has rtm CPU flag enabled.

By disabling TSX, KVM-based guests can avoid paying the price of mitigating TSX-based attacks.

Note that tsx-ctrl too is an MSR feature, so it does not show up in the Linux /proc/cpuinfo in the host or guest.

To validate that Intel TSX is indeed disabled for the guest, there are two ways: (a) check for the absence of rtm in the guest’s /proc/cpuinfo; or (b) the /sys/devices/system/cpu/vulnerabilities/tsx_async_abort file in the guest should report Mitigation: TSX disabled.

Preferred CPU models for AMD x86 hosts

The following CPU models are preferred for use on Intel hosts. Administrators / applications are recommended to use the CPU model that matches the generation of the host CPUs in use. In a deployment with a mixture of host CPU models between machines, if live migration compatibility is required, use the newest CPU model that is compatible across all desired hosts.

EPYC, EPYC-IBPB
AMD EPYC Processor (2017)
Opteron_G5
AMD Opteron 63xx class CPU (2012)
Opteron_G4
AMD Opteron 62xx class CPU (2011)
Opteron_G3
AMD Opteron 23xx (Gen 3 Class Opteron, 2009)
Opteron_G2
AMD Opteron 22xx (Gen 2 Class Opteron, 2006)
Opteron_G1
AMD Opteron 240 (Gen 1 Class Opteron, 2004)

Important CPU features for AMD x86 hosts

The following are important CPU features that should be used on AMD x86 hosts, when available in the host CPU. Some of them require explicit configuration to enable, as they are not included by default in some, or all, of the named CPU models listed above. In general all of these features are included if using “Host passthrough” or “Host model”.

ibpb

Required to enable the Spectre v2 (CVE-2017-5715) fix.

Included by default in AMD CPU models with -IBPB suffix.

Must be explicitly turned on for AMD CPU models without -IBPB suffix.

Requires the host CPU microcode to support this feature before it can be used for guest CPUs.

stibp

Required to enable stronger Spectre v2 (CVE-2017-5715) fixes in some operating systems.

Must be explicitly turned on for all AMD CPU models.

Requires the host CPU microcode to support this feature before it can be used for guest CPUs.

virt-ssbd

Required to enable the CVE-2018-3639 fix

Not included by default in any AMD CPU model.

Must be explicitly turned on for all AMD CPU models.

This should be provided to guests, even if amd-ssbd is also provided, for maximum guest compatibility.

Note for some QEMU / libvirt versions, this must be force enabled when when using “Host model”, because this is a virtual feature that doesn’t exist in the physical host CPUs.

amd-ssbd

Required to enable the CVE-2018-3639 fix

Not included by default in any AMD CPU model.

Must be explicitly turned on for all AMD CPU models.

This provides higher performance than virt-ssbd so should be exposed to guests whenever available in the host. virt-ssbd should none the less also be exposed for maximum guest compatibility as some kernels only know about virt-ssbd.

amd-no-ssb

Recommended to indicate the host is not vulnerable CVE-2018-3639

Not included by default in any AMD CPU model.

Future hardware generations of CPU will not be vulnerable to CVE-2018-3639, and thus the guest should be told not to enable its mitigations, by exposing amd-no-ssb. This is mutually exclusive with virt-ssbd and amd-ssbd.

pdpe1gb

Recommended to allow guest OS to use 1GB size pages

Not included by default in any AMD CPU model.

Should be explicitly turned on for all AMD CPU models.

Note that not all CPU hardware will support this feature.

Default x86 CPU models

The default QEMU CPU models are designed such that they can run on all hosts. If an application does not wish to do perform any host compatibility checks before launching guests, the default is guaranteed to work.

The default CPU models will, however, leave the guest OS vulnerable to various CPU hardware flaws, so their use is strongly discouraged. Applications should follow the earlier guidance to setup a better CPU configuration, with host passthrough recommended if live migration is not needed.

qemu32, qemu64
QEMU Virtual CPU version 2.5+ (32 & 64 bit variants)

qemu64 is used for x86_64 guests and qemu32 is used for i686 guests, when no -cpu argument is given to QEMU, or no <cpu> is provided in libvirt XML.

Syntax for configuring CPU models

The examples below illustrate the approach to configuring the various CPU models / features in QEMU and libvirt.

QEMU command line

Host passthrough:

qemu-system-x86_64 -cpu host

Host passthrough with feature customization:

qemu-system-x86_64 -cpu host,-vmx,...

Named CPU models:

qemu-system-x86_64 -cpu Westmere

Named CPU models with feature customization:

qemu-system-x86_64 -cpu Westmere,+pcid,...

Libvirt guest XML

Host passthrough:

<cpu mode='host-passthrough'/>

Host passthrough with feature customization:

<cpu mode='host-passthrough'>
    <feature name="vmx" policy="disable"/>
    ...
</cpu>

Host model:

<cpu mode='host-model'/>

Host model with feature customization:

<cpu mode='host-model'>
    <feature name="vmx" policy="disable"/>
    ...
</cpu>

Named model:

<cpu mode='custom'>
    <model name="Westmere"/>
</cpu>

Named model with feature customization:

<cpu mode='custom'>
    <model name="Westmere"/>
    <feature name="pcid" policy="require"/>
    ...
</cpu>

OS requirements

On x86_64 hosts, the default set of CPU features enabled by the KVM accelerator require the host to be running Linux v4.5 or newer. Red Hat Enterprise Linux 7 is also supported, since the required functionality was backported.