Low-rank methods for semi-definite programming (SDP) have gained a lot of interest recently, especially in machine learning applications. Their analysis often involves determinant-based or Schatten-norm penalties, which are difficult to implement in practice due to high computational efforts. In this paper, we propose Entropy-Penalized Semi-Definite Programming (EP-SDP)1, which provides a unified framework for a broad class of penalty functions used in practice to promote a low-rank solution. We show that EP-SDP problems admit an efficient numerical algorithm, having (almost) linear time complexity of the gradient computation; this makes it useful for many machine learning and optimization problems. We illustrate the practical efficiency of our approach on several combinatorial optimization and machine learning problems.