Intel Issuing Updates for Meltdown, Spectre Reboot Problem on Older Platforms

Intel Issuing Updates for Meltdown, Spectre Reboot Problem on Older Platforms

Of all the companies hit by the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities, Intel has been the most exposed, thanks to aggressive memory speculation and its own market dominance. Initial patches for the vulnerabilities have already begun rolling out, but have been hit by various problems, including a frequent reboot issue. Intel has been researching the problem and has a solution just about ready to deploy.

In new guidance, the company states: “We have now identified the root cause for Broadwell and Haswell platforms, and made good progress in developing a solution to address it. Over the weekend, we began rolling out an early version of the updated solution to industry partners for testing, and we will make a final release available once that testing has been completed.”

Intel recommends that its customers stop distribution of the current version, as these patches may introduce unwanted behavior, including frequent reboots. The company has asked vendors to test these patch versions more quickly, to keep systems up to date, and to continue working with it to ensure customers are adequately protected.

Patched servers have seen sharp spikes in CPU usage since applying the update.
Patched servers have seen sharp spikes in CPU usage since applying the update.

It’s still not clear what the long-term implications of Meltdown and Spectre are for users running systems older than Kaby Lake or Skylake, and the state of communication around these various patches hasn’t helped. We know the performance impact is highly variable, and that the worse of the losses have occurred in synthetic tests, rather than real-world benchmarks. But the impact to older CPUs is known to be harder than on newer chips, and we’re still waiting for patches to roll out for the major variants (there are three subtypes of Meltdown and Spectre attacks as of this writing) and to see how users are going to be impacted in common workloads.

It may end up being a touch ironic. When Ryzen and Coffee Lake debuted in 2017, there was a general argument made that older enthusiasts still using Sandy Bridge or Ivy Bridge-era hardware now had a real reason to upgrade for the first time in years, with higher-end CPUs that delivered considerably higher performance. If these performance updates wind up making Nehalem, Sandy Bridge, and Ivy Bridge less desirable as platforms, enthusiasts will have that much more reason to move to something new — but considerably less reason to feel happy about it. Much will depend on how the performance penalties and other questions shake out across AMD and Intel platforms as patches and updates continue to roll out.

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