Intel confirms more problems with Meltdown and Spectre patches

EnlargeSimon Smith

While the patches issued to secure devices against exploits based on Meltdown and Spectre have negatively affected them in the short term, in the long term Intel is protecting its users from a great deal of potential damage.

Those security issues are a trio of connected, speculative execution flaws in microprocessors known as Spectre and Meltdown (see Meltdown and Spectre Forecast: Patch Now and Keep Patching). As we continue these efforts, I would like to express my appreciation to many of our partners, including Dell, HPE, HPI, Lenovo and Microsoft, for joining our Security-First Pledge.

"We have received reports from a few customers of higher system reboots after applying firmware updates", Shenoy said in a January 11 blog post. New microcode will be released in beta next week, he said, after Intel starting telling select customers last week to avoid its initial patches.

Intel promised to be transparent about its progress to address the Meltdown and Spectre CPU flaws, but it has been quite a bumpy road so far.

The good news is that for most tasks, Intel's data center benchmarks don't show a very big hit to performance. Shenoy noted that Intel has now delivered firmware updates to 90% of CPUs launched in the last five years, but one side effect of that roll out is that users have been experiencing frequent reboots.

"As part of this, we have determined that similar behaviour occurs on other products in some configurations, including Ivy Bridge-, Sandy Bridge-, Skylake-, and Kaby Lake-based platforms", Shenoy says. To date, we have tested server platforms running two-socket Intel Xeon® Scalable® systems (code-named Skylake), our latest server microarchitecture.

An online transaction processing (OLTP) benchmark simulating modeling a brokerage firm's customer-broker-stock exchange interaction showed a 4% impact. After it was forced to acknowledge the flaws ahead of schedule, Intel insisted in a January 4th press release that "Industry Testing Shows Recently Released Security Updates Not Impacting Performance in Real-World Deployments".

There is a large variance in the fix's impact on data-storage systems depending on CPU utilization and other factors, such as the read-write mix, block size, and drives.

The company is also looking at incorporating Google's Retpoline (return trampoline) software solution to mitigate the performance impact of the security patches.

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