Microsoft: Patches for Intel Vulnerabilities Will Hit PCs Hard, Especially Older PCs

Posted on January 9, 2018 by Mehedi Hassan in Cloud, Hardware with 24 Comments

This year started with the disclosure of Meltdown and Spectre, two of the biggest CPU vulnerabilities in the recent decades. The vulnerabilities give apps unauthorized read access to a computer’s kernel memory on chips from Intel, AMD, and ARM due to a flaw in the processor design. It also allows websites to execute malicious JavaScript code to get unauthorized access to users’ data.

The patch for Meltdown and Spectre are expected to affect your device’s performance as crucial parts of the Windows kernel needed to be modified in order to mitigate the issue. So far, most companies have been tight-lipped regarding the exact impact on performance caused by the patches for Meltdown and Spectre. But Microsoft is today outlining the impact of the patches on your device’s performance. Microsoft’s Terry Myerson detailed the company’s findings so far in a blog post, but full benchmark reports will be published in the coming weeks as the company continues to work on improving the performance.

TL;DR: PCs with older CPUs and Windows are being hit the hardest, but here’s a breakdown, anyway:

  • Most users on Windows 10 devices with Skylake, Kabylake, or newer CPUs will not notice a change in performance, and benchmarks show single-digit slowdowns.
  • Some users on Windows 10 devices with older CPUs such as Haswell are expected to notice a dip in performance, and benchmark reports have shown “more significant” slowdowns compared to newer CPUs.
  • Most users on Windows 7 and 8 devices with older CPUs like Haswell will notice a decrease in performance. This is mostly due to the fact that the Windows kernel features legacy design decisions, which have been improved with Windows 10.
  • As for Windows Server, the patches are expected to show “more significant performance” impact on any processor when the mitigation is set to isolate untrusted code within your Windows Server instance. Be careful when patching your servers, basically.

Microsoft, Google, Apple, Amazon, Intel, Qualcomm, and other industry leaders have quickly released patches for the vulnerabilities. The vulnerabilities were initially disclosed to chip makers and other industry leaders several months ago, giving them enough time to work on mitigating the issue. Most of the companies have already released fixes for their respective devices and cloud servers, with Microsoft releasing the patches for 41 of all the 45 supported editions of Windows to date.

The exact impact of Meltdown and Spectre on machines remains a mystery, however — but the full benchmark reports will give us a much better look at the impact once they are published. It is important to note that Microsoft and other firms believe that none of the vulnerabilities has been used to attack their customers as of yet. So as long as you have the latest patches installed, you shouldn’t have to worry too much about the vulnerabilities.

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