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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Comments (25)

25 responses to “Microsoft: Patches for Intel Vulnerabilities Will Hit PCs Hard, Especially Older PCs”

  1. david.thunderbird

    "Windows kernel features legacy design decisions" humm are they saying to use Linux, Unix or OS10?

  2. feek

    Do you have a link to this blog post? I can't find it anywhere

  3. rossfinnie

    Where does Broadwell CPUs fall in terms of performance loss? Similar impact as Haswell I assume?

  4. John Scott

    My older HP desktop with Hazwell 4130 core i3 certainly slowed enough to notice. Can't say what percentage but I am pretty certain it was more then single digit percentage. Probably more like 10 to 15% which to me is tough to accept for a security patch.

    I laugh how Intel shows results basically for core i7 CPU's which by their performance would show the least in slow downs for users. However most of us run something more mainstream in CPU's not top of the line core i7's. Sort of like losing a few horsepower in a Corvette engine vs a small 4 cylinder. It matters what you start out with, and its going to affect how I purchase my next PC down the road.

  5. digiguy

    There is a big misunderstanding about performance impact. People think it's CPUs, It's not. It's mainly SSD.... I jhave tested it and you can find similar results online. I have pcs of several generations, from 2nd to 7th and... CPU is virtually unaffected in any of them, less than 5% or within the margin of error.... What is affected is SSD speed, not much sequential, but 4k QD32, so indeed boot times for instant, there the impact is between 10 and 30%. As for windows 10 better than others that is crap. My dual boot 2nd gen I7 pc show better SSD performance in windows 7 than in 10 after the patch...

  6. rfog

    I think my Lenovo Thinkpad W550s fully updated to all patches (BIOS and Windows, not sure if processor) and now it takes about 3 times to start and the slowdown in normal working is very noticeable. EDGE, Firefox and Visual Studio.

    However, my older iMAC mid 2011 (i7, 24 GB RAM) running Windows 10 has exactly the same performance... But only have Windows updated, not EFI or processor...

  7. hrlngrv

    Possibly true that Windows 7 and 8.1 were designed differently, but a convenient assertion for MSFT and its goal of moving as many to Windows 10 as soon as possible.

  8. jimchamplin

    Wasn’t this patch already released for FCU?

    Edit: Yes. I have seen no changes in performance in any situation on my older box (Xeon E5530) after installing the patch

    Edit: Updated the CPU model with the correct one.

  9. jwpear

    I don't know. I think your typical consumer still won't care about upgrading unless the patches make their machines painfully slower.

    I'm curious to see the benchmarks, particularly of servers in AWS and Azure.

  10. RossNWirth

    "...45 supported editions of Windows..." What was that about the fragmentation problem on Android?

  11. Kadren

    I love how hysterical some people got about Intel vulnerabilities. this is what probably caused the lawsuits to materialize more then the actual problem. Luckily, there are always adequate people who know that a chance that your computer gets compromises is actually slim.

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