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February 9, 2018

Intel starts rolling out new Spectre firmware fixes, Skylake goes first

by John_A

One of the most important PC stories of 2018 has been the Meltdown and Spectre exploits that affect virtually all machines to one extent or another. Fixes have been rolling out since the problem was first publicized, but some of them caused more problems than they fixed. Some of Intel’s first Spectre fixes were particularly problematic, so much so that they were withdrawn by Intel and PC makers, and now Intel has rolled out a new patch for its Skylake CPUs.

As Tom’s Hardware reports, the fix is aimed at the Spectre Variant 2 vulnerability that affects virtually all Intel CPUs currently in use. The previous fix was identified as causing reboots, instability, and other problems when it was first rolled out, causing PC manufacturers like HP and Dell to remove their own updates, pending a new patch from Intel.

While Intel is working on fixes for all of its contemporary processors, its Skylake iteration is the first to get the fix. According to Intel’s newsroom posting, the fix will roll out to Intel’s original equipment manufacturer (OEM) partners first, who will them release them for their affected systems. Fixes for other platforms are currently undergoing testing and will roll out in the “coming days.”

These updates are important, as Intel puts it, because “(a)ccording to the Department of Homeland Security’s cyber-emergency unit, US-CERT, as many as 85 percent of all targeted attacks can be prevented with — among other things — regular system updates.” As soon as an update is available, in other words, you will want to get it applied as quickly as possible.

In addition to removing the bad patches from their support sites, companies have been taking more aggressive steps to help customers who were affected by poor performance, reboots, and other issues. Microsoft, for example, made a manual patch available that essentially disabled the Intel firmware updates. That removed protection against the Spectre Variant 2 exploit but returned many systems to a more functional state.

If your PC uses a Skylake CPU, then you will want to keep your eye open for an update from your manufacturer. If you’re using a PC with another Intel CPU, then you have to be a little more patient while Intel works on more fixes.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Grab this Microsoft update now if your PC was affected by the Spectre fixes
  • Qualcomm is working on patches to address Meltdown and Spectre flaws
  • Updates addressing Meltdown security issue are causing a number of PC reboots
  • Apple protects MacOS Sierra, El Capitan from Meltdown, lists Google bugs
  • Intel’s 9th-generation ‘Ice Lake’ CPUs will have fixes for Meltdown, Spectre


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