Intel releases stable Spectre patches for Skylake PCs, recovering from a bad bout of bugs

No word yet on when Broadwell and Haswell systems will get updated code.

meltdown spectre
Google/Natascha Eibl

If you own a Skylake-based PC and receive a patch to address the Spectre vulnerabilities, install it—Intel has greenlit the code.

About two weeks after Intel recommended users halt or roll back Spectre and Meltdown patches because of system instability, the company disclosed that it has shipped new code to its PC partners that solves the problems of the earlier, buggy patch.

Right now, though, the new patches address just a subset of the affected users: specifically those who own Skylake-based Core or Core m processors. On January 22, Intel said it had begun testing a fix for Haswell and Broadwell PCs, though Intel has not rolled that final patch code to its partners. An Intel spokesman didn’t immediately respond to an emailed question about when those patches would be available, though an Intel blog post said it would patch "more platforms in the coming days."

“Earlier this week, we released production microcode updates for several Skylake-based platforms to our OEM customers and industry partners, and we expect to do the same for more platforms in the coming days,” Navin Shenoy, executive vice president and general manager of the Data Center Group at Intel, wrote in the blog post. “We also continue to release beta microcode updates so that customers and partners have the opportunity to conduct extensive testing before we move them into production.”

Intel said that the code has been approved for the Skylake U-, Y-, H-, and S-series chips, as well as the U23e. Intel’s updates come as part of a new document that tracks the progress of the microcode revisions, which will presumably continue to be updated over time. 

In early January, Intel disclosed that virtually all of its microprocessors were potentially affected by both the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities, which attack the speculative architecture of Intel’s chips. Other manufacturers were also affected, including ARM and to a lesser extent, AMD. But while Intel works to eliminate the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities from future designs (and AMD does as well), the industry has had to deal with the issue that the patches themselves will slow down their PCs. Check PCWorld's constantly updated Spectre FAQ to keep up with all the latest developments. 

What you need to do: Patch. In this case, Intel’s Shenoy himself puts it best: “Ultimately, these updates will be made available in most cases through OEM firmware updates,” he wrote. “I can’t emphasize enough how critical it is for everyone to always keep their systems up-to-date. Research tells us there is frequently a substantial lag between when people receive updates and when they actually implement them. In today’s environment, that must change.”

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