Intel says chips take 6% hit from Spectre, Meltdown fixes

Patches that fix the security flaws also make the processors run slower in some circumstances, according to Intel.

Laura Hautala Former Senior Writer
Laura wrote about e-commerce and Amazon, and she occasionally covered cool science topics. Previously, she broke down cybersecurity and privacy issues for CNET readers. Laura is based in Tacoma, Washington, and was into sourdough before the pandemic.
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Laura Hautala
2 min read
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich on stage at the IDF developer conference in 2016. The company said Tuesday that fixes for the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities were causing slowdowns of 6 percent or less.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich at the IDF developer conference in 2016. The company said Tuesday that fixes for the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities were causing slowdowns of 6 percent or less.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Intel said this week that patches to its central processing units are slowing things down by 6 percent or less on its newest chips. However, some older chips may take a bigger hit. The patches fix the Spectre and Meltdown flaws that make the chips susceptible to attacks from hackers. 

"Based on our most recent PC benchmarking, we continue to expect that the performance impact should not be significant for average computer users," the company said in a press release Tuesday. 

Intel has fought the idea that patching the flaws will cause major slowdowns on the systems its chips are running. That's a challenge because the processors were made vulnerable by a feature called speculative execution, which was meant to boost chip performance. Intel, along with fellow chipmakers AMD and ARM, has to come up with ways to continue reaping the benefits of that feature while making the chips more secure.

Watch this: Intel addresses security flaws with company's chips at CES 2018

Older chips could see a hit to performance of as much as 8 percent, according to Intel's data. What's more, the hit to "responsiveness," a more specific benchmark that Intel tested its chips for with the new updates, took a much bigger hit. Its newest chips were slowed down by 12 percent and one older type of chip, the Intel Core i7 6700K processor running on Windows 10, took a 21 percent hit in responsiveness.

Responsiveness measures the speed of processes like launching applications, browsing the internet on multiple tabs, and copying or encrypting files, according to Bapco, the company that creates the tool Intel used to benchmark the chips' performance. 

Intel has said that any hits to performance will only take place when a device takes on specific tasks, and regular use of the computer won't be affected. In its press release Tuesday, the company said its testing of patched chips shows they were correct.

"This means the typical home and business PC user should not see significant slowdowns in common tasks such as reading email, writing a document or accessing digital photos," Intel said in its update.

First published Jan. 9, 11:09 a.m. PT.
Update, Jan. 11 at 10:50 a.m. PT: Adds performance data on older Intel chips.

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