Thursday , 20 September 2018
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Here’s how much the Meltdown and Spectre fix hurt my Surface Book performance

As a performance junkie, I’m less concerned about the security risks of the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities—after all, there are no known exploits in use today—than I am about a performance hit from the fixes.

And from what I’m seeing, my concerns are warranted.

My sole experience with a fully updated platform so far is with Microsoft’s original Surface Book. It’s based on an Intel “Skylake” Core i7-6700U and has 16GB of LPDDR3 and a 512GB Samsung 950 Pro NVMe drive. The Surface Book is running the 64-bit Windows 10 Pro Fall Creator’s Update.

I basically drove the machine all week at CES, and on Friday morning when I fired it up at home, I found that Microsoft had pushed out two pairs of firmware updates that address the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities. 

I’ll admit, I’m still trying to play catch up on just what the hell is going on with Spectre and Meltdown, but this was a great opportunity to run before and after benchmarks on a production machine.

I know from reading Steve Walton’s write-up at TechSpot that the performance of games and most CPU-intensive apps doesn’t change. But Walton found storage read/write performance to be an issue, so this was my first point of investigation on the Surface Book. I started my tests with a not-yet-patched machine.

Before the Spectre and Meltdown fix

Spectre and Meltdown performance hitIDG

CrystalDiskMark 5.5.0 performance results on a Microsoft Surface Book before being patched for Meltdown and Spectre.

I started by running the default test for CrystalDiskMark 5.5.0. It’s the slightly older version, but the results are still valid for two areas: small 4K reads and writes as well as 4K reads and writes using a queue depth of 32. To the left you’ll find the result before Surface Firmware 91.1926.768.0 and 90.1837.256.0 were installed. 

I made three repeated runs with two to five minutes of rest time in between to let the SSD return to normal temperature. SSDs, as you may know, can slow when heated. This is one particular result, but representative of the results I saw.

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