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Microsoft tests show Spectre patches drag down performance on older PCs

Microsoft said Tuesday that PCs running older versions of Windows, or even just older Intel silicon, will see a noticeable impact in performance from the Meltdown and Spectre patches. Intel released its own performance information, though it showed just a slight impact for its 8th-generation Core chips.

Microsoft’s blog post reflects where the industry is in terms of dealing with the three side-channel vulnerabilities within Spectre and Meltdown. Only the second, the “branch target injection” vulnerability, shows any performance impact, Microsoft said. But as patches roll out, customers have begun to worry what the performance impacts might be, too.

What this means to you: Unfortunately, older PCs look like they’re going to be hit the hardest, based on the way Windows was coded at the time. But even if you’re tempted not to patch, please do! Your data needs to be protected. PCWorld’s Meltdown and Spectre FAQ and our guide to keeping your PC safe from the CPU flaws have a lot of additional information.

Meltdown/Spectre: Patches continue to roll out

In a blog post, Microsoft’s OS chief, Terry Myerson, explained that patches for 41 of the 45 editions of Windows that Microsoft distributes now have patches available. Microsoft and other vendors recommend that those patches be swiftly applied; Windows Update’s January rollup patch applies those patches to Windows systems. Users also need to ensure that their antivirus software is up to date. 

For individual PCs, Microsoft recommends that users visit its Meltdown/Spectre support page, which includes links to microcode patches from hardware manufacturers. (Unfortunately, those links are buried within the “Where can I find hardware/firmware updates for my device?” section within the FAQ at the bottom of the page.)

Surface devices will also be patched, Microsoft said, beginning today.

Performance impacts from both Intel and Microsoft

For now, Myerson said, the first variant of the Spectre vulnerability can be patched without any significant performance impacts, and that “mitigations” for Meltdown can also be applied without significant slowdowns to the system. But third-party benchmarks that have tested the patch impacts have generally done so without patches to both the silicon microcode as well as the operating system, he wrote. Microsoft’s latest tests reflect both.

Microsoft’s summary is as follows:

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