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Intel Identifies Meltdown-Patch Reboot Problems in Broadwell and Haswell Chips

Intel Corp. reported on Monday that it has discovered the cause of reboot issues that affected its Broadwell and Haswell processors after patches were applied designed to fix potential side-channel "speculative execution" exploits.

Some users have experienced "higher system reboots" after applying updates to Intel processor firmware to address possible Meltdown and Spectre attack scenarios, Intel explained back on Jan. 11. However, even though Intel has now figured out why those reboot problems occurred with those processors, it seems that relief for end users will depend on the speed of original equipment manufacturer (OEM) testing efforts. OEMs have to test Intel's updates first to ensure that problem-free firmware updates get out the door to end users.

In Monday's announcement, Navin Shenoy, executive vice president and general manager of Intel's Data Center Group, called upon OEM device builders, system manufacturers and service providers to "stop deployment of current versions [of the Intel firmware updates], as they may introduce higher than expected reboots and other unpredictable system behavior." Instead, these partners should "focus efforts on testing early versions of the updated solution so we can accelerate its release."

Shenoy offered no timing details about patch releases but promised to share more details "later this week." He advised users of Intel processors to follow security best practices and to keep systems patched.

In addition to the firmware update releases by chip vendors, operating system vendors have released updates for the Meltdown and Spectre attack methods. Both updates typically are needed, particularly to ward off Spectre-type attacks, Microsoft explained earlier this month.

Shenoy's announcement on Monday offered no mention, as he had explained in his earlier Jan. 17 post, that other processors also are affected by the reboot problems, namely "Ivy Bridge-, Sandy Bridge-, Skylake-, and Kaby Lake-based platforms." In that post, he had suggested that vendors would get firmware updates for those processors sometime this week.

The computer industry this month has been scrambling to address the Meltdown and Spectre attack methods, even though they knew about the security issues six months before details were publicly disclosed. So far, things haven't gone smoothly.

Microsoft held up its Jan. 3 OS updates from getting delivered to AMD-based machines after some users reported getting "bricked" systems. Those Windows updates, though, were subsequently resumed for "all AMD-based devices" after Microsoft indicated it had worked out the details with AMD. Presumably, users with bricked PCs are supposed to follow the blue screen troubleshooting steps described in Microsoft's support article. Ironically, those problematic OS updates were designed to thwart Meltdown attack scenarios, initially shown by researchers to only affect Intel-based machines, but now a few ARM chips also are described as affected.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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