back to article Intel's Skylake and Kaby Lake CPUs have nasty hyper-threading bug

During April and May, Intel started updating its processor documentation with a new errata note – and over the weekend we learned why: the Skylake and Kaby Lake silicon has a hyper-threading bug. The erratum is described in detail on a Debian mailing list, and affects Skylake and Kaby Lake Intel Core processors (in desktop, …

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  1. Aitor 1 Silver badge

    Crap quality

    Intel seems really interested in pushing bad quality parts to their customers, are the Managers short on Intel?

    1. RichardB

      Re: Crap quality

      Misread that somewhat... thought you were asking if the Managers are shot at Intel.

      1. wolfetone Silver badge

        Re: Crap quality

        "Misread that somewhat... thought you were asking if the Managers are shot at Intel."

        That might be an idea though...

    2. TReko
      FAIL

      Re: Crap quality

      no, the Managers have a full Intel quotient, that's why they had tried to keep it as quiet as possible.

    3. Anonymous Coward Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Crap quality

      No, the phrase is "vertically challenged"

    4. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Crap quality

      I remember (many, many moons ago, when I worked at a certain cellular base-station manuacturer that used a stylised bat-wing for a logo) having an arguement with the technical architect about the use of non-Intel processors (AMD had just bought out the K6 and I was quite keen on them).

      His answer was to specify that non-Intel processors should never be used "because you knew what you got with Intel and their processors were bug-free".

      The next day Intel revealed the news about the FooF microcode bug.

      Oh, how we laughed.

  2. Shadow Systems Silver badge

    This is gonna suck.

    I can't access the computer unless/until the ScreenReaderEnvironment (SRE) starts talking, & there's no pre-OS-SRE, meaning I can't boot the computer to a SRE in order to get into the BIOS to update this kind of crap even if they DID release a fix that was SRE accessible.

    I'll have to pay a Sighted Techie to do this for me, and that means heading to someplace like BestBuy.

    I *really* don't want anyone at BestBuy touching my computer, I don't trust them as far as I could comfortably shoot one out my arse. =-(

    *HeadDesks in frustration*

    1. Griffo

      Re: This is gonna suck.

      Most BIOS updates are released these days (at least by the big MFG's) as OS executables, so you can run the update inside your OS, it will reboot and flash for you.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: This is gonna suck.

        Where "OS" = "Windows only", sure. You're going to have a long wait if you want OS X or Linux executables to patch your UEFI.

        1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

          @DougS Re: This is gonna suck.

          I think you'll find that Apple do something similar to Windows in that they ship a MacOS update that can initiate the UEFI update from within MacOS.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: This is gonna suck.

          You're going to have a long wait if you want OS X or Linux executables to patch your UEFI.

          For Apple Mac users that's just another patch to run (see this as an older example. Firmware BIOS or UEFI upgrades are generally not hard to do, but they're rare. Other than with Apple where it simply shows up as an update that needs a reboot to complete, few users realise they need it because it's not really part of the Microsoft or Linux update cycle - it's hardware.

          Unless users are in touch with whoever manufactured their hardware, how will they find out? I guess it's easier with Microsoft sourced hardware where the associated subscription will at least provide a point of contact.

          1. Zakhar

            Re: This is gonna suck.

            For Linux, you just need the package intel-microcode.

            You get it with 'sudo apt-get install intel-microcode', or graphically with the dialog box for additional (aka proprietary) drivers. You would use the same dialog box, for example to get the nVidia proprietary drivers instead of Nouveau which is the Open Source implementation for nVidia GPUs.

            Here is what the documentation of the intel-microcode package says:

            This package contains updated system processor microcode for Intel i686 and Intel X86-64 processors. Intel releases microcode updates to correct processor behavior as documented in the

            respective processor specification updates.

            So you just need to wait that you distro updates this proprietary stuff.

            1. This post has been deleted by its author

            2. DougS Silver badge

              Re: This is gonna suck.

              intel-microcode might help in this limited circumstance (assuming it handles suspend properly) but what about other issues that require UEFI patching, like the recent ME exploit? That can't be fixed through the Linux kernel since it operated below the level of the OS or even a hypervisor. Any laptop that doesn't let you patch UEFI directly that is running Linux needs a Windows partition - that's the only reason I have one on mine.

    2. td97402

      Re: This is gonna suck.

      Do Not Take Your Computer To Best Buy! Call a local community college or college they usually have computer technician training and they have interns.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: This is gonna suck.

        "Do Not Take Your Computer To Best Buy!"

        Similar businesses are available in other countries.

    3. Korev Silver badge

      Re: This is gonna suck.

      Could you find one of the job swapping* websites where people swap work and find a techie who can help in return for some of your help doing something else?

      *There's probably a proper name for these.

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: This is gonna suck.

      If you could fix the issue if Screen Reader were working then I am sure you could find someone willing to act as one while you accessed your BIOS.

      While sympathising with your predicament it surely isn't the first time you have ended up needing reading assistance which technology doesn't cater for.

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: This is gonna suck.

        I stand corrected on OS X UEFI updates. I hadn't ever seen them on Intel's site, but it makes sense Apple would distribute them directly.

        You still can't get Linux executables to patch UEFI, if your UEFI doesn't patch itself directly like my laptop's doesn't, you have to keep a Windows partition around just for that purpose.

      2. sarahhart

        Re: This is gonna suck.

        did... you seriously just tell a blind person that you're "sure" they can "find someone" to just be a screen reader?

        if you *really* do sympathise with the difficulties that come with being disabled, then please, heed my advice: comments like the one you just left aren't helpful, and in fact, they are patently unhelpful.

        this person quite obviously knows their living situation and everything associated with it. if there was someone who lived locally enough that would help, that the person trusted, that they would do that? instead, they said their *only* option would be taking it to a store, which they didn't trust with their computer.

        which goes to say that if there were a generic Someone they could ask "to be a screen reader", they probably wouldn't trust that they were only doing what was asked of them too.

        let alone, like... i'm guessing since you post on this site you've had the "joy" of doing tech support for uninitiated family members over the phone? ones who describe what's on screen in such a bizarre way that you have *no* idea what's going on? that's almost certainly what it would be like for this person with a generic Someone, even if such a person were available.

        now, i'm going to assume good faith here, and bring up that: a lot of disabled people (or people with disabilities, depending on what the OP to this chain prefers [people do often prefer one or the other, i usually go with "disabled" for myself rather than "person with disabilities"]) do live independently enough that family and friends don't live anywhere near close enough to just come round and offer support like this on a whim.

        i bring this up because it's still very prevalent in our popular culture the idea that disabled people always have family, or a romantic partner, or some kind of hired carer, available at all times. which is simply not the case for a lot of people (even though there are people who need such 24/7 help) and as such, is generally pretty patronising to say something like what you said, that you're "sure [they] could find someone". why? *what* makes you sure? please take some time to think about that.

        disclaimer: i am sighted, but disabled in other ways. i do not presume to have all the answers of how to speak to blind/Blind people specifically. rather, i am just painfully aware of how people with all kinds of disabilities get given "advice" like "get a friend or neighbour to help you with it", as if it should be normal for someone to just need the charity of an abled person to do something everyone else can do independently.

        1. A Non e-mouse Silver badge

          @sarahhart Re: This is gonna suck.

          I think the most important point you missed is that disabled people* generally don't want to have to depend on other people. Independence is something very powerful and precious to them.

          *Not sure what the correct phrase or terminology is here, sorry. No offense intended.

    5. jtaylor

      Re: This is gonna suck.

      Facetime with a sighted friend who will read the screen to you.

      There's an iPhone app that senses light, so you can even tell when the screen lights up.

      (Equivalent tools are no doubt available on Android and Windows Phone. It's just that all my blind friends use iPhones.)

    6. Jonathan 27

      Re: This is gonna suck.

      Best Buy "technicians" often have no training at all, some might have A+ (which honestly, is a worthless certification). I wouldn't pay them to clean out my cat's box.

    7. TrumpSlurp the Troll Silver badge

      Re: This is gonna suck.

      So don't use Best Buy.

      Find a local independent.

      You should have plenty of choice.

      Interview them first just to check their knowledge, of course.

  3. Tom 64
    FAIL

    ugh

    Anyone know how likely this is to occur?

    My work system runs kaby lake, and I'd rather not disable SMT unless really necessary.

    1. DougS Silver badge

      Re: ugh

      Well, have you seen those symptoms yet? If not...

      Also, look at how long it took them to find this, since it affects all Skylakes it is at least two years since customer testing of Skylakes started, even longer since Intel did internal tests. It can't be all that common or easy to trigger, or it would have been identified a LONG time ago.

      1. patrickstar

        Re: ugh

        Well, on the other hand, how many people actually bother (or are able) to root-cause random crashes to the Point where the microcode can be properly blamed?

        Even if it's a perfectly repeatable crash most people would blame it on application/OS bugs and work around it.

        I'd think that the only people who actually HAVE to hunt down bugs like this would be compiler authors and related fields.

        1. Ramazan

          Re: would be compiler authors and related fields

          Not necessarily. Guys who run performance benchmarks at Tom's Hardware Guide once noticed that newest Intel Pentium III 1333MHz (or was it 1133MHz?) consistently crashed at Linux kernel compilation test.

          Found it on Wikipedia: "A 1.13 GHz version was released in mid-2000 but famously recalled after a collaboration between HardOCP and Tom's Hardware[3] discovered various instabilities with the operation of the new CPU speed grade."

          http://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/intel-admits-problems-pentium-iii-1,235-3.html:

          "When I was testing the Pentium III 1.13 GHz I was also using a GNU/Linux installation to run kernel compilation benchmarks. I had introduced this benchmark in our processor-benchmarking suite only recently and was therefore not too experienced with this operating system. What I knew for sure however was that my Pentium III 1.13 GHz hadn't been able to finish the compilation even once."

      2. Nattrash

        Re: ugh

        I agree fully. Looking at the timeline in the Debian message, this has been ongoing for some time. So incidence and significance seem favourable.

        And as for some comments here:

        The latest Dell boxen we have here allow BIOS flash/updates OS independently, because there is the f12 option way before any OS has booted. Just get the update package at Dell and use the update option under F12 during boot. Whether Dell already adapted/ upgraded their BIOS, that is another question of course (quick check for our boxen resulted in a firm no).

        As for Linux - not uncommon, the Linux updates are also coming through with a significant delay. For example, where Debian (from stretch upwards) already have the new intel-microcode, ubuntu still haven't pushed this newer version (for their LTS) yet.

        Then again, as WUSP show, careful review and deployment of updates is always a good thing...

        1. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: ugh

        I have had some unexplained major performance issues with a heavily multi-threaded application on a Kaby Lake i7 that do not occur on my Haswell i7 development machine. At times the 3.6GHz Kaby Lake significantly under-performs the 2.2GHz Haswell. I kind of doubt this microcode issue is the cause, it's much more likely to be a bug in my code, but I have been racking my brains and not found the cause yet, so I'm going to disable HT and see what happens.

        1. Alan_Peery

          Re: ugh

          Maybe the processor bug makes a function call fail, and that failure is caught by an exception? Unless the exception logs a message that could be a silent cause of slowness.

      4. Tom 64

        Re: ugh

        > "or it would have been identified a LONG time ago."

        It may well have been found a long time ago. Trouble is, intel have a habit of sitting on information like this so as not to harm their channel partners (who would have to dump stock), and themselves who may have to issue a huge buyback.

        Better to wait and bury the head in the sand while the engineers can figure out if it can be fixed in the field.

      5. Robert Heffernan

        Re: ugh

        Having read the documentation on the issue, it's certainly triggerable given the right circumstances.

        1. You need to be in a loop with less than 64 instructions in the loop

        2. You need to write to specific registers within that loop

    2. Voland's right hand Silver badge

      Re: ugh

      I have a laptop given to me by IT sitting in the corner. As anything handed out by corporate IT it is an Intel. To be more exact Hell with Skylake. I do not recall a "hyperthreading off" toggle in the BIOS though...

      I had to put it on extended leave because it was showing some seriously weird behavior with Java coredumping. I suspect it is the same bug. Based on its behavior I would say - every couple of hours under heavy load.

    3. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: ugh

      >Anyone know how likely this is to occur?

      Agree, if I understand the problem correctly, it should be causing user visible random system glitches and instability. Thus given the number of PC's running Windows it is correct to ask why we aren't seeing a lot of feedback about random Windows faults etc.

      Additionally, whilst I don't know the extent to which the OCaml compiler is used, we should also be questioning whether there something the OCaml compiler is doing (with respect to hyper-threading) that Windows and other compilers aren't doing.

  4. David Pearce

    Disabling Hyperthreading turns an I7 into an I5. How is Intel going to compensate for this?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      There was a Pentium bug many years ago - IIRC in floating point arithmetic. Intel eventually offered a free replacement cpu with courier collection of the old one.

      1. Korev Silver badge

        Ah yes, "Pentium inside, can't divide"

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          And, as per, Intel sought to minimise the seriousness of the bug.

          Like it only showed up once every so many billion FP executions. Which, of course, translated into pretty damn often in wall clock time.

  5. Mikel

    Disable hyperthreading? Ouch.

    Not a good time for this just as AMD launches Ryzen, Threadripper and EPYC.

    1. GrumpyOldBloke

      Re: Disable hyperthreading? Ouch.

      Ryzen is not without its issues - random freezes.

    2. ArrZarr Silver badge

      Re: Disable hyperthreading? Ouch.

      Just occured to me - why hasn't Threadripper had an I-for-a-Y-dectomy while Ryzen and epyc both have? Was Threadrypper just too much for even the humorless lot at AMD marketing?

      1. Jonathan 27

        Re: Disable hyperthreading? Ouch.

        Probably because native English speakers would all pronounce that thread-ripe-er.

  6. Chairo
    Linux

    Linux to the rescue?

    Current Linux distros (Ubuntu from at least 15.04 on) have a "3rd party driver" feature to update the CPU microcode. Both, for AMD and Intel.

    Does this solve the problem? If so, enabling that driver would be a simple workaround.

    I wonder, if a similar feature is available for Windows, too.

    Edit: See also:

    1. Chairo

      Re: Linux to the rescue?

      Hmm, a short search of the microsoft website shows that there is at least a mechanism for microsoft to update the microcode. They seem to deliver it via windows update.

      Perhaps Intel can persuade them to deliver this specific update quickly and with a comprehensive description?

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Linux to the rescue?

      "Current Linux distros (Ubuntu from at least 15.04 on) have a "3rd party driver" feature to update the CPU microcode. Both, for AMD and Intel."

      Such mechanisms have existed since the days of oops-I-can't-divide. So why are Debian saying it can't be fixed except by motherboard firmware?

      Does current firmware shut the door on such mechanisms? That might be done for security reasons - block malware that attempts to rewrite microcode - but if so there needs to be a better way to fix it than depending on motherboard manufacturers getting round to distributing upgrades, always assuming they can be bothered.

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Jon 37

      Re: Linux to the rescue?

      For Skylake, the latest version of the Linux microcode update will fix this.

      But for Kaby Lake, Intel have not released the fixed microcode publicly, it's only available to motherboard manufacturers. So you will have to ask your PC or motherboard vendor for an updated BIOS/UEFI that includes the latest microcode.

      That's Intel's fault for having a fix and not releasing it to the public, there's not much that Debian can do about it.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Not good news for the new iMac...

    So the new £5000 iMac Xeon 2017, is well, the same speed as a 2009 i7 iMac 27''?

    Timmy will be happy. He'll be 'Hyper-ventilating'.

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