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Intel drops plans to develop Specter microcode for old chips



Enlarge / A Sandy Bridge disc. Sandy Bridge is the oldest chip family guaranteed to receive Specter Variant 2 fixes.

Intel has cut back its plans to create microcode updates for some of its older processors to tackle the Specter Variant 2 attack. Core 2 processors are no longer designed to receive updates, and while some first-generation core products already have microcode updates available, others have canceled the update.

Earlier this year, hardware and software companies responded by calling Meltdown and Specter

The Specter attack has two variants, numbered version 1

and version 2. Specter version 1 attacks will require software fixes, And the nature of these attacks means that they can always need software fixes. Version 2 is available for hardware and firmware fixes.

In recent months, Intel has released microcode updates to provide firmware fixes for many of its existing processors. The microcode updates give operating systems more control over the processor's branch prediction and speculative execution capabilities, protecting against Specter Version 2, albeit at a certain cost. In March, Intel said it had developed microcode fixes for processors as old as the 45nm core 2 chips (based on the Penryn architecture) and the first generation core processors (based on the Westmere and Nehalem architectures). However, the company's latest update on the status of its microcode revisions indicates that some of these plans have been dropped.

None of the Core 2 processors now receive a microcode update for Specter. Some Westmers and some Nehalem processors have an update available, but those who do not, will never be updated.

The reason given by Intel for this decision is threefold:

  • Microarchitectural properties that preclude practical implementation Features that mitigate Variant 2 (CVE-2017-5715)
  • Limited commercially available system software- Support
  • Based on customer input, most of these products are implemented as "closed systems" and therefore less likely to be expected (19659012) With this policy change, Intel has developed all microcode fixes that Specter allows. The decision to upgrade some of the first-generation core processors, but not others, is still a bit odd, as it is hard to imagine that these reasons apply to some variants, but not others. Owners of Sandy Bridge or newer systems can count on having microcode updated, but anyone with a first-generation chip is advised to read Intel's list of parts to find out if they are being repaired or not.


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