Pre-2015 Intel Systems: Massive Performance Impacts from Spectre and Meltdown

There has been a lot of discussion about Spectre and Meltdown since last week and now Microsoft has something to say about Windows Systems performance after patching.

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In general, our experience is that Variant 1 and Variant 3 mitigations have minimal performance impact, while Variant 2 remediation, including OS and microcode, has a performance impact.

Here is the summary of what we have found so far:

* With Windows 10 on AMD (2007-era PCs with Phenom, Phenom II, FX, or Ryzen) or modern Intel silicon (2016-era PCs with Skylake, Kabylake or newer CPU), benchmarks show single-digit slowdowns, but we don’t expect most users to notice a change because these percentages are reflected in milliseconds.

* With Windows 10 on older silicon (2015-era PCs with Haswell or older CPU), some benchmarks show more significant slowdowns, and we expect that some users will notice a decrease in system performance.

* With Windows 8 and Windows 7 on older silicon (2015-era PCs with Haswell or older CPU), we expect most users to notice a decrease in system performance.

* Windows Server on any silicon, especially in any IO-intensive application, shows a more significant performance impact when you enable the mitigations to isolate untrusted code within a Windows Server instance. This is why you want to be careful to evaluate the risk of untrusted code for each Windows Server instance, and balance the security versus performance tradeoff for your environment.

So in summation, with processors older than Skylake (launched in August 2015) changed the way branch prediction is being handled so that it is not more specific to indirect branches. There will be some penalty but not like what we will see in previous Intel CPU architectures. Windows 7 and 8 is going to be a bigger loser than Windows 10, with the FX-8350 outperforming the i7-4790k in many tests.

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