Intel Explains Hardware Specter and Meltdown Protection in Cascade Lake

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At the Hot Chips symposium in California, Intel revealed some details of the hardware protection against Specter- and Meltdown-like vulnerabilities it is bringing to the Cascade Lake generation of its Xeon Scalable Platform CPUs.

A slide shows that the chipmaker plans to include hardware protection for three variants of the vulnerabilities in the new Xeon CPUs. This primarily concerns Specter variant 2, also known as branch target injection, for which software mitigations have also been developed. Meltdown, or rogue data cache load, is also on the list, as is the fairly recent L1 Terminal Fault variant, or L1TF or Foreshadow. The Intel presentation was attended by AnandTech.

According to AnandTech, Intel has not yet announced plans for hardware measures in generations after Cascade Lake. What the plans are for consumer processors is also not revealed. When the site spoke earlier with Lisa Spelman, the vice president of Intel’s data center division, she said the hardware adjustments should reduce the performance loss caused by the software measures, although it is unclear by what factor. She stated that “the hardware changes are bringing performance back on track” and that the performance is in any case higher due to “updates to the platform”.

Intel had previously announced that it would make hardware changes this year due to vulnerabilities that use properties such as speculative execution and which are categorized by Intel as side-channel methods. These make it possible to steal information from the memory of vulnerable systems, for example also from an SGX enclave. Due to the appearance of new variants, it is not inconceivable that hardware adjustments will also be necessary in subsequent CPU generations. Intel recently showed a roadmap of Cascade Lake, with availability in the fourth quarter, and its successors.

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