PC gamers should be aware of the recent discovery of security risks inherent in CPUs and that the patch to fix the issue may affect overall performance. Researchers at Google Project Zero team shed light on the issue that affects a wide range of processors. It can get very technical, but we've highlighted the five things you need to know about these CPU flaws and how it could impact gaming.
Personal Information Is Vulnerable
There is a feature that's fundamentally built into a majority of processors, and prominent in Intel CPUs, that poses a security risk. At the core of the issue, memory is leaking through a chip's kernel which leads to potential personal data exposure and increased vulnerability to malicious software attacks. Sensitive information is a sitting duck to malware, particularly what's called Meltdown and Spectre.
A Hardware Flaw Solved Through Software
The security flaw was found to be inherent in the CPU itself. It affects the kernel, which is a non-physical entity between the CPU and operating system that controls communication between applications and the hardware itself. While the feature that causes the issue is in CPUs out on on the market today, software updates have been released to mitigate the problem.
Install OS Security Updates ASAP
Since chip manufacturers can't really do anything about the design flaws, solutions came from the makers of operating systems. Security updates to Apple's MacOS and Microsoft's Windows are now available. Additional computational instructions are patched into the operating systems to seal the leaks that leave PCs vulnerable. It's strongly advised to install these updates as soon as possible.
An Impact On Gaming Performance
By nature of placing additional instructions between the CPU and OS, the overall workload is increased and will slow down processor performance. A Reddit user on /r/pcgaming said they ran their own benchmark tests before and after the Windows 10 security update to see how much performance was impacted in a handful of games. The claimed loss in framerate ranged from as little as 1.5% to as large as 13.1% depending on the game and benchmark. These numbers came from a system equipped with an Intel Core i5 4690K CPU at 4.4GHz, 16GB of RAM and an AMD RX 580 video card.
The publication Techspot ran its own benchmarks using an Intel Core i7-8700K and GTX 1080 Ti before and after the Windows update. What they found was that the performance differences were negligible, amounting to almost no difference in framerate or a slight improvement in a few cases.
Of course, the two cases were using drastically different hardware, so it could be that the impact on performance depends on your PC's specs.
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Affects A Wide Range of Users
The security risks posed affect desktop users, server-based systems, and even mobile users. Pretty much every Intel CPU has this bug, and Apple has said that every MacOS and iOS device does too, but claim there aren't any exploits out there yet. AMD claims that their CPUs aren't nearly as vulnerable tor this exploit by nature of their architecture.
Each company has released official statements regarding this widespread problem. You should note that this story is developing and the details could change as companies dig deeper into the implications of the issue.