Published: Mon, June 26, 2017
Science | By Cecil Little

Intel Skylake, Kaby Lake users warned of HT flaw

Intel Skylake, Kaby Lake users warned of HT flaw

The errors with HT-enabled Skylake/Kaby Lake CPUs can lead to various issues ranging from your entire system locking up, major data corruption or loss, or even more.

Delays, getting shown up by AMD, having Qualcomm nipping at their heels - it's been a rough year for Intel, and now it's about to get worse: a major flaw in both Intel's Skylake and Kaby Lake architectures was announced on the Debian Linux user forum alongside a warning.

'Under complex micro-architectural conditions, ' the company's documents state, 'short loops of less than 64 instructions that use AH, BH, CH or DH registers as well as their corresponding wider register (eg RAX, EAX or AX for AH) may cause unpredictable system behaviour.

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A critical flaw that affects Intel Skylake and Kaby Lake processor Hyper-Threading came to light over the weekend.

Implication: "Due to this erratum, the system may experience unpredictable system behavior". The errata apply to any operating system, so it can also impact Windows users. Unfortunately, the scope of the issue isn't well-defined.

Intel has fixed the issue for certain processors, but users will have to install a microcode package or BIOS update to apply the fix.

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For now, Holschuh recommends disabling hyperthreading to circumvent the issue, but that isn't an acceptable long-term fix.

The defect only affects processors on which hyperthreading has been enabled, so a quick fix is to turn off this feature in the system BIOS, although this may require a BIOS/UEFI update.

It is not known how common these conditions are, but that they can occur in the wild is confirmed: The erratum was brought to the attention of the Debian team by OCaml toolchain developer Mark Shinwell following crashes in the OCaml compiler traced back to the bug. Skylake debuted in August 2015, so if there were a considerable number of mainstream desktop applications that trigger the errata, it would have likely already been thrust into the spotlight.

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The two solutions highlighted by the devloper are to either update the processor microcode or, perhaps more simply, disable hyperthreading.

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