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Here’s What You Need to Know About Meltdown and Spectre CPU Flaws

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A fundamental design flaw in Intel’s processor chips has forced a significant redesign of the Linux and Windows kernels to defang the chip-level security bug. Programmers are scrambling to overhaul the open-source Linux kernel’s virtual memory system. Meanwhile, Microsoft is expected to publicly introduce the necessary changes to its Windows operating system in an upcoming Patch Tuesday: these changes were seeded to beta testers running fast-ring Windows Insider builds in November and December.

Crucially, these updates to both Linux and Windows will incur a performance hit on Intel products. The effects are still being benchmarked, however we’re looking at a ballpark figure of five to 30 per cent slow down, depending on the task and the processor model. More recent Intel chips have features – such as PCID – to reduce the performance hit. Your mileage may vary.

Similar operating systems, such as Apple’s 64-bit macOS, will also need to be updated – the flaw is in the Intel x86-64 hardware, and it appears a microcode update can’t address it. It has to be fixed in software at the OS level, or go buy a new processor without the design blunder.

Details of the vulnerability within Intel’s silicon are under wraps: an embargo on the specifics is due to lift early this month, perhaps in time for Microsoft’s Patch Tuesday next week. Indeed, patches for the Linux kernel are available for all to see but comments in the source code have been redacted to obfuscate the issue. However, some details of the flaw have surfaced, and so this is what we know.

In 2017, Google’s Project Zero team in collaboration with researchers at a number of different universities identified an absolutely massive problem with speculative execution, one of the techniques employed in modern microprocessors as a way of improving performance. Essentially, when a processor uses speculative execution, instead of performing tasks strictly sequentially, it predicts which calculations it might need to do subsequently. It then solves them in advance and in parallel fashion.

The result is that the CPU wastes some cycles performing unnecessary calculations, but performs chains of commands much faster than if it waited to process them one after the other. However, there’s a serious flaw in the way modern processors are hardcoded to use speculative execution—they don’t check permissions correctly and leak information about speculative commands that don’t end up being run.

As a result, user programs can possibly steal glimpses at protected parts of the kernel memory. That’s memory dedicated to the most essential core components of an operating system and their interactions with system hardware, and it’s supposed to be isolated from user processes at all times to prevent such glimpses from happening. Everything from passwords to stored files could be compromised as a result.

According to a release by the Graz University of Technology, the researchers have identified three potential attack methods, Meltdown and two closely-related vulnerabilities collectively named Spectre. Meltdown breaks the most fundamental isolation between user applications and the operating system. This attack allows a program to access the memory, and thus also the secrets, of other programs and the operating system.

Spectre breaks the isolation between different applications. It allows an attacker to trick error-free programs, which follow best practices, into leaking their secrets. In fact, the safety checks of said best practices actually increase the attack surface and may make applications more susceptible to Spectre.

There’s no way to truly fix Meltdown or Spectre on the hardware level. It can’t be fixed with a microcode update. But researchers can rewrite OSes and other platforms to work around the error by severing kernel memory entirely from user processes with a method called Kernel Page Table Isolation. Since this is a hardware bug, everything running on affected processors is vulnerable including every major OS (Windows, Linux, and macOS), some mobile devices, and cloud computing providers.

Companies are rushing to patch platforms. Per Axios, Microsoft has already patched Windows 10 and will release patches for Windows 7 and 8, Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud is already mostly secured, AMD is still investigating, and ARM is still working on how to address the issue. Apple did not respond to Axios’ request for comment, though security researcher Alex Ionescu tweeted it already released an initial fix for its desktop-based macOS in December 2017’s 10.13.2.

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Intel Launches 13th Gen Intel Core Processor Family Alongside New Intel Unison Solution

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At  Intel Innovation, Intel revealed the 13th Gen Intel Core processor family, led by the 13th Gen Intel Core i9-13900K – the world’s fastest desktop processor. The new 13th Gen Intel Core family includes six new unlocked desktop processors with up to 24 cores and 32 threads and blazing clock speeds up to 5.8 GHz for the best gaming, streaming, and recording experience.

Led by the launch of the Intel Core ’K’ processors, the 13th Gen Intel Core desktop family will consist of 22 processors and more than 125 partner system designs – providing an uncompromising experience in both application performance and platform compatibility. Enthusiasts can take advantage of 13th Gen Intel Core processors’ performance improvements with existing Intel 600 or new Intel 700 series chipset motherboards. Combined with both the latest DDR5 memory support and continued DDR4 memory support, users can enjoy the benefits of 13th Gen Intel Core while customizing their setup based on their own features and budget preferences.

“We are raising the standards of PC performance once again with our latest generation of flagship 13th Gen Intel Core Processors,” said Michelle Johnston Holthaus, executive vice president and general manager of the Client Computing Group at Intel. “The 13th Gen Intel Core family is the latest example of how Intel is enabling amazing experiences to happen on the PC — at scale and across all PC product segments. Combine this with an industry-leading partner ecosystem and new solutions like Intel Unison, and together we are showing the world what’s truly possible with the PC experience going forward.”

Building on a matured Intel 7 process and x86 performance hybrid architecture, 13th Gen Intel Core desktop processors enable better system performance – even through the most demanding of multitasking workloads. This includes up to 15% better single-threaded performance and up to 41% better multi-threaded performance. With this generation, Intel’s performance hybrid architecture brings together the fastest Performance-core (P-core) ever built along with up to double the number of Efficient-cores (E-core) – delivering an improved single-threaded and multi-threaded performance that enables:

  • World’s best gaming experience: Available with up to 24 cores (8 P-cores, 16 E-cores) and 32 threads, the new Core i9-13900K provides the best experience for gaming, streaming, and recording. With up to 5.8 GHz and 15% better single-thread performance, it can push high frame rates and allows for unleashed gaming experiences across top titles.
  • Continued advances in content creation performance: The 13th Gen Intel Core desktop processor lineup adds more E-cores and up to 41% better multi-threaded performance to handle multiple, compute-intensive workloads to keep people in the creative flow.
  • An Unmatched Overclocking Experience: The 13th Gen Intel Core processor offers an unmatched overclocking experience for everyone – from experts to beginners. 13th Gen Intel Core processor users can see higher average overclocking speeds across P-cores, E-cores, and DDR5 memory.  Intel also updated its easy 1-click overclocking feature, Intel Speed Optimizer, to support 13th Gen processors so users can overclock with minimal effort. And the robust Intel Extreme Memory Profile (XMP) 3.0 ecosystem provides a wide selection of overclocking modules. When coupled with Intel Dynamic Memory Boost, this feature provides a hassle-free memory overclocking experience with both DDR4 and DDR5.

Rob Bartholomew, chief product officer at Creative Assembly said, “We’ve been working with Intel for over a decade to deliver an incredible Total War experience on Intel CPUs. We’ve optimized Total War: WARHAMMER III for the hybrid 12th Gen architecture, and we’re excited to continue the work with the new 13th Gen Intel Core Processors.”

The 13th Gen Intel Core desktop processors empower users with leading-edge performance and experiences across gaming, content creation, and work, with several new and improved features including:

  • Intel Adaptive Boost Technology and Thermal Velocity Boost – opportunistically boosting processor clock frequencies based on power and thermal headroom during a given workload. Available in Intel Core i9 unlocked SKUs.
  • More E-cores across Intel Core i5, i7, and i9 – powering a big leap in multi-threaded performance and a better multitasking/mega-tasking experience for users.
  • PCIe Gen 5.0 support, with up to sixteen lanes off the processor.
  • Increased memory support to DDR5-5600 and DDR5-5200, while maintaining DDR4 compatibility.
  • Up to 2x the L2 cache and increased L3 cache.

Alongside the 13th Gen Intel Core desktop processors, Intel is launching the new Intel 700 Series chipset with advanced features for increased reliability and performance. Eight additional PCIe Gen 4.0 lanes combined with PCI Gen 3.0 provide 28 total lanes off the chipset, increased USB 3.2 Gen 2×2 (20 Gbps) ports provide improved USB connectivity speed, and DMI Gen 4.0 increases the chipset-to-CPU throughput for fast access to peripheral devices and networking. Additionally, Intel is bringing forward and backward compatibility. Take advantage of 13th Gen Intel Core processor performance improvements with existing Intel 600 chipset-based motherboards.

13th Gen Intel Core desktop ‘K’ processors and the Intel Z790 chipset will be available starting October 20, 2022, including boxed processors, motherboards, and desktop system sales. Additional details on the rest of the 13th Gen Intel Core processor family will be shared at a later date.

Following the acquisition of Screenovate showcased at CES 2022, Intel is introducing Intel Unison, a software solution that seamlessly connects your PC and devices for a universal, easy-to-use experience across operating systems. Intel Unison’s initial release will deliver a continuous and seamless connectivity experience between the PC and phone, beginning with iOS and Android.  Following a simple pairing process, users will be able to:

  • File transfer – Save time when transferring files and photos between a PC and Android or iOS device, as well as extend the power of the PC and enjoy the continuity of taking a photo or video on a phone and seamlessly editing on the PC.
  • Text message – Send and receive text messages from their PCs to avoid device switching and enjoy the comfort and ease of a full keyboard and monitor.
  • Phone calls –With access to their phone’s full contact list, users can make and receive voice calls directly from their PCs.
  • Phone notifications –Receive and manage phone notifications from their PC so they can stay connected and maintain control.

Intel Unison will launch on select Intel Evo laptops based on 12th Gen Intel Core processors from Acer, HP, and Lenovo this year, and will scale to 13th Gen Intel Core-based designs starting early next year. Intel Unison will continue to evolve with additional form factors, functionality, and operating systems in the future.

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Kingston FURY Releases New Special Edition RGB DDR4

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Kingston FURY, the gaming division of Kingston Technology Company, Inc., a world leader in memory products and technology solutions, announced today it has unleashed a new member of the pack, Kingston FURY Beast DDR4 RGB Special Edition. The white heat spreader with striking RGB lighting makes these modules unique amongst the Kingston FURY line.

Enhance not just the performance of your system but keep it fresh with the library of preset RGB lighting patterns and effects or personalise the settings to create a look that makes your system truly one of a kind with Kingston FURY CTRL software. Along with the patented Infrared Sync Technology, trust your tailored RGB effects stay aligned.

Whether you are gaming, video editing, or anything in between get the most out your system with Kingston FURY Beast DDR4 RGB Special Edition. It is Intel XMP Certified, offering advanced pre-optimised timings, speeds and voltages to overclock with ease by a single selection of one of the built-in profiles. As well as being ready for AMD Ryzen, Kingston FURY Beast DDR4 RGB Special Edition will effortlessly integrate making it a hassle-free upgrade for any Intel or AMD-based system.

“As Kingston sets to enter our 35th year we’re happy to offer this Special Edition of the favorited Kingston FURY Beast line for those who want to update the performance and style of their system,” said Iwona Zalewska, DRAM business manager, Kingston, EMEA. “With speeds of 3200 & 3600MT/s and the bright RGB effects illuminating the unique white heat spreader Kingston FURY Beast DDR4 RGB Special Edition will do just that.”

Kingston FURY Beast DDR4 RGB Special Edition is available in single module capacities of 8GB and 16GB, and kit capacities of 16GB and 32GB.

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EVGA Ends Partnership with Nvidia

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Graphics card manufacturer EVGA has made a name for itself manufacturing and selling Nvidia’s GeForce GPUs for two decades, including some of the more attractively priced options on the market. But according to the YouTubers at Gamers Nexus, analyst Jon Peddie, and an EVGA forum post, EVGA is officially terminating its relationship with Nvidia and will not be manufacturing cards based on the company’s RTX 4000-series GPUs.

EVGA’s graphics cards have exclusively used Nvidia GPUs since its founding in 1999, and according to Gamers Nexus, GeForce sales represent 80 percent of EVGA’s revenue, making this a momentous and arguably company-endangering change. But EVGA CEO Andrew Han told Gamers Nexus that the decision was about “principle” rather than financials—Han complained about a lack of communication from Nvidia about new products, including information about pricing and availability.

Nvidia’s pricing strategy was apparently another sore point for EVGA. Nvidia’s first-party Founders Edition cards could often undercut the pricing of cards offered by EVGA and other vendors, forcing them to either lower prices or lose sales as a result.

Nvidia may not be entirely at fault here—the wider dynamics of the GPU market are also tough to navigate. As Peddie also points out, even as GPU costs have gone up, profit margins for the board partners that manufacture Nvidia GPUs have gone down. Modern high-end GPUs have massively higher power, cooling, and PCI Express signaling requirements than cards from just a few years ago, making them more expensive to design and manufacture, and reporting about the RTX 4000 series indicates that that trend is only going to continue.

The end of the EVGA-Nvidia relationship could also hurt Nvidia—Peddie says that EVGA represents about 40 percent of Nvidia’s GPU market share in North America—but in the medium term, the company is unlikely to be fazed much. Nvidia has other partners, and despite differences in cooler design and clock speeds, GPUs in the same series tend to perform similarly regardless of which of Nvidia’s partners actually made them. In other words, an RTX 3070 is an RTX 3070, and people who want one are just going to buy one from another company if EVGA’s products aren’t available.

EVGA will continue to sell its other products, including power supplies, though Han told Gamers Nexus that the company doesn’t plan to return to the GPU market at all—not with AMD’s or Intel’s GPUs, and not with future GeForce product generations. Han also said that EVGA would continue to sell cards based on older GeForce GPUs, including the RTX 3000 series until they run out of stock toward the end of 2022. The company will also keep enough inventory of these cards on-hand to fulfill any warranty repairs or replacements for currently supported cards.

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