Vulnerability Found in Intel’s Most Advanced Processors – Patches May Reduce Performance by up to 10%

Intel’s latest power-savvy E-cores processors are susceptible to the recently detected Register File Data Sampling (RFDS) vulnerability. Strikingly, these cores are utilized across Intel’s latest consumer processors, from Alder Lake right up to the freshest Meteor Lake units, as well as Atom chips. A protective mechanism has been introduced against malware exploiting this vulnerability, however, enabling this protection affects the system’s performance.

The RFDS vulnerability allows cybercriminals to access processor registers and the data housed therein. When compared to the previously exposed Meltdown and Downfall vulnerabilities, RFDS is less prevalent as it affects only processors equipped with energy-efficient E-cores, including Gracemont and Crestmont cores.

Intel Processor vulnerability RFDS source of images:

Intel has initiated mitigation efforts for this vulnerability by offering patches for operating systems and microcode updates. Phoronix ran 46 performance tests on a Core i9-14900K in Linux to assess the impact of these patches. They found that, on average, performance drops by 5%, with some tests seeing a slump up to 10%, while others barely registered a change.

Interestingly, this drop in performance isn’t as significant when compared to the previously mentioned Downfall corrections, which recorded performance losses up to 39%. The relatively minor performance drop might be ascribed to the fact that the performance cores used for background tasks and heavy multi-threaded loads are not impacted.

RFDS Vulnerability Intel Processors

To remedy this vulnerability, both the operating system and the microcode need updating. Motherboard manufacturers have been tardy in releasing BIOS updates to fix RFDS. Nonetheless, Linux users have already received the updated microcode with their operating system update. Windows users are also expected to receive patches with their next update.

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