Launching in August of 2015, the Skylake processor succeeded Broadwell and brought with it reduced power consumption while also offering up greater CPU and GPU performance. The Kaby Lake processor launched early in 2017 and succeeded that platform, while also being the first Intel platform to lack drivers for any Windows OS before Windows 10. Its increased clock speed and improved graphics core has allowed it to receive high marks, and its high compatibility with x86 and x86-64 OS’ allow it to be used across a wide variety of devices.
Intel loves to hype up that their processors are built for hyperthreading, but a recent issue was discovered where each type of processor could crash due to a bug that occurs when hyperthreading is enabled. A microcode update has been released to fix the bug, but until it rolls out to you, all you can do to ensure that your system doesn’t crash is to disable hyperthreading in the system firmware.
Here’s a statement from Intel:
“We have already identified this issue and addressed it with a fix that started rolling out in April 2017. As always, we recommend checking to make sure your BIOS is up to date, but the chance of encountering this issue is low, as it requires a complex number of concurrent micro-architectural conditions to reproduce.”
Presently, it appears that all of the Skylake and Kaby Lake processors are affected with one exception. The Kaby Lake X chips have been fixed, but the new Skylake X chips still contain the issue.
Anyone with the affected hardware will eventually need to use the microcode fix Intel is rolling out or they will always be vulnerable to crashes. The fix seems to have actually been released in May, but it didn’t receive much press.
Applying the microcode update will be a different process depending on the operating system you’re using. If you’re using Linux, you will need to use a package from a “non-free” repository due to the lack of source code for these updates being available. Windows users only need to let Windows Update run through its updating process as it contains drivers for microcode updates from both Intel and AMD should issues like this arise.
With hyperthreading being such a huge selling point for Intel, one would expect Microsoft to update its microcode drivers as soon as possible. Windows 10 should definitely receive it, and they would gain some goodwill from legacy hardware users if they added an update for 7 and 8.1. However, with Kaby Lake not being supported by those OS’, there wouldn’t be a major benefit to end users beyond just an increase in usability over the long haul. This isn’t just an issue for users of older hardware though.
Users of the Surface Book are out of luck as well since a firmware update isn’t available for it that includes the fix, at least not yet. Additionally, a lot of motherboard firmware has not been updated in the mere month and a half since Intel sent out its patch.
Again, if you don’t have a firmware update available, then your safest bet is to disable hyperthreading. It’s a shame that users will have to effectively gimp their own systems that they spent good money on until this issue is resolved, but it’s the only surefire way to avoid issues. The issue has actually been around for nearly two years before the bug was fixed, and widespread crashing of Skylake machines haven’t been reported in that time. If you do a lot of essential things like banking or business work on a Skylake or Kaby Lake chipset, then disabling it is your best overall option. You may be reducing your efficiency, but that is far better than the device crashing at a horrible time, leading to something like essential data loss or possible file corruption.
Individual users of home computers shouldn’t be too worried if they haven’t had an issue yet. If you have a problem-laden machine, then you would probably know it by now. If issues haven’t cropped up yet, you may have gotten lucky and may never encounter an issue. The biggest causes for concern here are for things like large-scale data centers that could lose a great deal of information due to an ill-timed crash. That is a far bigger issue than a single home user’s computer having a problem. The end-user is still important, but a single crash is unlikely to cause much damage unless you’re in the middle of writing data to it.
It’s a shame this happened, but at least Intel has a fix out there for as many users as possible. Right now, it’s up to Windows Update to really solve things for Windows users. Linux users should be fine with a downloadable fix as long as the creator of their device allows for a variety of different ways to read the data for the fix. But, do keep in mind that, in addition to the microcode update, you’ll need to update your computer’s BIOS as well.
If you have a device without an optical drive, then you may need to get an external DVD drive to prepare an update. If it doesn’t allow for a USB thumb drive to be used, then you could be out of luck until you get one — they aren’t too expensive now, but are yet another step an end user might need to make up for faulty hardware.