Intel messed up its chance at redemption from Meltdown, Spectre

JC Torres - Jan 23, 2018, 9:31pm CST
Intel messed up its chance at redemption from Meltdown, Spectre

Grownups love to throw nuggets of wisdom like “haste makes waste” or “pride comes before a fall”. But apparently, you reach a certain stage where you might feel exempt from those. And then everything falls apart. Intel may have started thinking that way and is now reaping the unsavory fruits. It did promptly roll out patches to address the Meltdown and Spectre vulnerabilities that threaten nearly all of the computing industry but it turns out that the cure is just as bad as the disease. And now Intel is asking OEMs to hold off on applying a Spectre patch that is causing computers to randomly reboot.

Let’s be a bit fair to Intel. It isn’t the only tech giant in recent memory to make this same mistake. Samsung rushed its Galaxy Note 7 in 2016 and that phone ended up in flames. Literally. Microsoft aggressively pushed its Windows 10 Creators Update last year, only to ask users to hold off on installing what turned out to be a buggy initial rollout.

Intel also had little choice but to move quickly. Although it had a heads up long before Meltdown and Spectre went public, it’s a problem that reaches down to the very roots of how modern processors work. And once that information went public, it had an even shorter time to act before someone eventually took advantage of the vulnerabilities. Fortunately, there hasn’t been one. At least not yet.

At the same time, Intel seemed to have taken the matter a bit too lightly. There were already speculations, and proof later on, that its patches would adversely affect performance. It claimed it won’t be so. It may have, however, overlooked the other unintended side effects of its fixes. In other words, it didn’t test the patches well enough, otherwise, it would have experienced the same rebooting problem that dozens of partners and users have reported.

Now Intel urging those same partners and users to stop deploying and applying the patches to avoid the rebooting problem until a fix to the fix is released. Too little too late for those already bitten by the bug. Intel does identify Broadwell and Haswell chips as the only ones affected and has narrowed it down to the mitigation for the Variant 2 of the Spectre vulnerability. But while it explains the situation, it doesn’t excuse it at all.

When you boast that your chips power majority of the computing devices around the world, you do have an implicit, maybe even legal, responsibility to ensure the quality of your products, from the hardware to the software. There seems to be a worrying trend of manufacturers and developers rolling out software and updates in record time but also failing to dot their i’s and cross their t’s. Yes, speed is important in this fast-paced market, but quality has and always will be even more important. Because it doesn’t matter if your computer is protected from still theoretical attacks if you can’t use it anyway because it keeps on rebooting.

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