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Intel Releases Meltdown, Spectre Patch Benchmarks

Intel has released numbers from its own benchmarks on the impact of Meltdown/Spectre patches on Windows, and the results show an up to 21% decrease in benchmark performance for 6th-gen Intel CPUs (Sky Lake).

The Meltdown/Spectre vulnerabilities have been much more than just a blemish on Intel’s reputation. Right from the get-go, it was known that the fixes for it had the potential for a significant performance impact. The immediate follow up from major involved parties seemed to be mild, however. Many independent tests, including our own, also didn’t find any major concerns. Intel’s official stance continued to be that home users would face little impact, while the effect on enterprise would be “highly workload-dependent.”

Many were skeptical, naturally, and believed that Intel and its affected enterprise customers were downplaying the issue. As the issue entered its second week and patches had been rolled out to more customers, however, a different picture was appearing. Epic Games said the patches were responsible for a huge performance hit on its cloud service provider, which caused instability in servers for Fortnite. Microsoft, which was among those downplaying the issue before, said that they had recorded significant performance impacts on Windows 7.

For what it’s worth, Intel hasn’t been entirely silent on the developing issue. Until now, the only official number from it was an up to 14% performance decrease in a benchmark of SYSmark 2014 SE for an 8th-gen Intel CPU. Intel released the full numbers from its benchmarking, however, and they aren’t nearly as rosy.

For the directly comparable numbers, Intel benchmarked Windows 10 running on 8th-gen (Coffee Lake), 7th-gen (Kaby Lake), and 6th-gen (Sky Lake) desktop and mobile CPUs with an NVMe SSD. Across the board, the biggest impact was to the SYSMark 2014 SE Responsiveness benchmark, which saw drops from  12% on an i7 8700K to 21% on an i7 6700K.

This test is heavily affected by storage performance, so Intel’s numbers show there is definitely a concern that SSD performance could be seriously impacted. Other numbers showed less impact, with the second most affected being the Office Productivity benchmark, which had a 5% and 10% drop on the respective processors. This test is heavily affected by CPU performance and is the only test that includes web browsing.

Intel is still downplaying the issue by stating that the overall impact only ranges from 6% to 8%, but we think even 8% on a two-year-old CPU is pretty significant. Intel even somewhat ironically highlights the lack of performance impact on hard drive-equipped systems as if they weren’t in the business of selling SSDs. At least Intel is committing to releasing more benchmarks soon.

The full results from Intel's first tests are below.