Do The Meltdown and Spectre Patches Affect PC Gaming Performance? 10 CPUs Tested

Civilization VI Graphics & AI, & Dawn of War III

Civilization VI AI Test

The Civilization VI AI test measures CPU performance in a turn-based strategy game, and tends to favor a mixture of physical cores, clock rate, and IPC throughput.

Our results are a mixed bag; half of the processors are slower after the patch, but five turn out to be faster. Our largest variance is 0.15 seconds, though, so its hard to ascribe any significance to the outcome.

Civilization VI Graphics Test

The results of our Civilization VI graphics test aren't any more surprising than what we saw in Ashes of the Singularity. There's little to no observable impact from the patches, and both configurations take turns in the lead. Ryzen 7 1800X encounters the most variance, and that's a mere .8 FPS on average (less than 1%). Even the 99th percentile metrics bounce back and forth between the patched and unpatched configurations.

Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III

Dawn of War doesn't seem to be hampered by the patches either, although we do see our first result exceeding a 1 FPS delta. The patched Ryzen 7 1800X falls behind by 1.1 FPS, yielding a mere 1.2% difference. Again, it's a relatively mundane outcome.

MORE: CPU Security Flaw: All You Need To Know About Spectre

MORE: Best Gaming CPUs

MORE: Intel & AMD Processor Hierarchy

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  • madvicker
    The majority of PC users are going to be on older CPUs than the ones you've tested. These results are only pertinent to the small % of people who have recently bought a CPU / new PC. What about the rest, the majority with older CPUs? That would be a much more useful and interesting analysis for most readers....
  • nikolajj
    I would like to see this done with Intel gen 4 (maybe 3) and up.
  • arielmansur
    Newer cpus don't get a performance penalty.. but older ones sure do get a noticeable one..
  • salgado18
    2655571 said:
    The majority of PC users are going to be on older CPUs than the ones you've tested. These results are only pertinent to the small % of people who have recently bought a CPU / new PC. What about the rest, the majority with older CPUs? That would be a much more useful and interesting analysis for most readers....


    Last page, third paragraph:

    "so it's possible that the impact on older CPUs could be minor as well (game testing on those is in-progress)."
  • ddearborn007
    Hmmm

    3/4 of all personal computers in the world today are NOT running windows 10. I don't know the exact percentage of gaming systems that are NOT running windows 10, but surely it is substantial.

    Why wasn't the performance hit measured on the operating system running 3/4 of all PC's in the world today published immediately? To date, it appears that these numbers are being withheld from the public; the only reason has to be that the performance hit is absolutely massive in many cases.........Oh, and out of the total number of PC's used world wide, "gaming" PC's are a very small percentage, again begging the question of why tests are only being published for windows 10....
  • LORD_ORION
    Need to test older CPUs... or is this article designed by Intel to stop people from returning recently purchased CPUs.
  • RCaron
    Excellent article Paul!

    I have a question.
    I read originally that AMD Zen architecture had near-immunity to Spectre variant 2 because a CPU specific code (password if you will) (that changes with each CPU) was required in order to exploit the CPU. Which is why AMD was claiming that Zen was almost immune to Spectre variant 2. Is this not the case?

    AMD continues to insist that Spectre 2 is difficult to exploit due to CPU architecture. You left this out, and you continually lumped AMD with Intel with respect to Spectre 2 vulnerability.

    This is misleading to your readers, and portrays a bias towards Intel.

    https://www.amd.com/en/corporate/speculative-execution
  • tripleX
    2655620 said:
    Hmmm 3/4 of all personal computers in the world today are NOT running windows 10. I don't know the exact percentage of gaming systems that are NOT running windows 10, but surely it is substantial. Why wasn't the performance hit measured on the operating system running 3/4 of all PC's in the world today published immediately? To date, it appears that these numbers are being withheld from the public; the only reason has to be that the performance hit is absolutely massive in many cases.........Oh, and out of the total number of PC's used world wide, "gaming" PC's are a very small percentage, again begging the question of why tests are only being published for windows 10....


    Global OS penetration for Win 10 and Win 7 is effectively tied.
  • PaulAlcorn
    2445859 said:
    Excellent article Paul! I have a question. I read originally that AMD Zen architecture had near-immunity to Spectre variant 2 because a CPU specific code (password if you will) (that changes with each CPU) was required in order to exploit the CPU. Which is why AMD was claiming that Zen was almost immune to Spectre variant 2. Is this not the case? AMD continues to insist that Spectre 2 is difficult to exploit due to CPU architecture. You left this out, and you continually lumped AMD with Intel with respect to Spectre 2 vulnerability. This is misleading to your readers, and portrays a bias towards Intel. https://www.amd.com/en/corporate/speculative-execution


    From the AMD page (which you linked)

    Quote:
    Google Project Zero (GPZ) Variant 1 (Bounds Check Bypass or Spectre) is applicable to AMD processors.


    And...

    Quote:
    GPZ Variant 2 (Branch Target Injection or Spectre) is applicable to AMD processors. While we believe that AMD’s processor architectures make it difficult to exploit Variant 2, we continue to work closely with the industry on this threat. We have defined additional steps through a combination of processor microcode updates and OS patches that we will make available to AMD customers and partners to further mitigate the threat. AMD will make optional microcode updates available to our customers and partners for Ryzen and EPYC processors starting this week. We expect to make updates available for our previous generation products over the coming weeks. These software updates will be provided by system providers and OS vendors; please check with your supplier for the latest information on the available option for your configuration and requirements. Linux vendors have begun to roll out OS patches for AMD systems, and we are working closely with Microsoft on the timing for distributing their patches. We are also engaging closely with the Linux community on development of “return trampoline” (Retpoline) software mitigations.


    AMD hasn't released the microcode updates yet, but to its credit, it's probably better to make sure it is validated fully before release.
  • DXRick
    Do the OS patches (without the microcode patches) fix the two exploits? If so, why would we even want the Intel patches at all?
  • timsalt
    you've really missed the point here your covering 7-8th gen intel setups here with the likes of z370 chipsets no good for people with older 6th gen bases on H110 or H170 plus do you guys realise unlike us the components in uk cost a fourtune your 7700k for example here is like £400.00 and when you factor in memory at nearly £100 just for 8GB ! DDR4 at 2400mhz and then gpu's which are way more expensive than us on a micro atx capable board with a i5 is like £600-£700 please really start being a bit more consmer friendly and not so much this is what everyone has lets test that.
  • RCaron
    Thanks for replying but you didn't answer my question.

    Do you know anything about the AMD Spectre variant 2 relating to the CPU code which is required beforehand in order to exploit AMD CPU's using variant 2?

    I'm gathering that the answer is no.

    As AMD didn't mention why they think they're less susceptible to variant 2 in the white paper, I'll assume that what I had was old news and no longer applies. I'm still curious though.
  • theterk
    forget Spectre and Meltdown, I LOVE PUBG DATA!
  • hannibal
    Older cpu most likely will not get microcode updates... and it can be a problem. Have not seen any to my prosessors and my motherboard.

    Win7 is dying out so soon that putting efford to win10 is something that is just sensible. Win7 is popular, so Yep. But end of the support is next year, so most likely not much efford is put in that Front.
  • nate1492
    Rcaron, the phrase used by AMD was entirely PR based.

    'Nearly immune'? You mean the same as 'not immune'? 'Difficult to exploit' is PR for 'exploitable'.

    This is AMD PR pushing a 'Spectre/Meltdown don't affect us... Much!' People wanted to hear that, so they read it in a positive light, rather than the practical light that AMD was also impacted. The simple fact they are releasing patches as well should tell you *everything* you need to know.

    PR versus reality, AMD was impacted too. They are not immune, as they have said.
  • jpeterson015
    1440742 said:
    2655620 said:
    Hmmm 3/4 of all personal computers in the world today are NOT running windows 10. I don't know the exact percentage of gaming systems that are NOT running windows 10, but surely it is substantial. Why wasn't the performance hit measured on the operating system running 3/4 of all PC's in the world today published immediately? To date, it appears that these numbers are being withheld from the public; the only reason has to be that the performance hit is absolutely massive in many cases.........Oh, and out of the total number of PC's used world wide, "gaming" PC's are a very small percentage, again begging the question of why tests are only being published for windows 10....
    Global OS penetration for Win 10 and Win 7 is effectively tied.


    That 3/4 estimate is close for gamers though.
    According to the most recent Steam Hardware and Software surveys,
    56% of gamers using Steam are still on Windows 7 64Bit, and 35.4% of users are on Windows 10 64Bit.

    http://store.steampowered.com/hwsurvey/
  • bigdragon
    Most of my gamer friends are still using Sandy Bridge, Ivy Bridge, Haswell, and their E variants. Everyone has upgraded their GPU at least once, but there hasn't really been a compelling reason to upgrade the CPU. Relatively few people are willing to fork over the money required to stay on the cutting edge of computing.

    Tests should really be repeated with CPUs that lack PCID and/or INVPCID flags. I recall these flags and some newer commands are leveraged heavily to protect against Spectre and Meltdown while minimizing performance impact. Not having these CPU features means a more significant impact in gaming. As an i7-4930k user, I've noticed a huge hit to Civilization VI.
  • lun471k
    @DDEARBORN007 According to Steam Hardware Survey, 35% of players are on Windows 10, and ~57% are on Windows 7. 35% is quite a lot.

    I'm pretty sure the performance difference between Windows 7 and actual Windows 10 are negligible.


    That being said, I'm still on Sandy Bridge (2600k) and I too, would like a comparison of older generations, even though they "think" there's only a negligible effect for older gens too.
  • valeman2012
    People who uses HackMod to overclock Non K Skylake CPUs.
    If they get performance and instability impact, so be it...is their fault using the hacked mods.
  • Kennyy Evony
    intel and amd should dump all their current processors to below cost of manufacture due to defects and put new fixed generation up to their current retail prices. Let everyone that doesnt need all the security and uses their pc for entertainment and not security intensive applications enjoy a super cheap systems that run games just fine.
  • rhysiam
    985697 said:
    Rcaron, the phrase used by AMD was entirely PR based. 'Nearly immune'? You mean the same as 'not immune'? 'Difficult to exploit' is PR for 'exploitable'.

    To try and turn this into a binary issue where every product is either "impacted" or "immune" is a drastic oversimplification of an extremely complex issue. After months of study the top experts still don't fully understand the full range of possibilities with Spectre, so outside of CPUs without branch prediction, no one can responsibly claim absolute "immunity". You'll note that Intel's early round of patches were released with the promise of "immunity" to Spectre but plenty of independent experts argued that they only actually reduced the vulnerability. The patches made the vulnerability much more difficult to leverage, but theoretical exploits remained. This is the problem with claiming "immunity", you only need one example, however unlikely or infeasible in the real-world, to disprove your claim.

    In just about all forms of security there are degrees of vulnerability. For example, a home network running an unsecured wifi network is "exploitable", while the network at an NSA office is (I assume!) "difficult to exploit". There will doubtless be an array of security measures in place on the NSA network to make it extremely difficult to exploit... but history tells us the network and their data is not immune to being compromised. To characterise both networks as "exploitable" might be technically correct, but it's not an accurate representation of the situation.

    Press Releases should absolutely be scrutinised and I'm not suggesting we just take AMD's word for this. It may well turn out to be PR nonsense and AMD every bit as vulnerable as Intel. But that needs to be determined by experts through testing. This issue is much more complicated than a simple "vulnerable/not vulnerable" equation.
  • steve15180
    It seems to me, that no one has read anything about AMD's research other than the PR blurbs that is quoted as replies. It would take far too long to explain completely, but AMD is, for all practical purposes at this time, immune from Spectre 2 and Meltdown. The author links a story about proof of concepts appearing in the wild. Note that to date, Spectre 2 has NOT been demonstrated on the Zen architecture. This has to do with how AMD chose to execute branch prediction memory locations.
    AMD is preparing an OPTIONAL microcode update, that will insert some instructions to keep branches "in their own lanes" so to speak, as a precaution. But, they are NOT going to implement the main instruction that has the performance hit to the Intel chips. Maybe, someday, someone may get Spectre 2 to run on Zen, but as of now, it's a non issue. To imply that there are proof of concept programs in the wild affecting the Zen cpus by omission is just not right. Near zero risk of Spectre 2, and a vulnerability to both Specter variants are NOT different statements. Near zero means a remote chance of vulnerability. Still, since there are NO examples......
  • elho_cid
    Not the test I was hoping for. I use only Xbox for gaming. But I use several computers for work - graphics, code compilation, video processing. The CPU's used there are ranging from Ivy bridge to Skylake. I want to know how the patches affect my productivity.
  • robklooster
    AMD is vulnerable to spectre variant 2. however it's not really exploitable (which is different).

    Intel makes quick references to memory. so it's easy to mark a set of memory you want to look at. AMD doesn't.

    so if the information you want is the eiffeltower. on AMD you start in the middle of spain with a set of binoculars ducttaped to your eyes. also you don't have a map. with Intel you still start with the binoculars, but you can pretty much choose your spawn location making it alot easier to get the data.