Spectre and Meltdown — Intel patches progress

 Computer, Desktop, News  Comments Off on Spectre and Meltdown — Intel patches progress
Mar 022018
 

Yesterday, PC World posted some articles regarding progress in the continuing Spectre and Meltdown saga.

The fixed Spectre fixes are coming fast and furious now. Intel quietly pushed CPU firmware updates out for Haswell (4th-generation) and Broadwell (5th-generation) processors earlier this week, following in the footsteps of recent microcode patches for Skylake (6th-gen), Kaby Lake (7th-gen), and Coffee Lake (8th-gen) processors.

Don’t expect to see the updates immediately. They need to trickle down through hardware suppliers like Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Asus in the form of motherboard BIOS updates; you can’t grab it directly from Intel. If you own a laptop or prebuilt PC from a major manufacturer, keep an eye out for an available update.

The Spectre CPU firmware updates will affect your PC’s performance, though it varies wildly depending on your hardware, operating system, and tasks at hand.

Typically, patching Spectre and Meltdown mitigations have followed a traditional pattern: Microsoft patches Windows via Windows Update, antivirus companies like AVG have patched their antivirus software, and so on. Intel, too, authors patches, as it recently did for Haswell and Broadwell CPUs. But unlike Microsoft, Intel doesn’t directly ship those patches to end users—it uses its network of PC makers and motherboard vendors to distribute them, after the appropriate testing by each vendor.

What isn’t clear is whether Microsoft will also push out Intel’s microcode via Windows Update, its usual distribution mechanism for supplying patches. … Though neither Microsoft nor Intel clarified exactly why Microsoft is providing Intel’s microcode, the likely reason is to support smaller PC makers, and especially motherboard makers … [So, for the typical PC user this does not apply, eh.]

Processor designations like Coffee Lake, Kaby Lake, Skylake, Broadwell, Haswell, etc., don’t mean anything to most of us; so, basically all this news tells us is that Intel and Microsoft (among others) are continuing to work on patches for relatively new and somewhat older PCs.

Update 3-9-2018: Intel issues Meltdown/Spectre fixes for Ivy Bridge, Sandy Bridge as patch effort winds down

Intel’s revised patches for its Ivy Bridge [3rd gen] and Sandy Bridge [2nd gen] processor families have begun rolling out to address Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities. With the release of the new code, just a few older processor families remain in the patch queue.

By now, Microsoft and many antivirus vendors have issued the appropriate patches, but if you’re concerned that your PC or motherboard vendor hasn’t delivered the appropriate patch, you can also check Microsoft’s site.

Update 4-6-2018: How to find your motherboard’s Spectre CPU fix – Such a crucial patch should be much simpler to find – by Brad Chacos, Senior Editor, PCWorld – April 5, 2018

Operating system patches alone can protect against the nasty Meltdown flaw affecting Intel processors, but fixing Spectre —Meltdown’s nasty sibling, which affects all CPUs — requires firmware updates for your hardware. Those firmware fixes are finally available for all Intel processors scheduled to receive a fix, dating back to the Sandy Bridge (2nd-gen) era of Core processors from 2011.

Installing Spectre fixes aren’t so easy, though, especially if you’re using a computer you’ve built yourself, or one from a boutique PC builder that uses off-the-shelf parts. You can’t download CPU firmware patches directly from Intel or AMD; instead, you need to download them from your motherboard’s provider, such as Asus, Gigabyte, or ASRock. You’ll need to know your motherboard’s model number to find the correct firmware for your device, too, and Windows doesn’t make that easy to find.

 

Microsoft Store — some free services

 Computer, Site  Comments Off on Microsoft Store — some free services
Jan 242018
 

I received an email message from the Microsoft Store recently reminding me of services available there, some of which are free. While these retail stores are scarce, if you’re near enough to one, you might consider that an option or a place to get general help — Answer Desk. Or if you’re thinking about a new PC, eh. Here’s a link to the local store in the LA area: Microsoft Store – Westfield Century City.

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Jun 262014
 

Microsoft started a small chain of retail stores in 2009. As noted in Wikipedia’s “Microsoft Store” article,

The stores aim to “improve the PC and Microsoft retail purchase experience for consumers worldwide and help consumers make more informed decisions about their PC and software purchases.”

The Microsoft Store is similar to the popular Apple Store concept, which has been largely successful. The concept aims to give a greater level of customer satisfaction by not only having sales staff but also employing “Technical Advisers” (similar to Apple’s “Geniuses”) to assist customers with technical questions and issues. In addition “Specialists” (or trainers) are employed to show customers how to get the most out of their software. Xbox Ones are also available to entertain patrons.

The closest stores to the LA South Bay are in Costa Mesa (South Coast Plaza) and Westfield Century City (10250 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90067 — on level 1 of Westfield Century City near Bloomingdale’s and Pinkberry).

Microsoft’s Answer Desk provides both in-store and online PC support. They offer free in-store services, $49 in-store services, Assure Software Support Plan, and Data Recovery Services.

Free in-store support includes:

  • Extended diagnostics on any device
  • Software repair or support
  • Virus and malware removal
  • PC tune-ups for increased performance
  • Recycle for Rewards appraisal with store credit

Their online Answer Desk has partial names (like “John P”) and photos of Answer Tech’s with the number of cases they’ve handled. Most services are $99. The 1-year Assure Software Support Plan is $149.

Whether you need help with Windows, Office or you’ve got an issue with your PC, our trained experts have the answers you need. Any Answer Tech can help you find the perfect service to keep your computer running smoothly.

The stores also provide one-hour $49 courses: Windows 8.1, Windows Phone, Word 2013, PowerPoint 2013, Excel 2013, OneNote 2013, Windows Essentials, Skype, Internet Explorer 10 & OneDrive. In-store services may be scheduled online.

While I have not personally visited a Microsoft Store or used their Answer Desk as yet (so I cannot compare that with Apple Store’s), their services certainly are an option to consider when the need arises, especially if you prefer a more focused retail experience.