Intel processors' design flaw may lead to huge computer slowdowns

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Fixing the problem could slow devices’ performance by 30 percent

If you purchased or received a brand new, blazing fast PC over the holidays, you may be in for some disappointment in the next few weeks.

The Register reports that a design flaw in certain Intel processor chips produced in the last decade has left devices that use them with a serious security flaw. 

While Intel has not yet released details of the flaw, the necessary updates to Linux, Windows, and macOS systems may slow a device’s processing speed by as much as 30 percent.

Unfortunately, consumers who want to resolve the issue may not have many appealing options. Not fixing the problem may put users at risk of having their devices and private information compromised; relying on upcoming software fixes for their operating system may drastically slow down users’ devices; and going out and buying a new processor not affected by the flaw could be costly.

Intel has not yet returned a request for comment from ConsumerAffairs.

Vulnerable to cyber attack

While full details of the design flaw remain unclear, reports suggest that it may allow user programs to gain access to protected kernel memory areas – a key component of all operating systems that stores information and carries out computer tasks.

A vulnerability to these areas would allow a hacker to access kernel memory and steal all kinds of sensitive information including passwords, log-in information, or cached files. Savvy hackers could even abuse the kernel to make machines more vulnerable to other types of malicious bugs or malware.

While this alleged vulnerability is bad enough from a consumer standpoint, it could be even worse for big-name companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google who use Intel chips. Several companies have already scheduled major security updates for early January to address the issue, but it’s possible that the services these companies provide could be impacted by huge slowdowns as a result.

Slowed performance vs. paying for replacement

Similarly, fixing the vulnerability from a software standpoint at the consumer level has significant drawbacks. In order to make kernel memory areas secure, engineers may have to separate them from user processes altogether so that they can’t be accessed by malicious programs or codes.

However, this fix would require PC’s to switch back and forth between two separate address spaces. Simple tasks that previously could be done instantly would now take some time to process, leading to a slowdown in overall performance for certain tasks.

The other option of buying a separate, non-affected processor may yield better results, but the cost of the replacement is another factor to consider. Processor prices can range widely depending on brand and capability, with newer, higher-end models costing hundreds of dollars.

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