Hardware and Software Security Fixes

The Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities made quite a splash earlier this year, forcing makers of hardware and software to release updates in order to tackle them. There are several ways to fix the issues, including software, firmware, and hardware updates. Each generation of product is slowly implementing fixes, including some of the new 9th Generation processors.

At this point Intel has split the list down into 5/6 wide variants of different types of vulnerabilities. For all processors beyond mid-2018, here is what the fix table looks like:

Spectre and Meltdown on Intel
AnandTech SKX-R
CFL-R Cascade Lake Whiskey
Spectre Variant 1 Bounds Check Bypass OS/VMM OS/VMM OS/VMM OS/VMM OS/VMM
Spectre Variant 2 Branch Target Injection Firmware + OS Firmware + OS Hardware + OS Firmware + OS Firmware + OS
Meltdown Variant 3 Rogue Data Cache Load Firmware Hardware Hardware Hardware Firmware
Meltdown Variant 3a Rogue System Register Read Firmware Firmware Firmware Firmware Firmware
  Variant 4 Speculative Store Bypass Firmware + OS Firmware + OS Firmware + OS Firmware + OS Firmware + OS
  Variant 5 L1 Terminal Fault Firmware Hardware Hardware Hardware Firmware

The new 9th Generation processors, listed as CFL-R (Coffee Lake Refresh), has implemented hardware fixes for variant 3, Rogue Data Cache Load, and variant 5, L1 Terminal Fault.

Because the new chips have required new masks for manufacturing, Intel has been able to make these changes. The goal of moving the changes into hardware means that the hardware is always protected, regardless of OS or environment, and with the hope that any additional overhead created by a software fix can be lessened if done in hardware.

(S)TIM: Soldered Down Processors

With the desktop processors we use today, they are built from a silicon die (the smart bit), a package substrate (the green bit), a heatspreader (the silver bit), and a material that helps transfer heat from the silicon die to the heatspreader. The quality of the binding between the silicon die and the heatspreader using this thermal interface material is a key component in the processors ability to remove the heat generated from using it.

Traditionally there are two different types of thermal material: a heat conductive paste, or a bonded metal. Both have positives and negatives.

The heat conductive paste is a universal tool – it can be applied to practically any manufactured processor, and is able to deal with a wide range of changing conditions. Because metals expand under temperature, when a processor is used and gets hot, it expands – so does the heatspreader. The paste can easily deal with this. This allows paste-based processors to live longer and in more environments. Using a bonded metal typically reduces the level of thermal cycling possible, as the metal also expands and contracts in a non-fluid way. This might mean the processors has a rated lifespan of several years, rather than a dozen years. However, the bonded metal solution performs a lot, lot better – metal conducts heat better than the silicon-based pastes – but it is slightly more expensive (a dollar or two per unit, at most, when the materials and manufacturing are taken into account).

Thermal Interface
Intel Celeron Pentium Core i3 Core i5 Core i7
Core i9
Sandy Bridge LGA1155 Paste Paste Paste Bonded Bonded Bonded
Ivy Bridge LGA1155 Paste Paste Paste Paste Paste Bonded
Haswell / DK LGA1150 Paste Paste Paste Paste Paste Bonded
Broadwell LGA1150 Paste Paste Paste Paste Paste Bonded
Skylake LGA1151 Paste Paste Paste Paste Paste Paste
Kaby Lake LGA1151 Paste Paste Paste Paste Paste -
Coffee Lake 1151 v2 Paste Paste Paste Paste Paste -
CFL-R 1151 v2 ? ? ? K = Bonded -
Zambezi AM3+ Bonded Carrizo AM4 Bonded
Vishera AM3+ Bonded Bristol R AM4 Bonded
Llano FM1 Paste Summit R AM4 Bonded
Trinity FM2 Paste Raven R AM4 Paste
Richland FM2 Paste Pinnacle AM4 Bonded
Kaveri FM2+ Paste / Bonded* TR TR4 Bonded
Carrizo FM2+ Paste TR2 TR4 Bonded
Kabini AM1 Paste      
*Some Kaveri Refresh were bonded

In our Ryzen APU delidding article, we went through the process of removing the heatspreader and conductive paste from a popular low cost product, and we showed that replacing that paste with a bonded liquid metal improved temperatures, overclocking, and performance in mid-range overclocks. If any company wants to make enthusiasts happy, using a bonded metal is the way to go.

For several years, Intel has always stated that they are there for enthusiasts. In the distant past, as the table above shows, Intel provided processors with a soldered bonded metal interface and was happy to do so. In recent times however, the whole product line was pushed into the heat conductive paste for a number of reasons.

As Intel was continually saying that they still cared about enthusiasts, a number of users were concerned that Intel was getting itself confused. Some believed that Intel had ‘enthusiasts’ and ‘overclockers’ in two distinct non-overlapping categories. It is what it is, but now Intel has returned to using applying STIM and wants to court overclockers again.

Intel has officially confirmed that new 9th generation processors will feature a layer of solder making up the TIM between the die and the IHS. The new processors with solder include the Core i9-9900K, the Core i7-9700K and Core i5-9600K.

As we’ll show in this review, the combination of STIM plus other features are of great assistance when pushing the new processors to the overclocking limits. Intel’s own overclocking team at the launch event hit 6.9 GHz temporarily using exotic sub-zero coolants such as liquid nitrogen.

Motherboards and the Z390 Chipset

One of the worst kept secrets this year has been Intel’s Z390 chipset. If you believe everything the motherboard manufacturers have told me, most of them had been ready for this release for several months, hence why seeing around 55 new motherboards hit the market this month and into next.

The Z390 chipset is an update to Z370, and both types of motherboards will support 8000-series and 9000-series processors (Z370 will need a BIOS update). The updates are similar to the updates seen with B360: native USB 3.1 10 Gbps ports, and integrated Wi-Fi on the chipset.

Intel Z390, Z370 and Z270 Chipset Comparison
Feature Z390 Z370 Z270
Max PCH PCIe 3.0 Lanes 24 24 24
Max USB 3.1 (Gen2/Gen1) 6/10 0/10 0/10
Total USB 14 14 14
Max SATA Ports 6 6 6
PCIe Config x16
Memory Channels 2 2 2
Intel Optane Memory Support Y Y Y
Intel Rapid Storage Technology (RST) Y Y Y
Max Rapid Storage Technology Ports 3 3 3
Integrated 802.11ac WiFi MAC Y N N
Intel Smart Sound Y Y Y
Integrated SDXC (SDA 3.0) Support Y N N
DMI 3.0 3.0 3.0
Overclocking Support Y Y Y
Intel vPro N N N
Max HSIO Lanes 30 30 30
Intel Smart Sound Y Y Y
ME Firmware 12 11 11

The integrated Wi-Fi uses CNVi, which allows the motherboard manufacturer to use one of Intel’s three companion RF modules as a PHY, rather than using a potentially more expensive MAC+PHY combo from a different vendor (such as Broadcom). I have been told that the cost of implementing a CRF adds about $15 to the retail price of the board, so we are likely to see some vendors experiment with mid-price models with-and-without Wi-Fi using this method.

ASRock Z390 Phantom Gaming-ITX/ac

For the USB 3.1 Gen 2 ports, Type-A ports are supported natively and motherboard manufacturers will have to use re-driver chips to support Type-C reversibility. These come at extra cost, as one might expect. It will be interesting to see how manufacturers mix and match the Gen 2, Gen 1, and USB 2.0 ports on the rear panels, now they have a choice. I suspect it will come down to signal integrity on the traces on the motherboard.

MSI MEG Z390 Godlike

For the Z390 chipset and motherboards, we have our usual every-board-overview post, covering every model the manufacturers would tell us about. Interestingly there is going to be a mini-ITX with Thunderbolt 3, and one board with a PLX chip! There are also some motherboards with Realtek’s 2.5G Ethernet controller – now if only we also had consumer grade switches.

Coffee Lake Refresh: A Refresher Test Bed and Setup
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  • mapesdhs - Sunday, October 21, 2018 - link

    Tell that to AutomaticTaco, his posts read like a shill mission atm.
  • PG - Saturday, October 20, 2018 - link

    How is the 2600X beating the 2700X in Ashes ?
    How is the 1800X beating the 2700X in AES?
    2700x results are too low in some areas.
  • Nikorasu95 - Saturday, October 20, 2018 - link

    Did I just fu*king downgrade by purchasing the i9 9900K when I have the i7 8700K? Like WTF? Some gaming results show the i7 is beating the i9. Like what is going on here? The i9 should be ahead of both the i7 8700K, and 8086K in all gaming tests considering it has 2 extra cores. Once again WTF is going on here with these results? They are inconsistent and make no sense!
  • eastcoast_pete - Saturday, October 20, 2018 - link

    @Ian / Anandtech: With the high premium over the MSRP for a 9900K, the difference vs. an 8700K is easily $ 200 as of now. So, here a suggested comparison that even stays in the Intel family: A comparison of a system with the 9900K with the (obligatory) high-end air cooler (so, another $ 100) vs. an 8700K based system at the same price point. Both with the identical graphics card (1080 GTX or 2070), but with the money saved with the 8700K then spent on delidding, a nice liquid cooler AND really fast DDR4? I believe that latter could really make a difference: While Intel's memory controller specifies rather slow DDR4 RAM, it's well known that one can effectively make use of much faster DDR4 RAM, and that has been shown repeatedly at least for the 8700/8700K. So, in a dollar-for-dollar matched comparison, would the 9900K then still be the king of the hill? I, for one, doubt it.
  • eastcoast_pete - Sunday, October 21, 2018 - link

    I have to recall my own comment, after checking prices at Newegg and Amazon. The current Intel 14 nm shortage has now also driven 8700/8700K prices far above their MSRP. This invalidates the performance/price = value equation my comment was based on, although the 8700K is still notably less than the even more overpriced (and out of stock) 9900K. Right now, building an Intel i7 rig is really questionable, unless one really, really wants (thinks one needs) those last few fps in some games and has plenty of money to burn. Assuming one uses the same video card, a Ryzen 2700 (or 2700x) setup with 16 GB of fast DDR4 RAM is cheaper, and if overclocking is on your mind, spend the difference to an 8700 (K or not) on a good liquid cooling setup.
  • mapesdhs - Sunday, October 21, 2018 - link

    For gaming, what it effectively does is push the "on the same budget" equation firmly into the camp of buying a 2700X and using the saving to get a better GPU. Only time this wouldn't apply is if someone does not have any kind of budget limit, but that has to be a tiny and largely irrelevant minority.
  • SaturnusDK - Tuesday, October 23, 2018 - link

    If you're planning to have a decent GPU and game at 1440p or higher then absolutely no Intel CPUs, at any price point, at the moment makes sense to buy. The 2700X is less than $300 at the moment, about half the price of a 9900K, and the 2600 is $160 at the moment, about half the price of a 8700K. Both AMD CPUs match or is only marginally behind the respective core/thread Intel equivalent at double the price.
  • coburn_c - Saturday, October 20, 2018 - link

    Under the Mozilla Kraken label you have a power consumption graph.
  • Rumpelstiltstein - Saturday, October 20, 2018 - link

    "Intel Core i9 9900K: The fastest gaming CPU"

    Uh, really Intel? Looks like that's the 9700K.
  • The Original Ralph - Saturday, October 20, 2018 - link

    Looks like all this might be a moot point for awhile: Amazon hasn't started shipping, Newegg is not only stating "out of stock" but "NOT AVAILABLE" and B&H photo is showing availability date as "JAN 1, 2010" - i kid not. Suspect there's an issue with intel deliveries

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