CPUmageddon part 2: the unpatchening

this Superman 3 scene gave me nightmares for decades. Maybe doing this will purge me of the trauma

2018 in PC-land has been dominated by a lot of nervous sideways glances about whether or not the security flaw affecting pretty much every processor going is a clear and present danger or just Millennium Bug 2.0. Katherine has written us a good explainer for the CPU exploits known as Meltdown and Spectre, and the industry at large has been fast-tracking patches.

Sadly these bring with them a theoretical performance hit, although this seems negligible if not non-existent when it comes to games specifically. Rather more problematic is that Microsoft’s official fix for Windows has itself been causing chaos – to the point that it’s been hastily withdrawn for the clutch of AMD processors it’s been causing BSODs and bootloops on. Oops.

For their part, Microsoft is arguing that the fault lies with inadequate documentation provided to them by AMD when preparing the update – i.e. they ran into problems they didn’t know existed. The result of which has been preventing some AMD users’ PCs from booting up.

Say MS alongside a list of which Windows Updates for Windows 7-10 have been halted until all this has been sorted out:

“Microsoft has reports of customers with some AMD devices getting into an unbootable state after installing recent Windows operating system security updates. After investigating, Microsoft has determined that some AMD chipsets do not conform to the documentation previously provided to Microsoft to develop the Windows operating system mitigations to protect against the chipset vulnerabilities known as Spectre and Meltdown. To prevent AMD customers from getting into an unbootable state, Microsoft will temporarily pause sending the following Windows operating system updates to devices with impacted AMD processors at this time.”

AMD, meanwhile, are little more brief, their statement sent to us (and every other site in town) reading simply that “AMD is aware of an issue with some older generation processors following installation of a Microsoft security update that was published over the weekend. AMD and Microsoft have been working on an update to resolve the issue and expect it to begin rolling out again for these impacted shortly.”

There isn’t a totally clear picture of exactly which CPUs are affected as yet, but, as mentioned above, grumbles seem focused around older models such as the Athlon 64 X2 range, which ceased production in 2009.

As such, it’s quite unlikely this applies to you, but if you have an older second machine or have needy relatives with more antiquated devices, it’s well worth being aware of. As it stands, you should be safe as the problem patches have been withdrawn and fixed replacements will arrive soon, but this whole Spectre/Meltdown affair is such a mess that exercising caution and double-checking before installing any purported fixes only makes sense .

If you downloaded the problem patch before you heard about these latest woes, there aren’t any specific fixes to get your PC running again, but Microsoft’s general advice about how to resolve bluescreens (safe mode, rollbacks, etc) here might see you through.

26 Comments

  1. Curg says:

    “As such, it’s quite unlikely this applies to you”

    Oh no, I came into work this morning to find this very much applied to me!

    Thankfully boot to recovery console and removing the offending package fixed the issue for the time being.

  2. Lars Westergren says:

    “AMD shares slumped 3.3% at the opening bell” “Microsoft shares opened 0.11% higher” There is no justice in this world.

    • TimePointFive says:

      I agree with your sentiment, but isn’t this goof mainly AMD’s fault? Or did we read the article differently?

      • trashbat says:

        Never mind what AMD supplied, this failure means Microsoft didn’t test their patch on old AMD CPUs at all, because as far as I can tell it affects all X2 CPUs and breaks Windows immediately. So IMO fault rests entirely with MS.

        • mattevansc3 says:

          Firstly, no it doesn’t.

          The problem seems restricted to K8 core Sempron, Athlon X2 and Turion chips.

          Chips that aren’t using the K8 core such as the later Athlon X2’s and Phenom X2 seem largely unaffected.

          Secondly we are also talking about CPUs that stopped being in production almost ten years ago. That’s why the documentation is important, Microsoft may be using its emulation software to test these and if the documentation is wrong, the emulated CPU would be wrong.

    • Bremze says:

      Some tech sites ran the story omitting the fact that it only applies to almost a decade old AMD CPUs.

  3. trashbat says:

    Happened to me on the PC we use to serve the TV. I had to use ‘dism’ to uninstall the update, and then prevent it being reinstalled. There’s a helpful Reddit post I don’t immediately have a link to.

  4. Kefren says:

    And they wonder why people might not agree with forced updates … it wouldn’t be so bad if Microsoft paid compensation when they lost your data without giving you a say in the matter.

  5. TotallyUseless says:

    Moral of the Story: TURN OFF YOUR WINDOWS UPDATE

    I mean heck corporations who have more confidential information than the average PC users do not patch in windows updates from the get go, they conduct rigorous testing until it’s proven that no systems would be affected.

    Besides, Windows Update causes severe slowdowns on PCs anyway so better keep Windows Update off until a proven solution has been created.

    • Premium User Badge

      Aerothorn says:

      Home editions of Windows 10 do not allow you to disable Windows Update.

      • ersetzen says:

        You can enable ‘mark as metered connection’ and it won’t download anything without you prompting. This is probably a bad idea since it can leave your pc vulnerable, though.

    • fish99 says:

      “Windows Update causes severe slowdowns on PCs”

      I feel that may be a blanket statement that needs some qualifying.

      • PseudoKnight says:

        You never experienced that? huh. I’ve had some systems crawl for ages due to WU in the background. I’m not saying the solution is to disable Windows Update for everyone, but it’s really really annoying. It’s like it’s having difficulty creating a snapshot of the current state.

        I don’t experience that particular problem on my main system, but I still prefer to evaluate any updates before I apply them. I’m rarely a fan of automatic updates for myself.

    • Romeric says:

      Not sure if I should disagree or not. Disabling automatic updates is a good idea so you can decide when to download it so as not to experience slowdown (or the dreaded reboot) right in the middle of a dungeon or something. Refusing to install Windows updates on principle though is a bad idea. A lot of updates like these are closing vulnerabilities and issuing various bug fixes. Ignoring the issues raised in this article, you should generally install Windows updates as quickly as you can.

  6. sharpmath says:

    Oh man that Superman 3 scene, thank god it wasn’t just me.

    • Premium User Badge

      Ninja Dodo says:

      Same. Never saw the rest of the film, but that sequence… can’t remember what age I was but it definitely stuck with me. Singularly disturbing.

      • Darth Gangrel says:

        I first saw that movie on TV when I was already an adult, but it’s certainly memorable. The movie is gloriously bad and I love how it changes tone *and* genre a few times in the last 30 minutes.

    • Sin Vega says:

      It’s still pretty disturbing now, really. I don’t know what the hell they were thinking.

    • InfamousPotato says:

      That scene really messed me up as a kid. Left that movie feeling just utterly shaken and disturbed. Someday, I’m going to watch that movie again to see if it’s as horrifically messed up as eight year old me remembers… but not today.

      • TheBuff1 says:

        Haha I literally had the same horrifying experience watching that scene as a kid. It was hideous and I remember being affected by it for quite a long time.

  7. caff says:

    My team and I test a lot of stuff at work. If one of my testers finds something really obscure but “clever” like this, I just roll my eyes and think “well sod it – yeah we should probably fix it but it’s such a fringe case I can’t be arsed”.

    Sadly in the case of hardware this isn’t possible, and it seems grossly unfair that operating systems like Microsoft Windows should have to carry the burden of a significant CPU instruction set risk.

    It’s bad enough having to cater to every chipset and PCI device feature, let alone attempting to cater to 20+ years worth of CPUs.

    God only knows how many other faults lie within motherboards, memory chips, graphics cards, and all the other nonsense gubbins we slap into our motherboards.

  8. Raoul Duke says:

    This is borderline incomprehensible :

    “Say MS alongside a list of which Windows Updates for Windows 7-10 have been halted until all this has been sorted out”

  9. Premium User Badge

    MajorLag says:

    > For their part, Microsoft is arguing that the fault lies with inadequate documentation provided to them by AMD when preparing the update

    This is probably true, but you know what Microsoft? Your annoying pushy update system breaks crap often enough that I’m still blaming you.

  10. bill says:

    I think I just installed window’s update’s 7th or 8th update of the week.
    I have no idea if that has made my pc more secure, or if it has slowed down my pc. The whole thing is clear as mud.

    Given that intel seems to have decided my processor is too old to bother patching, even though it’s affected, I have no idea what level of protection a windows patch offers.

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