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Intel explains the Core 2 CPU errata

Errata known to developers, no cause for panic
Thu Jun 28 2007, 08:56
AFTER WE PUBLISHED this story here, my inbox went into overdrive and it all ended up with my personal Blackberry 8700g collapsing with memory errors.

It probably did not expect over 600 e-mails in one hour, but that's life.

To get back to the story, at first Intel posted the details about these particular errata back in late April inside a Core 2 Specification Update PDF document, explaing how this error could cause memory leaks and ultimately, lead to crashes.

This was caught in testing, and there were no reports from the open world. However, most motherboards of today are unstable enough that even if the TLB buffer errata was the cause of system crash, we seriously doubt it would be reported back to Intel.

Most computer users have a "default guilty guy", and that guy's name is William H. Gates III, or just Bill. Intel, AMD or substandard hardware these CPUs are placed on aren't to be blamed.

After the errata was posted, Intel partners were informed that a fix is on the way. Later, Intel pushed out a microcode update in a form of BIOS update to its hardware partners, and there are already a lot of products in the channel with correct BIOSes from the start. For others, updating your BIOS with a newer version will apply the hotly debated update. Biggest error of this affair is not disclosing what the microcode update is for, or complete story about the erratum - leaving ground opened for rampant speculations which we saw on many forums, and with Microsoft releasing an security important update without any descriptions but "seriousness of the issue", the ground for major panic was born.

The errata itself has something to do with Translation Lookaside Buffers, also known to this world as TLB, part of the microarchitecture that is improving access to system memory as much as possible by keeping refences to physical memory in its own table.

Intel came back to us with the following statement:

"We've addressed a processor issue by providing a BIOS update for our customers that in no way affects system performance. We have documented this as an errata. All processors from all companies have errata, and Intel has a well-known errata communication process to inform our customers and the public. Keep in mind the probability of encountering this issue is low. Intel documented the issue a few months ago - Specification Updates for the affected processors are available at"

The errata inside all Core 2 processors (T series, E series, Q series, QX series and Xeon 5000 series) can appear in very rare cases, and it can result a computer refusing to accept keyboard of mouse inputs. In Windows environment, it may result with a worldly known Blue Screen of Death, while Linux'es of this world may end up with kernel panic.

In conclusion, this problem has been fixed, with BIOS updates for motherboards containing fixes after the erratum was posted on Microsoft came up with a patch that will stop errata from possibly appearing, Apple already updated Mac OS X while the Linux status is unknown at time of writing*. It remains to be seen whether the companies will rather choose to go full disclosure of every error that happens in the future. µ

* Linus Torvalds has this to say, here.


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