Epic, developers of Unreal Engine and popular online game Fortnite, have given us our first clue as to the impact of Meltdown CPU patching on gaming performance.
Meltdown, which impacts basically any Intel CPU in the past ten years or more, means that any application can gain access to a privileged area of kernel memory on the CPU. That kernel memory, at any time, might be storing within it sensitive information, like passwords, encryption keys, and various other keys to the kingdom.
In order to mitigate the risk of Meltdown – not to be confused with Spectre, which is a different vulnerability that impacts almost all CPUs – a series of patches are being produced for Intel-based systems, both Linux kernel updates and Windows updates, that effectively rewrite the way the operating system kernel works.
TL; DR: that ‘short’ way of working, via kernel memory, will be closed, and applications will have to go a ‘longer way around’ to ensure the processor’s kernel memory, and everything contained within it, is secure.
This is going to have a performance impact, for sure. The Register did some initial testing and found it could be anywhere between 5-30% slowdown on CPU performance.
PostgreSQL SELECT 1 with the KPTI workaround for Intel CPU vulnerability https://t.co/N9gSvML2Fo
Best case: 17% slowdown
Worst case: 23%
— The Register (@TheRegister) January 2, 2018
People’s first thought in this instance is about their own PC. There’s a good chance you’re running a processor model that’s covered by the Meltdown vulnerability, and if you want your PC to remain secure against this nasty kernel bug, then you’ll need to keep your patches up to date. And when you do apply the patches, there will be some degree of performance hit.
Spare a thought, however, for online services. If you don’t patch your PC for a while – and we recommend that you do – then that’s your choice. Service providers, data centres, public cloud platforms and the like have to patch their systems as soon as possible. They have a duty of care to the services and data they host, and would be opening themselves up to all manner of liability and lawsuits if their negligent inaction caused breaches or data loss.
Lots of gaming-related services – from online stores and digital downloads, to streaming services and even the back-end of online games themselves – will also be running on Intel-powered servers. A public cloud, including services like Microsoft’s Azure or Amazon’s AWS, is the ideal location for gaming platforms, because you can scale your capacity up and down on demand, in tandem with user load.
And now, thanks to a forum post by Epic – the developers of Fortnite, and its PUBG-alike mode, Fortnite Battle Royale – we have an indication of how bad that performance hit might be.
To be clear, we don’t know what the parameters of that graph are, other than it’s clearly been lifted from a monitoring solution like Nagios or Zabbix. We don’t know if that’s one server, or a bunch, or Fortnite’s entire server farm, but that is a horrific jump in CPU usage which – anecdotally, at least – tends to correspond with longer queues and instability for players of Fortnite Battle Royale.
That graph is literally a sysadmin’s worst nightmare. You spec a platform with the capacity you need, plus a little spare. Then you find that your CPU usage has more than doubled, overnight, because of a vulnerability you needed to patch? That sort of thing keeps IT folk awake at night.
At least on a cloud platform Epic will be able to easily add more resources to the pot by requesting more from their cloud provider, but that’s not cheap and everyone will be clamouring for it.
This absolutely won’t be the last we hear of the Meltdown CPU vulnerability – or Spectre – in a gaming context, but thanks to a bit of up-front honesty from Epic, we have an idea of how serious it might be.
More from Thumbsticks
- Gaming peripheral maker Mad Catz is doing a Lazarus
- Acer announces Ryzen-powered Nitro 5 gaming laptop
- Acer Predator Z35P monitor review
How did we do?
We hope you found this article useful, or informative, or thought provoking, or maybe even a little entertaining. Perhaps it was a guide that helped you through a tricky bit, or we even saved you some money? Lovely stuff! If you'd like to say "thanks" you could always buy the team a cup of coffee.
Recommended for you
Latest from Thumbsticks
Xbox deals update: Save on Assassin’s Creed and DC games
This week's Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S deals include the Batman and Assassin's Creed franchises, plus savings on games...
New PlayStation Store releases: October 18-22, 2021
This week's lineup of PlayStation Store releases includes the long-awaited remaster of Toy Soldiers and House of Ashes.
New Xbox releases: October 18-22, 2021
House of Ashes – The Dark Pictures and My Friend Peppa Pig are among this week's new Xbox Series X|S...
New Nintendo Switch releases: October 18-22, 2021
Dying Light and The Caligula Effect 2 are among this week's lineup of new Nintendo Switch eShop releases.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons to get a huge free update and paid DLC
Animal Crossing: New Horizons is getting an enormous free content update and a new paid DLC expansion.
Back 4 Blood review
Back 4 Blood is a rip-roaring zombie killing time, but without the right zombie slayers by your side, it's an...
Batman returns to Rocket League today
Batman returns for this year's Rocket League Haunted Hallows event, which begins today.
New Nintendo Switch releases: October 11-15, 2021 (Updated)
Disco Elysium – The Final Cut and The Good Life are among this week's lineup of new Nintendo Switch eShop...