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Jan 19 2016

Skylake Bug May Freeze Windows and Linux Systems

6th Generation Intel® Core™ family processors may cause "unpredictable system behavior" or prompt machines to "hang" when running complex scientific workloads. A fix is already underway.

Back in late November 2015, members of the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search (GIMPS) project – a research project dedicated to identifying large prime numbers – and the associated Mersenne Forum ran into problems when trying to run specific tests on their globally distributed workstations. As it turned out, a bug would cause workstations equipped with Core™ i-6700K processors and running Windows or Linux and the Prime95 application to lock down completely during so-called '768k stress tests.' The same behavior had previously frustrated the overclocking community, but with overclocking not being a standard usage scenario, scientists' input was needed to confirm the problem exists, can be reproduced on various types of machinery, and is far from being esoteric: Mersenne primes, which were named after a 17th-century friar, are used in pseudorandom number generators (PNRGs) that underpin encryption or simulation programs, while Prime95 can also help test the CPU, RAM and motherboard capabilities of workstations that are expected to run particularly demanding workloads in a stable and reliable manner. In short, the bug could affect large groups of companies and end users outside the above-named communities, for example financial institutions, healthcare facilities, or the pharmaceutical sector.

The bug was then brought to Intel's attention in mid-December, but placed on the backburner during holiday season. Last week, Intel support chimed in and confirmed the problem exists, adding that the company's engineers had found and released a fix and were now working with OEM partners to get it deployed via BIOS updates. However, so far no further details about affected hardware components or an update schedule have emerged; in fact, Intel suggests companies and users who have encountered the hitherto unnamed bug should contact their systems' manufacturers.


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