Enable or Disable Intel TSX Capability in Windows 10

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Microsoft has published guidance to help users protect their systems from denial of service (DoS) and security breaches in the disclosure of information involving Intel processors, announced in a patch on Tuesday of this week.

The DoS vulnerability tracked under CVE-2018-12207 affects basic Intel client and server processors up to and including the 8th generation, while the speculative vulnerability tracked under CVE-2019-11135, found in the ability of Intel’s Transactional Synchronization Extensions (TSX) to protect Intel processors up to and including the 10th generation, is minor.

Transactional Synchronization Extensions (TSX), also known as Transactional Synchronization Extensions New Instructions (TSX-NI), is an extension to the x86 Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) that adds support for hardware transaction memory and speeds up the execution of multi-threaded software through elision locking. Based on various benchmarks, the TSX/TSX-NI can deliver approximately 40% faster application execution and 4 to 5 times more database transactions per second (TPS) for certain workloads.

The TSX/TSX-NI was documented by Intel in February 2012 and was introduced in June 2013 on selected Intel microprocessors based on Haswell microarchitecture. Haswell processors below 45xx and R and K series SKUs (with multiplier enabled) do not support the TSX/TSX-NI. In August 2014, Intel announced a bug in the implementation of the TSX/TSX-NI on the current levels of Haswell, Haswell-E, Haswell-EP and early Broadwell processors that resulted in the TSX/TSX-NI feature being disabled on the affected processors via a firmware update.

In 2016, a side-channel synchronization attack was discovered in which the way the TSX/TSX-NI handled transaction errors (i.e. page errors) was abused to break the KASLR on all major operating systems.

Support for the TSX/TSX-NI emulation is provided as part of the Intel Software Development Emulator. There is also experimental support for TSX/TSX-NI emulation in a QEMU range.

Intel’s TSX provides two software interfaces for specifying areas of code for trade execution.

Hardware Lock Elision (HLE)

HLE is an age-compatible command set extension (with XACQUIRE and XRELEASE prefixes) to specify transaction regions. HLE is intended for programmers who prefer the backwards compatibility of the traditional mutually exclusive programming model and who wish to run HLE-compatible software on older hardware, but want to take advantage of the new locking capabilities on HLE-supported hardware.

The intrinsic features of Hardware Lock Elision (HLE) apply only to C/C++ applications for Windows.

Restricted Transaction Memory (RTM)

RTM is a new instruction set interface (consisting of XBEGIN, XEND and XABORT instructions) that allows programmers to define transactional fields more flexibly than with HLE.

The RTM is intended for programmers who prefer a flexible interface to hardware for transaction execution.

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Enabling or Disabling Intel TSX on Windows 10

Disable Intel® Transactional Synchronization Extensions (Intel® TSX) using the following registry setting:

reg add "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Kernel" /v DisableTsx /t REG_DWORD /d 1 /f

Restart the computer for the changes to take effect.

Enable Intel® Transactional Synchronization Extensions (Intel® TSX) through the following registry setting:

reg add "HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Control\Session Manager\Kernel" /v DisableTsx /t REG_DWORD /d 0 /f

Restart the computer for the changes to take effect.


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