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Intel is having problems with its Puma family of chips

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August 9, 2017

Intel has made a comment today that the performance problems that have affected its Puma 6 gigabit broadband modem chipset also affect the Puma 5 and Puma 7 family as well.

An Intel spokesperson has confirmed that a TCP/UDP network latency issue that makes home and business gateways powered by Puma 6 processors trivial to knock users offline is also present in the Puma 5 and Puma 7 chipset.

This simply means that swapping a Puma 6-based device for a Puma 5 or 7 unit won't do users any good until the matter is resolved.

The issue appears to be caused in the manner the Puma chips handle various network packets, whether they are from the WAN or LAN side.

The modems in question are simply unable to cope with even the smallest loads of traffic in certain conditions, resulting in degraded performance and latency spikes on several systems that were tested by the company.

For instance, a small testing sample of a vulnerable gateway's IP ports outputs an internal lookup table, affecting the performance of the embedded chipset in what is effectively a denial-of-service attack.

In other various cases that were implemented and tested by Intel, it appears from network throughput graphs that the chipset is running a routine task every couple of seconds that actually stalls packet processing, inserting a few bursts of lag into some connections.

To some unlucky modem users, network latency connections such as online gaming start to lag, until in the worst cases it appears that the broadband connection has died in and by itself.

The problem was initially believed to be present only in Puma 6 modems. That it also is present in Puma 7 means that those users who had wanted to escape the issue by upgrading to a newer device will be forced to wait for a firmware update from Intel.

While not exactly a full-blown crisis for now, the network latency issues with Puma modems have been nevertheless a nagging problem, particularly for gamers and streaming-heavy users, who have found it to be a major drag on latency.

The problem has led to at least one equipment maker (Arris) that uses the same chipset in its gigabit modems being hit with a class-action lawsuit in America from unhappy customers.

A long-running message board thread devoted to the issue quotes an Intel spokesman as saying that a firmware solution is in the works, but that it could be some time before the affected broadband subscribers actually see the software update.

"Intel must develop and completely test the new code and deliver it to the OEM. Then the maker has to integrate and test the code in their specific end product, and then deliver the code to the cable operator," the spokesperson asserted.

"And then the cable operator tests it in its environment before sending it to the end user. It is a chain of events, and everyone has their role to play and wants to test to make sure the new code is correct with all the other components," he added.

To be sure, the Puma series is positioned as a crucial component in Intel's Connected Home initiative, providing the hardware for connecting people's personal devices, gadgets and computers to the Web.

It should also be noted that the Puma 5 chipset was acquired by Intel from Texas Instruments seven years ago. It uses an ARM-11 processor in a BE mode at its heart whereas the Puma 6 and 7 families utilize x86 Atom cores.

That the performance problems exist across the 5, 6 and 7 family of chipsets suggests that the issue may potentially lie within the dedicated packet-handling electronics integrated in the CPU cores or various firmware code shared across the platform istelf. We'll keep you posted.

Source: Intel.


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