Longtime Ars readers probably remember some of the many cases in which overly onerous DRM prevented game owners from playing their legitimate purchases. We’re seeing that situation play out again today, this time thanks to how some DRM systems interact with the unique features of Intel’s 12th-generation “Alder Lake” CPUs. We’ve already covered how Alder Lake’s hybrid “big.little” design splits the CPU’s workload into high-powered “performance” (P) cores and low-powered “efficiency” (E) cores. But after hinting at the potential issue in a developer FAQ last month, Intel is now confirming that some games contain DRM that Intel says “may incorrectly recognize 12th Generation Intel Core Processors efficient-cores (E-cores) as another system.” That issue can lead to games that “may crash during launch or gameplay or unexpectedly shut down,” Intel says. PC Mag’s Chris Stobing explained that the issue arises from the DRM middleware treating the two different types of cores as two distinct systems.
“Once it detects that some portion of the load has been split between the P- and E-cores, it sees the new cores as a new license holder (a separate system) and force-quits the game to prevent what it believes is two PCs trying to play one game on the same key,” he said. Intel’s list of incompatible games includes 22 that don’t work under Windows 10 or Windows 11 and 29 more that don’t currently work under Windows 10 but will work if users upgrade their OS. For those running Windows 11, Intel says a mid-November OS update should fix the issue for 11 of those games. For the remainder, Intel says it is working with the game developers to issue patches that resolve the issue. Until those patches roll out, Intel says users can get around the problem by upgrading to Windows 11 (in some cases) or launching into the BIOS setup and turning on Legacy Game Compatibility Mode, then activating it with the Scroll Lock key. But an Intel spokesperson told PC Mag that this mode isn’t yet available on at least some Alder Lake CPUs and “should be included in a future BIOS update.”