The Haswell Front End

Conroe was a very wide machine. It brought us the first 4-wide front end of any x86 micro-architecture, meaning it could fetch and decode up to 4 instructions in parallel. We've seen improvements to the front end since Conroe, but the overall machine width hasn't changed - even with Haswell.

Haswell leaves the overall pipeline untouched. It's still the same 14 - 19 stage pipeline that we saw with Sandy Bridge depending on whether or not the instruction is found in the uop cache (which happens around 80% of the time). L1/L2 cache latencies are unchanged as well. Since Nehalem, Intel's Core micro-architectures have supported execution of two instruction threads per core to improve execution hardware utilization. Haswell also supports 2-way SMT/Hyper Threading.

The front end remains 4-wide, although Haswell features a better branch predictor and hardware prefetcher so we'll see better efficiency. Since the pipeline depth hasn't increased but overall branch prediction accuracy is up we'll see a positive impact on overall IPC (instructions executed per clock). Haswell is also more aggressive on the speculative memory access side.

The image below is a crude representation I put together of the Haswell front end compared to the two previous tocks. If you click the buttons below you'll toggle between Haswell, Sandy Bridge and Nehalem diagrams, with major changes highlighted.


In short, there aren't many major, high-level changes to see here. Instructions are fetched at the top, sent through a bunch of steps before getting to the decoders where they're converted from macro-ops (x86 instructions) to an internally understood format known to Intel as micro-ops (or µops). The instruction fetcher can grab 4 - 5 x86 instructions at a time, and the decoders can output up to 4 micro-ops per clock.

Sandy Bridge introduced the 1.5K µop cache that caches decoded micro-ops. When future instruction fetch requests are made, if the instructions are contained within the µop cache everything north of the cache is powered down and the instructions are serviced from the µop cache. The decode stages are very power hungry so being able to skip them is a boon to power efficiency. There are also performance benefits as well. A hit in the µop cache reduces the effective integer pipeline to 14 stages, the same length as it was in Conroe in 2006. Haswell retains all of these benefits. Even the µop cache size remains unchanged at 1.5K micro-ops (approximately 6KB in size).

Although it's noted above as a new/changed block, the updated instruction decode queue (aka allocation queue) was actually one of the changes made to improve single threaded performance in Ivy Bridge.

The instruction decode queue (where instructions go after they've been decoded) is no longer statically partitioned between the two threads that each core can service.

The big changes in Haswell are at the back end of the pipeline, in the execution engine.

CPU Architecture Improvements: Background Prioritizing ILP
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  • Rectified - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    Anand, you write the best tech articles on the web. As a graduate student in computer engineering, I appreciate the practical yet technical analyses you write on the industry. Keep it up! Reply
  • Crazy1 - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    I like the concept of Panel Self Refresh, yet I feel that Intel could implement this themselves. I'm not an expert, but couldn't a buffer be placed on the CPU package between the GPU and panel? This may not be as efficient as if the panel makers did it themselves and it would probably only work when using the IGP (when it would most likely have the greatest impact), but at least it is a step in the right direction.

    Additionally, Great Article! Anandtech provides some of the most thorough technology articles. Keep it up.
    Reply
  • random2 - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    " If all mainstream client computing moves to smartphones,..........."

    Seriously? The idea of all mainstream computing done on nothing but smartphones seems to stretch the imagination just a bit much. There isn't even the most basic of businesses that do not have a computer (made with mainstream components as are most small and medium sized businesses) and business software. Don't forget the PC gamers and people who like larger viewing and typing surfaces. Or the fact that in eight years, home and business PC's will be blindingly fast with larger displays with much greater pixel density, possibly clear screen touch surfaces, likely alternative interfaces than just a keyboard and mouse and incredible computing and rendering power.

    The likelihood of the general populace turning all their computing needs over to a palm size PC I see as kind of weird fantasy where people learn to love minute typing interfaces and squinting at hi density displays fit into 3.5by 4.5 inches for long periods of the day without interruption. No, to push the idea of micro computing one must discount all of the other advances in the computer/electronics industries in order to make their pet theory viable.
    Reply
  • random2 - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    "The race to the bottom that we've seen in the LCD space made it unlikely that any of the panel vendors would be jumping at the opportunity to make their products more expensive."

    It's unfortunate, because of what might have been had the manufacturers, of which there are only three main ones, if I recall, had the foresight to market to customers that weren't just looking to buy the lowest priced panel on display at Best Buy. Had they the initiative to have started years ago, there would be some pretty fantastic panels available today for much more reasonable prices than seen for the 27 and 30 inch 2560X1600 panels today.
    Reply
  • Klugfan - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    This doesn't really belong in the Haswell article, but I would love to know more about the physics and constraints of TDP. Like, hit me with a chart of TDP impact for a variety of important parts in phones, tablets, laptops, and desktops. Show me a chart of TDP budgets and mitigation strategies. Explain to me roughly how physics forces those things to relate. Please.

    Seems important and it's easy to understand the comparison from Ivy Bridge to Haswell but that doesn't feel like the big picture.
    Reply
  • havoti97 - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    I read the 1st page then got bored. Writing style is overly wordy... am I the only the feeling this way? Reply
  • xeizo - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    It's an article, not a twitter feed! Some of us like to get the whole picture not just the flashy stuff .... Reply
  • watersb - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    Phenomenal feature, Anand! This is why I check your site each day. Thanks very much! Reply
  • bill4 - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    like atom, you're stuck in no mans land. way too high for tablets and phones, but in desktops and laptop, who cares if the amd solution uses 30 watts instead of 8? that difference isn't enough to matter when you take the whole platform into account, especially at lower price points where battery life wont be fantastic anyway. on the dsktop it's completely pointless. Reply
  • JlHADJOE - Sunday, October 07, 2012 - link

    On a laptop using 30 watts instead of 8 will more than triple your battery life, especially at lower price points/smaller form factors where manufacturers gimp the battery.

    How's about browsing for 9 hours instead of 3? Or 27 hours instead of 9? I'd jump on it in a heartbeat.
    Reply

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