Decoupled L3 Cache

With Nehalem Intel introduced an on-die L3 cache behind a smaller, low latency private L2 cache. At the time, Intel maintained two separate clock domains for the CPU (core + uncore) and a third for what was, at the time, an off-die integrated graphics core. The core clock referred to the CPU cores, while the uncore clock controlled the speed of the L3 cache. Intel believed that its L3 cache wasn't incredibly latency sensitive and could run at a lower frequency and burn less power. Core CPU performance typically mattered more to most workloads than L3 cache performance, so Intel was ok with the tradeoff.

In Sandy Bridge, Intel revised its beliefs and moved to a single clock domain for the core and uncore, while keeping a separate clock for the now on-die processor graphics core. Intel now felt that race to sleep was a better philosophy for dealing with the L3 cache and it would rather keep things simple by running everything at the same frequency. Obviously there are performance benefits, but there was one major downside: with the CPU cores and L3 cache running in lockstep, there was concern over what would happen if the GPU ever needed to access the L3 cache while the CPU (and thus L3 cache) was in a low frequency state. The options were either to force the CPU and L3 cache into a higher frequency state together, or to keep the L3 cache at a low frequency even when it was in demand to prevent waking up the CPU cores. Ivy Bridge saw the addition of a small graphics L3 cache to mitigate this situation, but ultimately giving the on-die GPU independent access to the big, primary L3 cache without worrying about power concerns was a big issue for the design team.

When it came time to define Haswell, the engineers once again went to Nehalem's three clock domains. Ronak (Nehalem & Haswell architect, insanely smart guy) tells me that the switching between designs is simply a product of the team learning more about the architecture and understanding the best balance. I think it tells me that these guys are still human and don't always have the right answer for the long term without some trial and error.

The three clock domains in Haswell are roughly the same as what they were in Nehalem, they just all happen to be on the same die. The CPU cores all run at the same frequency, the on-die GPU runs at a separate frequency and now the L3 + ring bus are in their own independent frequency domain.

Now that CPU requests to L3 cache have to cross a frequency boundary there will be a latency impact to L3 cache accesses. Sandy Bridge had an amazingly fast L3 cache, Haswell's L3 accesses will be slower.

The benefit is obviously power. If the GPU needs to fire up the ring bus to give/get data, it no longer has to drive up the CPU core frequency as well. Furthermore, Haswell's power control unit can dynamically allocate budget between all areas of the chip when power limited.

Although L3 latency is up in Haswell, there's more access bandwidth offered to each slice of the L3 cache. There are now dedicated pipes for data and non-data accesses to the last level cache.

Haswell's memory controller is also improved, with better write throughput to DRAM. Intel has been quietly telling the memory makers to push for even higher DDR3 frequencies in anticipation of Haswell.

Feeding the Beast: 2x Cache Bandwidth in Haswell TSX
POST A COMMENT

248 Comments

View All Comments

  • vFunct - Sunday, October 07, 2012 - link

    Yes, Apple products are always ahead of compromised Android products.

    Android devices are badly engineered, like incorporating LTE when the battery can't handle it, for example. Apple doesn't compromise on their design.
    Reply
  • Kepe - Monday, October 08, 2012 - link

    How much does Apple pay you for a comment praising them? Reply
  • Magik_Breezy - Sunday, October 14, 2012 - link

    Probably real customer support without paying an extra $200 Reply
  • Spunjji - Thursday, October 18, 2012 - link

    Yawn. Reply
  • Spunjji - Thursday, October 18, 2012 - link

    The bit that aggravates me the most is that even with this lavishing of review pages, the actual comparison of Apple products to competitors tends to lack (particularly with the Macbook article). This is understandable under some circumstances (iPhone battery life - new test, small selection of data points) but not for others. Reply
  • Arbee - Friday, October 05, 2012 - link

    I'm not really seeing any of that. AT's Android and Windows Phone reviews are just as in-depth and complementary where due as their Apple ones. AFAIK both Anand's and Brian's daily-driver phones aren't iPhones, even. They care about the tech, not who it comes from. It just happens that Apple is often the original source of new and interesting things in that space. At this exact moment they're the only people shipping something new and interesting. When the Nokia 920 launches, I'm confident Anand and Brian will be ready with a 15+ page review and discussion of anything novel on the podcast, and when Winter CES brings us Tegra 4 and other Android news, I expect to see eye-glazing levels of detail here at AT.

    (As an aside, I smiled at how closely DPReview's discussion of the alleged "purple haze" problem tracked Brian's rant on the podcast - clearly both writers know what they're talking about, which can be a rare quantity in tech journalism).
    Reply
  • VivekGowri - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    I think Anand's daily driver is an iPhone, but he frequently carries the latest Android/WP device on the side. Brian and myself end up daily driving like a half dozen phones a month, depending on what shows up at our doorstep. Reply
  • Zink - Saturday, October 06, 2012 - link

    "iPad 3 form factor" was used because all of the other tablets have 25Wh batteries and draw about 5W max. The A5X iPad and it's giant 42.5Wh battery on the other hand can put out over 10W of heat which is the power envelope where Intel might target a Haswell SOC. Reply
  • amdwilliam1985 - Monday, October 08, 2012 - link

    I totally agree with you on the Apple part. That's the biggest pullback on reading Anand writings. Too much Apple praising.

    I used to be an Apple fan, but recently they're becoming the biggest jerks in the technology industry. The human/ethical part of in me hates them so much, that I won't buy anything that has a Apple logo on it.

    I gave away my iPad 2, switched to Samsung Galaxy S phones, and using my HP windows 7 laptop over the 2011 MBA.

    -say NO to bully, say NO to Apple.
    Reply
  • xaml - Thursday, May 23, 2013 - link

    Number of problems solved with this approach: NO. Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now