Out of Order Loads done right

Since the Pentium Pro, x86 CPUs have been capable of issuing and executing instructions out of order. However, on average one third of the instructions in those reorder buffers could not be reordered easily: we are talking about loads. Moving loads forward can give a very big boost to performance. Instead of loading a piece of data when you need it, it is much more useful to start the load as early as you can. That way, L1 and even L2-cache latencies can be much more easily hidden.

This is pretty easy to understand. Imagine having an ALU operation that needs a certain piece of data but that the data is not available in the L1-cache. If the load has been executed many cycles before the ALU operation needs that piece of data, the L2-cache latency is going to have a reduced impact. Of course, you don't want to load a value which is being or will be written to by a previous - following the program/thread order - store. That would mean you are loading an old value, not the up to date one. Check out the picture below.

Load 2 cannot be moved forward, since it has to wait until the first Store is done. Only after Store 1 is done will variable Y have its correct value. However there is no reason why Load 4 cannot move forward. It doesn't have to wait for Store 3 and store 1 to finish. By moving Load 4 forward, you give the load unit more time to get the right operand, as we assume that after load 4 a calculation with operand Y will happen.

Currently, CPUs will generally delay load 4 when a store is in flight (active). The problem is the address to which the stores will write has yet to be calculated. To be more precise, the memory addresses are still unknown during reordering and scheduling. When a Load micro-op enters the ROB, the memory addresses of previous stores (from the program order) are not known until they pass the AGU (Address Generation Units).

However, the risk that a load will load a value out of an address that is being written to by a store that has yet to be finished is pretty small (1-2%). That is why Jack Doweck of the Core development team decided to allow Loads to go ahead of previous stores, assuming that the load will not be loading information that will be updated by that preceding store. To avoid that the assumption was wrong, a predictor is used to help. The dynamic alias predictor tries to predict whether or not a previous store will write to the same address as the address from which the load - that you want to execute earlier, thus out of order - will load its data.

Based on Jack Doweck's comments and a study of Intel's previous P6 and P-M architectures I drew up the scheme below. Be warned that this is not the official Intel diagram.

The predictor gives the ReOrder Buffer (ROB) the permission to move a load ahead of a store or not. After the Load has been moved ahead and executed, the conflict logic scans the store buffer located in the Memory reOrder Buffer (MOB) to see if any of the stores which were located before the load (following program order) have written to the address of the out of order load. If so, the load must be redone, and the misprediction penalty is about 20 lost cycles. (Note that the branch misprediction penalty is also about 20 cycles). Worst case, the new dynamic alias predictor may slightly reduce performance, but realistically it's four steps forward, one step back, resulting in a net performance boost.

Determining whether a load and a store share the same address is called memory disambiguation. Allowing loads to move ahead of stores gives a big performance boost. In some snippets of benchmarking code, Intel saw up to a 40% performance boost, solely the result of the more flexible way Loads get reordered. It is pretty clear that we won't see this in most real applications, but it is nevertheless impressive and it should show tangible (10-20%) performance boosts together with the fast L2 and L1 cache.

Let us not forget that loads are probably the most important instructions of all. Not only are loads about one third of the micro-ops that are in flight in a x86 CPU, but they can also cause costly stalls when a load needs to go to the L2 cache (or worse, system memory). So how does this super flexible reordering of loads compare with other architectures?

The P6 and P-M could already reorder Loads pretty good. They could move one Load before other Loads, as well as before Stores which have no unknown addresses or addresses which do not reference the same address as the load. In contrast, the Athlon 64 can only move loads before independent ALU operations (ADD etc.). Loads cannot be moved ahead much at all to minimize the effect of a cache miss, and other loads cannot be used to keep the CPU busy if a load has to wait for a store to finish. This means that the Athlon 64 processor is severely limited when it comes to reorder code.

This is probably one of the most important reasons why the Athlon 64 does not outperform the P-M in gaming and integer workloads despite having a lower latency memory system and more integer execution sources. Integer workloads tend to jump around in memory, and have many unknown addresses which must be calculated first. It is less important for FP intensive loads, which is also one of the reasons why the Athlon 64 had no problem with Dothan in this kind of workload. FP workloads access the memory in a much more regular fashion.

Once Loads and Stores are in the queues of Load/Store units, the Athlon's L/S unit allows Loads to bypass Stores, except of course when the load would bypass a store to the same address. Unfortunately, by then the Loads are already out of the ICU and cannot be used to fill the holes that dependencies and cache misses make. You could say that the Athlon (64) has some Load/Store reordering but it's much later in the pipeline and is less flexible than the P6, P-M, and Core architectures.

Out of Order Execution Concluding Thoughts


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  • spinportal - Monday, May 1, 2006 - link

    Definitely a great treasure of an article to find on a monday morning detailing the Core architecture that the world is drooling for in June. I wonder what kind of simulation micro-arch software Intel and AMD use, as I remember the days doing my Masters, playing with Intel's Hypercube simulator (grav sim, fish & shark AI sim) and writing my own macro level visual-cpu execution simulator. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Monday, May 1, 2006 - link

    I won't say it's a quick fix, but just as Core is a derivative of P6, AMD could potentially just get some better OoO capabilities into K8 and get some serious performance improvements. Their current inability to move loads forward much (if at all) makes them even more dependent on RAM latency. You could even say that they *needed* the IMC to improve performance, but still L2 latency is far better than RAM latency, and cutting down L2 latency hit from 12 cycles to say 6 cycles (if you can do the load 6 cycles early) would have to improve performance. Loads happen "all the time" in ASM, so optimizing their performance can pay huge dividends.

    I'm going to catch flak for this, but basically Intel has more elegant designs than AMD in several areas. It comes from throwing billions of dollars at the problems. Better L1 cache? Yup - 8-way vs. 2-way is pretty substantial; 256-bit vs. 128-bit is also substantial. Better specialization of hardware? Yeah, I have to give them that as well: rather than just using three ALUs, they often take the path of having a few faster ALUs to handle the common cases.

    Really, the only reason AMD was able to catch (and exceed) Intel performance was because Intel got hung up on clock speeds. They basically let marketing dictate chip design to engineering - which is never good, IMO, at least not in the long run. Even NetBurst still has some very interesting design features (double-pumped ALUs, specialization of functional units, trace cache), and if nothing else it served as a good lesson on how far you can push clock speeds and pipeline lengths before you start encountering some serious problems. I would have loved to see Northwood tweaked for 90nm and 65nm, personally - 31+8 pipeline stages was just hubris, but 20+8 with some other tweaks could have been interesting.

    Here's hoping AMD can make some real improvements to their chips sooner rather than later. Intel Core is looking very strong right now, and I would rather have close competition than a 20% margin of victory like we've been seeing lately. (First with AMD K8 beating NetBurst, and now it looks like Conroe is going to turn the tables.)
  • Regs - Wednesday, June 7, 2006 - link

    Okcourse you will catch flack. It's an opinion.

    My opinion is Intel is more innovative or even compromising
    while AMD is more intuitive.
  • Spoonbender - Monday, May 1, 2006 - link

    "8-way 32kb * 2 L1 should in theory exceed the hitrate of K8's 2-way 64kb * 2 L1."
    It should? I'd like to see some sources on that. From what I've seen, the 64KB cache still has an advantage there, with a hitrate not much below that of a 64KB/8-way.

    Also, I disagree that Intel's CPU's are generally more elegant. First, their L1 cache isn't neccesarily "better" (see above). Of course, the 256 vs 128 bit bandwidth is a big factor, however.

    Specialization in hardware? Is that elegant? I'd say there's a certain elegance in making a general solution as well, as opposed to specializing everything to the point where you're screwed if the code you have to execute isn't 100% optimal.

    And I definitely think AMD's distributed reservation stations are more elegant than the central one used by Intel. Same goes with the usual HyperTransport vs FSB story.
    There are a few other really elegant features of the K8 that I haven't seen duplicated in Core.

    So overall, I don't see the big deal with "elegance". Both architectures have plenty of elegant features. However, the K8 is definitely aging, and will have problems keeping up with Conroe.

    But then again, the K8 die is tiny in comparison. They've got plenty of space for improvements.

    Really looking forward to
    1) Being able to get a Merom-powered laptop, and
    2) Seeing what AMD comes up with next year.
  • IntelUser2000 - Monday, May 1, 2006 - link


    But then again, the K8 die is tiny in comparison. They've got plenty of space for improvements.

    Tiny?? 199mm2 for 2x1MB cache K8 at 90nm is tiny?? Ok there. Conroe with 4MB cache is around 140mm2 die size.


    Even compairing against Intel's SRAM size for 90nm and 65nm comparison, at 90nm, Conroe would be 250mm2. In Prescott, 1MB L2 cache takes 16-17mm2. 250mm2-32mm2=218mm2.

    And Intel didn't to shrinks that are relative to SRAM sizes. In comparison for Cedarmill and Prescott 2M, which are same cores essentially.

    Prescott 2M: 135mm2
    Cedarmill: 81mm2

    Only difference being process size, the comparison is 0.6.

    Conroe at 90nm would have been 233mm2, which is compact as X2 per core.
  • Spoonbender - Tuesday, May 2, 2006 - link

    Okay, I guess I should have said that at the same process size, it is tiny. I meant that when AMD gets around to migrating to 65nk as well, they'll have a smaller core (assuming no big changes to the chip), which gives them plenty (some?) of room for improvement.

    Conroe at 90nm would have been 233mm2, which is compact as X2 per core.
    But in absolute terms, still bigger than an Athlon X2. Which means AMD has some space for improvement. That was my only point. I guess I should have been more clear. ;)
  • coldpower27 - Wednesday, May 3, 2006 - link

    Yes, if using the 0.6 Factor for Brisbane the 65nm Athlon 64x2 it will be around 132mm2 assuming no changes over the 220mm2 Windsor DDR2 Athlon64x2. 199mm2 is only for Toledo which is reaching end of life and can no longer be used as a comparison. And it's irrelevent to compare to Conroe on what it would be on 90nm as it never was built on 90nm technology to begin with.

    Conroe is looking to be ~14x mm2 with the x=0-9. Yes if you can compare them at the same process nodes considering the Conroe will only be competing with the 65nm Dual Core Athlon 64x2 in the second half of it's lifetime.
  • JumpingJack - Tuesday, May 2, 2006 - link

    Nice analysis, the current AMD X2 dual cores are about 1.5 to 2.0 X the size of Intel dual cores (on 65 nm), this is where 65 nm adds such a benefit. Conroe will come in around 140 mm^2 as you said. Yohna at 2 meg shared is 90 mm^2, less than 1/2 the X2.

    Right now, cost wise in Si realestate AMD is more expensive.
  • BitByBit - Monday, May 1, 2006 - link


    From what I've seen, the 64KB cache still has an advantage there, with a hitrate not much below that of a 64KB/8-way.

    Here is a good article on processor cache:

    If you scroll down to the miss-rate vs. cache size graph, you can see that an 8-way 64Kb cache has a miss-rate less than one-tenth the miss-rate of a 2-way 64Kb cache.

    An 8-way 64Kb * 2 L1 would probably be too difficult to implement, given the time it would take to search. However, according to the relationships shown by that graph, increasing the Athlon's L1 associativity to 4-ways could yield a nice boost in hitrate and consequently performance.

  • Spoonbender - Monday, May 1, 2006 - link

    And of course, we all know wikipedia is the ultimate source of all truth and knowledge... ;)

    Keep in mind that this graph only shows the Spec2000 benchmark (and only the integer section, at that). That's far from being representative of all code.

    According to http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1558605967/002-28...">http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/155860...-2818646... which, in my experience is pretty damn good, the missrates are as follows *in general*:

    32KB, 8-way: 0.037
    64KB, 2-way: 0.031
    64KB 8-way: 0.029

    But yeah, of course improving the Athlon's cache would help. But it's not the first place I'd look to optimize. For one thing, making it more complex would, as seen above, not yield a significantly lower hitrate, but it would slow the cache down, either forcing them to increase its latency, or limiting the frequency potential of the cpu as a whole. The cache bandwidth might be a better candidate for improvement. Or some of the actual cpu logic. Or the L2 cache size. I think the L1 cache is pretty healthy on the K8 already.

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