AMD Virtualization Improvements

The performance-related improvement to Barcelona comes in the way of speeding up virtualized address translation. In a virtualized software stack where you have multiple guest OSes running on a hypervisor there's a new form of memory address translation that must be dealt with: guest OS to hypervisor address translation, as each guest OS has its own independent memory management. According to AMD, currently this new layer of address translation is handled in software through a technique called shadow paging. What Barcelona offers is a hardware accelerated alternative to shadow paging, which AMD is calling Nested Paging.

Supposedly up to 75% of the hypervisor's time can be spent dealing with shadow pages, which AMD eliminates by teaching the hardware about both guest and host page tables. The translated addresses are cached in Barcelona's new larger TLBs to further improve performance. AMD indicates that Barcelona's support for Nested Paging requires very little to implement; simply setting a mode bit should suffice, making the change easy for software vendors to implement.

Power Management

The most recent aspect of Barcelona's design that AMD revealed is how it handles power management. Although all four cores still operate on the same power plane (same voltage), Barcelona's Northbridge now runs on a separate power plane. Barcelona's core and Northbridge voltages can vary between 0.8V - 1.4V independently of one another.

In a conventional platform architecture, the Northbridge and the CPU are already on separate power planes given that the Northbridge is external to the CPU. The benefit of this arrangement is that the two chips can power down independently of one another, so when the memory controller has little to do, it can power down until needed. With AMD's K8, this wasn't true as the Northbridge and CPU core(s) were on the same power plane. In Barcelona, they are separated to improve power efficiency.

The individual cores still share the same reference voltage, but each core has its own PLL so that they can run at different clock speeds depending on load. While voltages of all four cores have to be equal, clock speed and thus current draw can be reduced depending on load - which will amount to power savings under normal usage conditions. The implications on the desktop are particularly interesting since it's rare that most desktop workloads will keep all cores pegged at 100% utilization.

Barcelona supports up to 5 independent p-states for each core, varying only in clock speed. The p-states are completely hardware controlled, so you will not need a driver to enable support for the power management features. AMD also increased the amount of clock gating done on Barcelona compared to K8 at both the block level and logic level. AMD wouldn't give us any more detail than this, but given how long it's been since the K8's introduction we'd expect that there's a lot that can be done.

The performance efficiency enhancements to Barcelona, coupled with updated power management, further clock gating and 65nm process allow AMD's first quad core part to operate within the same thermal envelope as current Opterons.

Getting Spendy with Transistors - L3 cache Final Words
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  • JarredWalton - Thursday, March 1, 2007 - link

    Games have quite a lot of LOAD instructions, like most programs, as well as plenty of branches (esp. in the AI routines). Most likely the boost that Core 2 gets is due in a large part to the better instruction reordering and branch prediction, although the cache and prefetchers probably help as well. Given AMD was better than NetBurst due to memory latency, through in better OOE (Out of Order Execution) logic and keep the improved latency and they should do pretty well.

    Naturally, everything at this point is purely speculation, but in the next few months we should start to get a better idea of what's in store and how it will perform. One problem that still remains is that even if AMD can be competitive clock-for-clock, Intel looks primed to be able to go up to at least 3.6 GHz dual core and 3.46 GHz quad core if necessary. AMD has traditionally not reached clock speeds nearly as high as Intel, possibly due in part to having more metal layers (speculation again - process tech and other features naturally play a role), so if they release 2.9GHz Barcelona at $1000 you can pretty much guarantee Intel will launch 3.2 and/or 3.46 GHz Kentsfield (and/or FSB1333 3.33 GHz).

    On the bright side, at least things should stay interesting in the CPU world. :D
    Reply
  • yyrkoon - Thursday, March 1, 2007 - link

    Yes, interresting indeed, but from experience, AMD has always been too vocal in what they plan on doing, especially during the times they are in a 'rut'.

    What this usually means to me, is that AMD is trying to blow smoke up our backsides, we'll see though.

    Keep in mind, my main desktop system, and my backup server for that matter, both are AMD systems. The phrase "cost effective" applies here.
    Reply
  • kilkennycat - Thursday, March 1, 2007 - link

    Yesterday, Intel announced that they were converting a fourth fab to 45nm. A great deal of confidence in that process. And a few days ago they announced desktop shipments of Penryn-based CPUs pulled forward into 2007. Looks as if AMDs 'window of opportunity' is likely to be very small. IBM has not yet announced a successful implementation of a RAM on their 45nm process. Intel had their RAM design on 45nm up and running late 2005. Reply
  • archcommus - Thursday, March 1, 2007 - link

    True but the move to 45 nm might not make a huge difference in real world performance, just like the move to 65 nm didn't for AMD. Their next full blown architecture will still be a ways off. Reply
  • Roy2001 - Thursday, March 1, 2007 - link

    Dislike AMD's move to 65nm process, move to 45nm has shown that Penryn would eats less power and runs faster thanks to its high K material and metal gate. Reply
  • smitty3268 - Thursday, March 1, 2007 - link

    Every process shows that in theory before chips are actually being made on it. We'll see what actually happens when Penryn is released, not before. Reply
  • chucky2 - Thursday, March 1, 2007 - link

    Has AMD given any indication of how probable dropping an Agena or Kuma CPU into an existing AM2 motherboard will go?

    Especially AMD's own newly released 690G or the upcoming nVidia MCP68?

    Chuck
    Reply
  • mamisano - Thursday, March 1, 2007 - link

    It has been stated in the past that AM2+ based products will run in AM2 based boards. The limitation, if I understand it correctly, will be the lack of support of the new power features.

    Someone correct me if I am wrong :)
    Reply
  • chucky2 - Thursday, March 1, 2007 - link

    Then it should be no problem for AMD to confirm through AnandTech that this is the case.

    Surely if Barcelona is this close to shipping (only a few months away), AMD must know if Agena and/or Kuma will work in current AM2 motherboards, especially their own 690 series their just about to release.

    All I'm asking for is a definite either way, it shouldn't be that hard for AMD to do at this point.

    Chuck
    Reply
  • mino - Friday, March 2, 2007 - link

    AMD stated PUBLICLY to anyone who listened that AM2+ stuff will plug into AM2, just BIOS update needed.

    Why should they react to any consumer who ask on some forum the same question every second week ?

    Most important is they said it WILL(not "may") work with AM2-spec boards to big Tier 1 OEM's.
    They can not make it incompatible therefore. They would be out of bussines in no time.
    Reply

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