Sideband Stack Optimizer

Intel's very first Pentium M introduced a feature Intel called its dedicated stack manager. As its name implies, the dedicated stack manager was used to handle all x86 stack operations (i.e. push, pop, call, return). The purpose of the stack manager was to keep those stack operations, which are frequently used with function calls in code, separate from the rest of the x86 instruction stream sent to the CPU. The dedicated stack manager would handle decode and "execution" of these operations so that they wouldn't clog up the processor's decoders and execution units later in the pipeline. Intel essentially "widened" the core by offloading some operations to separate hardware.

With Barcelona, AMD is introducing a similar technology it is calling a Sideband Stack Optimizer. Stack instructions no longer go through the 3-way decoder and stack operations no longer go through the integer execution units, effectively widening Barcelona at minimal cost. The Sideband Stack Optimizer, like Intel's dedicated stack manager, features its own adder that handles all stack operations. It's a small tweak that can help overall performance, and it's simply one that made sense for AMD to implement.

Faster Loads

When looking at the performance of the Athlon 64 and Intel's Core 2 processors, it's easy to understand why Intel has a strong performance advantage in applications that make heavy use of SSE. But what about applications like gaming and business apps that should greatly benefit from AMD's on-die memory controller? Is the Core 2's larger L2 cache and aggressive prefetchers all that it needs to overcome AMD's on-die memory controller?

One major aspect of Intel's Core micro-architecture advantage is its ability to allow load instructions to bypass previous load and store instructions. On average, about 1/3 of all instructions in a program end up being loads, thus if you can improve load performance you can generally impact overall application performance pretty significantly. With Intel's Core micro-architecture, it's possible for loads to be re-ordered to ensure that instructions dependent on those loads get the data they need without waiting for costly memory accesses.

Core also allowed for loads to be moved ahead of stores, which was previously not allowed due to the possibility that an earlier store could invalidate the data that was just loaded. Intel figured that the possibility of a store writing over a load ends up being very small, on the order of 1 - 2%, therefore with a reasonably accurate predictor you could correctly guess when re-ordering a load ahead of a store was possible. Intel's Core 2 based processors feature prediction logic to guess whether a store and a load share the same memory address; if the predictor determines that they won't, then it allows the load to be re-ordered ahead of the store. In the small chance that the predictor is incorrect however, the load has to be redone at the cost of a pipeline flush (similar to what happens if the processor mispredicts a branch).

AMD's K8 architecture had no equivalent scheme for allowing the out of order execution of loads ahead of other loads and stores, so even without an on-die memory controller Intel was able to execute some memory operations faster than AMD. Barcelona fixes this problem through an almost identical scheme to what Intel implemented in its Core 2 processors.

Barcelona can now re-order loads ahead of other loads, just like Core 2 can. It can also execute loads ahead of other stores, assuming that the processor knows that the two don't share the same memory address. While Intel uses a predictor to determine whether or not the store aliases with the load, AMD takes a more conservative approach. Barcelona waits until the store address is calculated before determining whether or not the load can be processed ahead of it. By doing it this way, Barcelona is never wrong and there's no chance of a mispredict penalty. AMD's designers looked at using a predictor like Intel did but found that it offered no performance improvement on its architecture. AMD can generate up to three store addresses per clock as it has three AGUs (Address Generation Units) compared to Intel's one for stores, so it would make sense that AMD has a bit more execution power to calculate a store address before moving a load ahead of it.

The out of order load execution improvements to Barcelona should prove to be even more effective than they were in Core 2 given that AMD previously couldn't do any reordering of loads before the Int/FP schedulers whereas Core Duo could do a limited amount of re-ordering.

Core Tune-up Even More Tweaks
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  • R3MF - Thursday, March 01, 2007 - link

    thanks.

    a 2.4GHz Agena on an AM2+ mATX motherboard, sat in a tiny SUGO 03 case sounds like a very tempting proposition later on this year.
    Reply
  • Macuser89 - Thursday, March 01, 2007 - link

    Is it just me or is this article saying that AMD is copying a lot of intel's advancements. Great in depth article AT. Reply
  • Le Québécois - Thursday, March 01, 2007 - link

    I may be wrong but I think that new CPU or GPU technologies are planned years ahead so for me it look more like they came down to the "same" conclusion on how to improve their CPU. Only Intel did it 1 year before AMD. Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, March 01, 2007 - link

    There are fundamentally only so many ways to improve processor performance, and Intel used most of them with Core 2. That AMD is using similar patterns (more buffers, better branch prediction, wider execution, etc.) isn't at all surprising. Just because the same basic principles are used, however, doesn't mean that at the transistor level there aren't significant differences and challenges to overcome. Reply
  • archcommus - Thursday, March 01, 2007 - link

    Another great article that displays all the reasons why I read AT - lengthy, technical reviews written by educated authors that are interesting to read and to top it off, with no typing errors! I'm sure you guys use voice software to write these mammoths.

    I was waiting for details on Barcelona for so long and this is finally it. I have no doubt that AMD will be up to par with Intel again, but the question is, will this significantly SURPASS Core 2 offerings at the time? I hope so but it's not a definite thing yet.

    The best thing is, I'm a ways into my computer engineering degree now so I can actually understand a lot of these very techincal articles!
    Reply
  • Le Québécois - Thursday, March 01, 2007 - link

    You said:
    quote:

    ...Barcelona's mid-2007 launch on servers and Q3 '07 launch for desktops...


    But isn't it the same thing?
    I mean mid-2007 is the 1st of july and Q3 also begins with july. Could you be more specific? Maybe the month we can expect them?
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, March 01, 2007 - link

    Q3 means anywhere between July and late September, while mid-2007 means June or July time frame. As the official launch date approaches, we'll refine things where possible. Reply
  • Le Québécois - Thursday, March 01, 2007 - link

    Thank you for your quick reply, as usual. Reply
  • mjrpes3 - Thursday, March 01, 2007 - link

    Any word on when the desktop variant of Barcelona (Agena) will find its way into consumer's hands? Reply
  • puffpio - Thursday, March 01, 2007 - link

    When you refer to DDR3 you call it DDDR3
    unless...there is a DDDR3 I don't know about?
    Reply

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