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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  • johnsonx - Saturday, March 03, 2007 - link

    Actually that's the new Double-Dog-Dare RAM-3.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, March 01, 2007 - link

    Crazy D's... they're like rabbits! Reply
  • AkumaX - Thursday, March 01, 2007 - link

    Great read. I love Anand's articles. We'll see what the future holds, for both AMD and Intel Reply
  • MAME - Thursday, March 01, 2007 - link

    I wonder how much market share AMD will lose until this chip become readily available. Reply
  • tuteja1986 - Thursday, March 01, 2007 - link

    None... AMD will loose no marketshare. They are in bloody price war... Intel hasn't really regained any lost territory. But Intel have the advantage of performance is trying to find a breakthrough in AMD market share to retake back the lost territory. AMD is still selling everything they make but at huge looses caused by the price war.
    Reply
  • Griswold - Thursday, March 01, 2007 - link

    Huge loses? Do you mistake the loss of Q406 due to the ATI purchase as a loss due to selling under production costs? Reply
  • Phynaz - Thursday, March 01, 2007 - link

    Seen that AMD cach flow recently? Reply
  • TwistyKat - Thursday, March 01, 2007 - link

    ...you have people like me who won't buy anything from Intel. If we didn't have AMD to make Intel competitive we would never have the range of choices we have today. We'd all be running monster Itanics with massive electricity bills.

    Intel has the resources to effectively put AMD out of business over time if it so chooses, and today I suspect they are focused on something close to that.


    Reply
  • fitten - Thursday, March 01, 2007 - link

    quote:

    Intel has the resources to effectively put AMD out of business over time if it so chooses, and today I suspect they are focused on something close to that.


    Won't happen. In order to avoid anti-trust lawsuits, Intel will give AMD money to keep them afloat before they'll allow AMD to fail.
    Reply
  • GoatMonkey - Friday, March 02, 2007 - link

    If AMD were to be purchased by a larger corporation, like IBM, it would leave Intel free to beat AMD down with all of their resources. Of course, at that point AMD would have the resources of IBM behind it and could potentially fight back better. Reply

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