Investigating Cavium's ThunderX: The First ARM Server SoC With Ambitionby Johan De Gelas on June 15, 2016 8:00 AM EST
Memory Subsystem: Latency Measurements
There is no doubt about it: the performance of modern CPUs depends heavily on the cache subsystem, and some application depend heavily on the DRAM subsystem too. Since the ThunderX is a totally new architecture, we decided to invest some time to understand the cache system. We used LMBench and Tinymembench in an effort to try to measure the latency.
The numbers we looked at were "Random load latency stride=16 Bytes" (LMBench). Tinymembench was compiled with -O2 on each server. We looked at both "single random read" and "dual random read".
LMbench offers a test of L1, while Tinymembench does not. So the L1-readings are measured with LMBench. LMbench consistently measured 20-30% higher latency for L2, L3 cache, and 10% higher readings for memory latency. Since Tinymembench allowed us to compare both latency with one (1 req in the table) or two outstanding requests (2 req in the table), we used the numbers measured by Tinymembench.
|L2-cache 1 / 2 req (cycles)||40/80||12||12||12|
|L3-cache 1 / 2 req (cycles)||N/A||40/44||38/43||48/57|
|Memory 1 / 2 req (ns)||103/206||64/80||66/81||57/75|
The ThunderX's shallow pipeline and relatively modest OOO capabilities is best served with a low latency L1-cache, and Cavium does not disappoint with a 3 cycle L1. Intel's L1 needs a cycle more, but considering that the Broadwell core has massive OOO buffers, this is not a problem at all.
But then things get really interesting. The L1-cache of the ThunderX does not seem to support multiple outstanding L1 misses. As a result, a second cache miss needs to wait until the first one was handled. Things get ugly when accessing the memory: not only is the latency of accessing the DDR4-2133 much higher, again the second miss needs to wait for the first one. So a second cache miss results in twice as much latency.
The Intel cores do not have this problem, a second request gets only a 20 to 30% higher latency.
So how bad is this? The more complex the core gets, the more important a non-blocking cache gets. The 5/6 wide Intel cores need this badly, as running many instructions in parallel, prefetching data, and SMT all increase the pressure on the cache system, and increase the chance of getting multiple cache misses at once.
The simpler two way issue ThunderX core is probably less hampered by a blocking cache, but it still a disadvantage. And this is something the Cavium engineers will need to fix if they want to build a more potent core and achieve better single threaded performance. This also means that it is very likely that there is no hardware prefetcher present: otherwise the prefetcher would get in the way of the normal memory accesses.
And there is no doubt that the performance of applications with big datasets will suffer. The same is true for applications that require a lot of data synchronization. To be more specific we do not think the 48 cores will scale well when handling transactional databases (too much pressure on the L2) or fluid dynamics (high latency memory) applications.