Assessing IBM's POWER8, Part 1: A Low Level Look at Little Endianby Johan De Gelas on July 21, 2016 8:45 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 applications depend heavily on the DRAM subsystem too. We used LMBench in an effort to try to measure latency. Our favorite tool to do this, Tinymembench, does not support the POWER architecture yet. That is a pity, because it is a lot more accurate and modern (as it can test with two outstanding requests).
The numbers we looked at were "Random load latency stride=16 Bytes" (LMBench).
|IBM POWER8||Intel Broadwell
|L1 Cache (cycles)||3||4||4|
|L2 Cache (cycles)||13||12-15||12-15|
|L3 Cache 4-8 MB(cycles)||27-28 (8 ns)||49-50||50|
|16 MB (ns)||55 ns||26 ns||21 ns|
|32-64 MB (ns)||55-57 ns||75-92 ns||80-96 ns|
|Memory 96-128 MB (ns)||67-74 ns||90-91 ns||96 ns|
|Memory 384-512 MB (ns)||89-91 ns||91-93 ns||95 ns|
(Note that the numbers for Intel are higher than what we reported in our Cavium ThunderX review. The reason is that we are now using the numbers of LMBench and not those of Tinymembench.)
A 64 KB L1 cache with 4 read ports that can run at 4+ GHz speeds and still maintain a 3 cycle load latency is nothing less than the pinnacle of engineering. The L2 cache excels too, being twice as large (512 KB) and still offering the same latency as Intel's L2.
Once we get to the eDRAM L3 cache, our readings get a lot more confusing. The L3 cache is blistering fast as long as you only access the part that is closest to the core (8 MB). Go beyond that limit (16 MB), and you get a latency that is no less than 7 times worse. It looks like we actually hitting the Centaur chips, because the latency stays the same at 32 and 64 MB.
Intel has a much more predictable latency chart. Xeon's L3 cache needs about 50 cycles, and once you get into DRAM, you get a 90-96 ns latency. The "transistion phase" from 26 ns L3 to 90 ns DRAM is much smaller.
Comparatively, that "transition phase" seems relatively large on the IBM POWER8. We have to go beyond 128 MB before we get the full DRAM latency. And even then the Centaur chip seems to handle things well: the octal DDR-3 1333 MHz DRAM system delivers the same or even slightly better latency as the DDR4-2400 memory on the Xeon.
In summary, IBM's POWER8 has a twice as fast 8 MB L3, while Intel's L3 is vastly better in the 9-32 MB zone. But once you go beyond 32 MB, the IBM memory subsystem delivers better latency. At a significant power cost we must add, because those 4 memory buffers need about 64 Watts.