Thursday, March 19, 2015

Cache Line Aliasing #2, or "What happens when you page align everything"

After a little more digging into the Intel performance side of things, I discovered one of the big reasons for the performance drop on this particular workload: how Intel CPUs do memory reordering.

The TL;DR is this - there's some hardware inside the Intel CPUs that tracks memory ordering and cache contents - but they don't use all the address bits.

The relevant chapter in the intel optimisation guide is 3.6.8 - Capacity Limits and Aliasing in Caches. The specific thing I was hitting was in - Store Forwarding Aliasing.

Assembly/Compiler Coding Rule 56. (H impact, M generality) Avoid having a store followed by a non-dependent load with addresses that differ by a multiple of 4 KBytes. Also, lay out data or order computation to avoid having cache lines that have linear addresses that are a multiple of 64 KBytes apart in the same working set. Avoid having more than 4 cache lines that are some multiple of 2 KBytes apart in the same first-level cache working set, and avoid having more than 8 cache lines that are some multiple of 4 KBytes apart in the same first-level cache working set.

So, given this, what can be done? In this workload, a bunch of large matrices were allocated via jemalloc, which page aligns large allocations. In the default invocation of the benchmark (where the allocation padding size is 0), the memory access patterns showed a very large number of counter events on "LD_BLOCKS_PARTIAL.ADDRESS_ALIAS" - which is the number of 64k address aliases on the Sandy Bridge Xeon processors I've been testing on. (The same occurs on Westmere, Ivy Bridge and Haswell.) As I vary the padding size, the address aliasing value drops, the memory access counters increase, and the general performance increases.

On the test boxes I have (running pmcstat -w 120 -C -p LD_BLOCKS_PARTIAL.ADDRESS_ALIAS ./himenobmtxpa M )

0 217799413 830.995025
64 18138386 1624.296713
96 8876469 1662.486298
128 19281984 1645.370750
192 18247069 1643.119908
256 18511952 1661.426341
320 19636951 1674.154119
352 19716236 1686.694053
384 19684863 1681.110499
448 18189029 1683.163673
512 19380987 1691.937818

So there's still plenty of aliasing going on at different padding offsets, however it's a very marked drop between 0 and, well, anything.

It turns out that someone's gone and done a bunch more digging into the effects of various CPU magic under the hood. The last paper in the list (Analysing Contextual Bias..) looks at Aliasing and Cache Effects and the effect of memory layout. There's some cute (and sobering!) analysis of the performance changes due to something as simple as the length of your login name in the UNIX environment. It's worth reading.

The summary? Maybe page alignment of all of your memory accesses isn't the way to go.

For further reading:

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