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ARM with scalable vector extensions
Author:  Date: 2016-08-26 11:21
Agner wrote:
Two people have sent me this link. Yesterday, ARM announced a future extension with variable vector length:
ARM Announces ARM v8-A with Scalable Vector Extensions.


The details are not available yet, but it appears that the vector length must be a multiple of 128 bits. Maybe it must be a power of 2:
Technology Update: The Scalable Vector Extension (SVE) for the ARMv8-A architecture.


This new ARM extension has the same idea as ForwardCom that the same code should be able to run on different processors with different vector length. But the hardware seems much more complicated than ForwardCom.

Well, the ARM version is also somewhat more aggressive since it tries to deal with scatter-gather, carried loop dependencies (aka feedback) and data-dependent loop exits.

Agner wrote:

The ARM extension requires that the hardware scheduler is able to split long vectors into shorter ones or merge short vectors into longer ones.
Hmm, I'm re-reading the article, and now I'm really wondering what they actually mean about how it adapts to different vector sizes. Either:
- It's a software scheme (in which the software knows the vector size, and if you have, say, 512 bit vectors, then the top 1536 bits always read as 0) and the article is slightly wrong in the way it presents things.
- Or, vectors can always be 2048 bits and it simply uses more micro-ops on narrower processors (this is already how NEON works) - this relatively straightforwards to implement, although this leaves the issue of having to deal with oversized register files (I'm not up to date on how costly this is in hardware).
- Or maybe it's some other crazier scheme? I can't quite tell.

Agner wrote:

The compiler would also be quite complicated, I think.
Auto-vectorization is always complicated!

I'm not sure exactly why the ARM version is more complicated than ForwardCom though. Yes, the ARM version requires a more complex calculation to get vector length and turn it into lane flags, although there's a good chance this extra calculation can run in parallel with other stuff and essentially be free. The ARM version doesn't require transforming the loop index 0..n-1 into a negative index from end of buffer, which I'm sure is doable in SSA form but might get complex for loops with lots of references to the indexing variable.

Agner wrote:

The special ForwardCom loop type is much more elegant and efficient with no limit to vector length, see forwardcom.info.
It's true that the ARM version doesn't have the insight that if you use reverse indexing from the end of the buffer, you can clamp the index and use it as a count for the number of items per iteration. If I'm reading the news post correctly, I think the ARM idea is that they use the lane predication flags as vector sizes, so they probably need a couple of specialized instructions to produce the correct clamped item counts and masks. But they're doing both predication and variable vector size using the same hardware, which I guess is a good thing.

Maybe they're using general-purpose integer registers as lane masks - that would explain the 2048bit size limit (64bit register = 64 lane flags * 32bit float per line = 2048bits). The load/store unit needs to know the lane masks, so they need to be known early in the pipeline, and I don't think it's using too many general-purpose register file ports.

 
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