Agner`s CPU blog

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Jump prefetch?
Author: Agner Date: 2017-01-30 07:14
csdt wrote:
The point of this solution is to replace conditional jumps by unconditional jumps to predefined targets.
It is not very clear what you mean here. It is possible, of course, to put the jump target address in a register and then do an indirect jump to the register value. This doesn't solve the problem in current hardware designs because the value of the target register is not known at the time the next instruction has to be fetched into the pipeline. You would need to store the target address several clock cycles in advance and then have a mechanism for signalling to the instruction fetcher at what point it would have to fetch from the new address. The compiler then has to place the switch-target instruction at the right position in the instruction sequence. The distance from the switch-target instruction to the point of divergence has to fit the length of the pipeline, which depends on the specific hardware implementation. This may be possible, but I am not aware of any attempt to construct such a machinery.

It is always possible to consider a conditional jump like an unconditional jump where the target is either the one we want, or the instruction just after the jump depending on the condition.
Some instruction sets have an instruction for conditionally skipping the next instruction. If the instruction that you skip is not a jump instruction, then this is in effect a conditional execution of the instruction. ForwardCom can execute instructions conditionally by using a predicate or mask. This avoids misprediction, but it doesn't save time because the time it takes to not-execute an instruction is the same as the time it takes to execute it. The reason for this is that the value of the predicate register is not known at the time the instruction is scheduled. It might be possible to construct a scheduler that checks whether the value of the predicate register is known sufficiently early to skip the instruction completely and not schedule it for execution. This would require a quite complicated hardware design, and I don't think it has ever been done.

If you have a system that conditionally skips one instruction, and the instruction you skip is a jump instruction, then you have a situation that is equivalent to a conditional jump. The instruction fetcher will not know in advance which instruction comes next.

This all boils down to the issue of pipelining. Current high-end microprocessors have a pipeline of typically 10-20 stages. This means that it has to know 10-20 clock cycles in advance which instruction to fecth next. If this information is not actually known 10-20 clock cycles in advance then you cannot avoid a waste of time if you make the wrong guess, no matter how you implement the branching. Any mechanism that makes this information known to the instruction fetcher sufficiently early would be quite complicated to implement both in the hardware and in the compiler.

 
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