Agner`s CPU blog

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Jump prefetch?
Author: Agner Date: 2017-02-02 01:11
Hubert Lamontagne wrote:
They are actually somewhat orthogonal:
- A CPU can have a front-end that runs in-order but has register renaming and can be rolled back, which allows conditionals on the back-end but not memory index calculations
- A CPU can have a front-end that supports reordering but not speculative execution (all writebacks must be real!), allowing back-end indexing but not conditionals
My intention is clearly number 2. The purpose is to shorten the branch misprediction delay to probably 3 clock cycles: fetch, decode, execute. The front end may allow reordering in the sense that an instruction can wait for an operand without delaying subsequent independent instructions. But it should not have register renaming in the front end.

I am focusing on branching here, which is clearly a weak spot in current superscalar designs. I am not intending to use this as a way of prefetching memory operands. The out-of-order mechanism is able to handle delayed memory operands satisfactorily.

My vision is this: The compiler is indicating which registers it intends to use for control flow. For example, it may use register r1 for loop counter, r2 for a branch condition, and r3 for index into a jump table. All instructions that modify r1, r2, and r3 will execute in the front end if possible. The remaining instructions are sent to the the back end. Instructions that have any of these registers as input operand will have the register operand replaced by its value before it is sent to the back end. Other register operands that are available in the permanent register file can likewise be replaced by their values. Instructions that execute in the front end may write their result not only to the permanent register file but also to any pending instruction that needs it.

The result of this mechanism is that a loop that is controlled by the marked registers only will be unrolled in the front end. The instructions in the loop body will be passed on to the back end with the loop counter replaced by its value. The back end has register renaming so that it can execute the body of the second iteration before it has finished the body of the first iteration.

All other control flow, such as branches, jumps, calls, returns, etc., will be unrolled in the front end as well so that control flow is effectively resolved before execution as far as it does not depend on delayed data.

The demand for advanced branch prediction is somewhat relaxed if we can drastically reduce the branch misprediction delay in this way. The branch prediction machinery in modern processors is very complicated and requires a lot of silicon space for branch target buffers and pattern/history tables. We can cut down on this and use a simpler branch prediction scheme if branches are resolved in the front end.

The front end may fetch and decode speculatively, but not execute speculatively. It may even fetch both sides of a branch that it expects to have poor prediction. Fetching both sides of a branch becomes cheaper here than with a traditional superscalar design because it only needs to duplicate two pipeline stages (fetch and decode) in order to minimize branch misprediction bubbles.

The fetch and decode stages should have higher throughput than the rest of the pipeline so that it can catch up and fill the pipeline after a branch bubble. The fetch stage should be able to fetch a large block of code in one clock cycle, possibly crossing a cache line boundary. The decoder should be able to decode the first one or two instructions in a fecthed code block in the first clock cycle, and determine the starting points of the remaining instructions. This will allow it to decode maybe four or more instructions in the second clock cycle after fetching a block of code. The aim of this is to keep the branch misprediction delay as low as possible.

In case the front end ALU is idle because there are no instructions that write to marked registers, it may execute any other instructions if their operands are ready.

 
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