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Chapter: Advanced Computer Architecture : Memory And I/O

Cache Performance

1. Techniques for Reducing Cache Miss Penalty 2. Techniques to reduce miss rate

Cache Performance


The average memory access time is calculated as follows


Average memory access time = hit time + Miss rate x Miss Penalty.


Where Hit Time is the time to deliver a block in the cache to the processor (includes time to determine whether the block is in the cache), Miss Rate is the fraction of memory references not found in cache (misses/references) and Miss Penalty is the additional time required because of a miss the average memory access time due to cache misses predicts processor performance.


First, there are other reasons for stalls, such as contention due to I/O devices using memory and due to cache misses


Second, The CPU stalls during misses, and the memory stall time is strongly correlated to average memory access time.


CPU time = (CPU execution clock cycles + Memory stall clock cycles) × Clock cycle time


There are 17 cache optimizations into four categories:


1 Reducing the miss penalty: multilevel caches, critical word first, read miss before write miss, merging write buffers, victim caches;


2 Reducing the miss rate larger block size, larger cache size, higher associativity, pseudo-associativity, and compiler optimizations;


3 Reducing the miss penalty or miss rate via parallelism: nonblocking caches, hardware prefetching, and compiler prefetching;


4 Reducing the time to hit in the cache: small and simple caches, avoiding address translation, and pipelined cache access.


1. Techniques for Reducing Cache Miss Penalty


There are five optimizations techniques to reduce miss penalty.


i)  First Miss Penalty Reduction Technique: Multi-Level Caches


The First Miss Penalty Reduction Technique follows the Adding another level of cache between the original cache and memory. The first-level cache can be small enough to match the clock cycle time of the fast CPU and the second-level cache can be large enough to capture many accesses that would go to main memory, thereby the effective miss penalty.

The definition of average memory access time for a two-level cache. Using the subscripts L1 and L2 to refer, respectively, to a first-level and a second-level cache, the formula is


Average memory access time = Hit timeL1 + Miss rateL1 × Miss penalty L1 and


Miss penaltyL1 = Hit timeL2 + Miss rateL2 × Miss penalty L2


so Average memory access time = Hit timeL1 + Miss rateL1× (Hit time L2 + Miss rateL2 × Miss penaltyL2)


Local miss rate


This rate is simply the number of misses in a cache divided by the total number of memory accesses to this cache. As you would expect, for the first-level cache it is equal to Miss rateL1 and for the second-level cache it is Miss rateL2


Global miss rate


The number of misses in the cache divided by the total num-ber of memory accesses generated by the CPU. Using the terms above, the global miss rate for the first-level cache is still just Miss rateL1 but for the second-level cache it is Miss rateL1 × Miss rate L2.


This local miss rate is large for second level caches because the first-level cache skims the cream of the memory accesses. This is why the global miss rate is the more useful measure: it indicates what fraction of the memory accesses that leave the CPU go all the way to memory.


Here is a place where the misses per instruction metric shines. Instead of confusion about local or global miss rates, we just expand memory stalls per instruction to add the impact of a second level cache.


Average memory stalls per instruction = Misses per instructionL1× Hit time L2 + Misses per instructionL2 × Miss penalty L2.


We can consider the parameters of second-level caches. The foremost difference between the two levels is that the speed of the first-level cache affects the clock rate of the CPU, while the speed of the second-level cache only affects the miss penalty of the first-level cache.


The initial decision is the size of a second-level cache. Since everything in the first-level cache is likely to be in the second-level cache, the second-level cache should be much bigger than the first. If second-level caches are just a little bigger, the local miss rate will be high.

Figures 5.1 and 5.2 show how miss rates and relative execution time change with the size of a second-level cache for one design.

ii) Second Miss Penalty Reduction Technique: Critical Word First and Early Restart


Multilevel caches require extra hardware to reduce miss penalty, but not this second technique. It is based on the observation that the CPU normally needs just one word of the block at a time. This strategy is impatience: Don’t wait for the full block to be loaded before sending the requested word and restarting the CPU.


Here are two specific strategies:


Critical word first


Request the missed word first from memory and send it to the CPU as soon as it arrives; let the CPU continue execution while filling the rest of the words in the block. Critical-word-first fetch is also called wrapped fetch and requested word first.


Early restart


Fetch the words in normal order, but as soon as the requested word of the block arrives, send it to the CPU and let the CPU continue execution.


Generally these techniques only benefit designs with large cache blocks, since the benefit is low unless blocks are large. The problem is that given spatial locality, there is more than random chance that the next miss is to the remainder of the block. In such cases, the effective miss penalty is the time from the miss until the second piece arrives.


iii) Third Miss Penalty Reduction Technique: Giving Priority to Read Misses over Writes


This optimization serves reads before writes have been completed. We start with looking at complexities of a write buffer. With a write-through cache the most important improvement is a write buffer of the proper size. Write buffers, however, do complicate memory accesses in that they might hold the updated value of a location needed on a read miss. The simplest way out of this is for the read miss to wait until the write buffer is empty.


The alternative is to check the contents of the write buffer on a read miss, and if there are no conflicts and the memory system is available, let the read miss continue. Virtually all desktop and server processors use the latter approach, giving reads priority over writes.


The cost of writes by the processor in a write-back cache can also be reduced. Suppose a read miss will replace a dirty memory block. Instead of writing the dirty block to memory, and then reading memory, we could copy the dirty block to a buffer, then read memory, and then write memory.


This way the CPU read, for which the processor is probably waiting, will finish sooner. Similar to the situation above, if a read miss occurs, the processor can either stall until the buffer is empty or check the addresses of the words in the buffer for conflicts.


iv) Fourth Miss Penalty Reduction Technique: Merging Write Buffer


This technique also involves write buffers, this time improving their efficiency. Write through caches rely on write buffers, as all stores must be sent to the next lower level of the hierarchy. As mentioned above, even write back caches use a simple buffer when a block is replaced.


If the write buffer is empty, the data and the full address are written in the buffer, and the write is finished from the CPU's perspective; the CPU continues working while the write buffer prepares to write the word to memory.


If the buffer contains other modified blocks, the addresses can be checked to see if the address of this new data matches the address of the valid write buffer entry. If so, the new data are combined with that entry, called write merging.


If the buffer is full and there is no address match, the cache (and CPU) must wait until the buffer has an empty entry. This optimization uses the memory more efficiently since multiword writes are usually faster than writes performed one word at a time.


The optimization also reduces stalls due to the write buffer being full. Figure 5.12 shows a write buffer with and without write merging. Assume we had four entries in the write buffer, and each entry could hold four 64-bit words. Without this optimization, four stores to sequential addresses would fill the buffer at one word per entry, even though these four words when merged exactly fit within a single entry of the write buffer.


Figure 5.3 & 5.4 To illustrate write merging, the write buffer on top does not use it while the write buffer on the bottom does. The four writes are merged into a single buffer entry with write merging; without it, the buffer is full even though three-fourths of each entry is wasted. The buffer has four entries, and each entry holds four 64-bit words.


The address for each entry is on the left, with valid bits (V) indicating whether or not the next sequential eight bytes are occupied in this entry. (Without write merging, the words to the right in the upper drawing would only be used for instructions which wrote multiple words at the same time.)


v) Fifth Miss Penalty Reduction Technique: Victim Caches


One approach to lower miss penalty is to remember what was discarded in case it is needed again. Since the discarded data has already been fetched, it can be used again at small cost.


Such “recycling” requires a small, fully associative cache between a cache and its refill


path. Figure 5.13 shows the organization. This victim cache contains only blocks that are discarded from a cache because of a miss “victims” and are checked on a miss to see if they have


the desired data before going to the next lower-level memory. If it is found there, the victim block and cache block are swapped. The AMD Athlon has a victim cache with eight entries.


Jouppi [1990] found that victim caches of one to five entries are effective at reducing misses, especially for small, direct-mapped data caches. Depending on the program, a four-entry victim cache might remove one quarter of the misses in a 4-KB direct-mapped data cache.

Summary of Miss Penalty Reduction Techniques


The first technique follows the proverb “the more the merrier”: assuming the principle of locality will keep applying recursively, just keep adding more levels of increasingly larger caches until you are happy. The second technique is impatience: it retrieves the word of the block that caused the miss rather than waiting for the full block to arrive. The next technique is preference. It gives priority to reads over writes since the processor generally waits for reads but continues after launching writes.


The fourth technique is companion-ship, combining writes to sequential words into a single block to create a more efficient transfer to memory. Finally comes a cache equivalent of recycling, as a victim cache keeps a few discarded blocks available for when the fickle primary cache wants a word that it recently discarded. All these techniques help with miss penalty, but multilevel caches is probably the most important.


2. Techniques to reduce miss rate


The classical approach to improving cache behavior is to reduce miss rates, and there are five techniques to reduce miss rate. we first start with a model that sorts all misses into three

simple categories:




The very first access to a block cannot be in the cache, so the block must be brought into the cache. These are also called cold start misses or first reference misses.




If the cache cannot contain all the blocks needed during execution of a program, capacity misses (in addition to compulsory misses) will occur be-cause of blocks being discarded and later retrieved.




If the block placement strategy is set associative or direct mapped, conflict misses (in addition to compulsory and capacity misses) will occur be-cause a block may be discarded and later retrieved if too many blocks map to its set. These misses are also called collision misses or interference misses. The idea is that hits in a fully associative cache which become misses in an N-way set associative cache are due to more than N requests on some popular sets.


i ) First Miss Rate Reduction Technique: Larger Block Size


The simplest way to reduce miss rate is to increase the block size. Figure 5.4 shows the trade-off of block size versus miss rate for a set of programs and cache sizes. Larger block sizes will reduce compulsory misses. This reduction occurs because the principle of locality has two components: temporal locality and spatial locality. Larger blocks take advantage of spatial locality.

At the same time, larger blocks increase the miss penalty. Since they reduce the number of blocks in the cache, larger blocks may increase conflict misses and even capacity misses if the cache is small. Clearly, there is little reason to increase the block size to such a size that it increases the miss rate. There is also no benefit to reducing miss rate if it increases the average memory access time. The increase in miss penalty may outweigh the decrease in miss rate.


ii) Second Miss Rate Reduction Technique: Larger caches


The obvious way to reduce capacity misses in the above is to increases capacity of the cache. The obvious drawback is longer hit time and higher cost. This technique has been especially popular in off-chip caches: The size of second or third level caches in 2001 equals the size of main memory in desktop computers.


iii) Third Miss Rate Reduction Technique: Higher Associativity:


Generally the miss rates improves with higher associativity. There are two general rules of thumb that can be drawn. The first is that eight-way set associative is for practical purposes as effective in reducing misses for these sized caches as fully associative. You can see the difference by comparing the 8-way entries to the capacity miss, since capacity misses are calculated using fully associative cache.


The second observation, called the 2:1 cache rule of thumb and found on the front inside cover, is that a direct-mapped cache of size N has about the same miss rate as a 2-way set associative cache of size N/2. This held for cache sizes less than 128 KB.


iv) Fourth Miss Rate Reduction Technique: Way Prediction and Pseudo-Associative Caches


In way-prediction, extra bits are kept in the cache to predict the set of the next cache access. This prediction means the multiplexer is set early to select the desired set, and only a single tag comparison is performed that clock cycle. A miss results in checking the other sets for matches in subsequent clock cycles.


The Alpha 21264 uses way prediction in its instruction cache. (Added to each block of the instruction cache is a set predictor bit. The bit is used to select which of the two sets to try on the next cache access. If the predictor is correct, the instruction cache latency is one clock cycle. If not, it tries the other set, changes the set predictor, and has a latency of three clock cycles.


In addition to improving performance, way prediction can reduce power for embedded applications. By only supplying power to the half of the tags that are expected to be used, the MIPS R4300 series lowers power consumption with the same benefits.


A related approach is called pseudo-associative or column associative. Accesses proceed just as in the direct-mapped cache for a hit. On a miss, however, before going to the next lower level of the memory hierarchy, a second cache entry is checked to see if it matches there. A simple way is to invert the most significant bit of the index field to find the other block in the


“pseudo set.”


Pseudo-associative caches then have one fast and one slow hit time—corresponding to a regular hit and a pseudo hit—in addition to the miss penalty. Figure 5.20 shows the relative times. One danger would be if many fast hit times of the direct-mapped cache became slow hit times in the pseudo-associative cache. The performance would then be degraded by this optimization. Hence, it is important to indicate for each set which block should be the fast hit and which should be the slow one. One way is simply to make the upper one fast and swap the contents of the blocks. Another danger is that the miss penalty may become slightly longer, adding the time to check another cache entry.

v) Fifth Miss Rate Reduction Technique: Compiler Optimizations


This final technique reduces miss rates without any hardware changes. This magical reduction comes from optimized software. The increasing performance gap between processors and main memory has inspired compiler writers to scrutinize the memory hierarchy to see if compile time optimizations can improve performance. Once again research is split between improvements in instruction misses and improvements in data misses.


Code can easily be rearranged without affecting correctness; for example, reordering the procedures of a program might reduce instruction miss rates by reducing conflict misses. Reordering the instructions reduced misses by 50% for a 2-KB direct-mapped instruction cache with 4-byte blocks, and by 75% in an 8-KB cache.


Another code optimization aims for better efficiency from long cache blocks. Aligning basic blocks so that the entry point is at the beginning of a cache block decreases the chance of a cache miss for sequential code.


Loop Interchange:


Some programs have nested loops that access data in memory in non-sequential order. Simply exchanging the nesting of the loops can make the code access the data in the order it is stored. Assuming the arrays do not fit in cache, this technique reduces misses by improving spatial locality; reordering maximizes use of data in a cache block before it is discarded.


/* Before */ for (j = 0; j < 100; j = j+1) for (i = 0; i < 5000; i = i+1)


x[i][j] = 2 * x[i][j];


/* After */


for (i = 0; i < 5000; i = i+1) for (j = 0; j < 100; j = j+1) x[i][j] = 2 * x[i][j];


This optimization improves cache performance without affecting the number of instructions executed.




This optimization tries to reduce misses via improved temporal locality. We are again dealing with multiple arrays, with some arrays accessed by rows and some by columns. Storing the arrays row by row (row major order) or column by column (column major order) does not solve the problem because both rows and columns are used in every iteration of the loop. Such orthogonal accesses mean the transformations such as loop interchange are not helpful.


Instead of operating on entire rows or columns of an array, blocked algorithms operate on submatrices or blocks. The goal is to maximize accesses to the data loaded into the cache before the data are replaced.


Summary of Reducing Cache Miss Rate


This section first presented the three C’s model of cache misses: compulsory, capacity, and conflict. This intuitive model led to three obvious optimizations: larger block size to reduce compulsory misses, larger cache size to reduce capacity misses, and higher associativity to reduce conflict misses. Since higher associativity may affect cache hit time or cache power consumption, way prediction checks only a piece of the cache for hits and then on a miss checks the rest. The final technique is the favorite of the hardware designer, leaving cache optimizations to the compiler.

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