Team alf

Overall Objectives
Scientific Foundations
Application Domains
New Results
Contracts and Grants with Industry
Other Grants and Activities

Section: New Results

Processor Architecture

Participants : Julien Dusser, Robert Guziolowski, Pierre Michaud, Nathanaël Prémillieu, André Seznec.

Our research in computer architecture covers memory hierarchy, branch prediction, superscalar implementation, as well as SMT and multicore issues. We also address power consumption and temperature management that have become major concerns for high performance processor design.

Null blocks management on the memory hierarchy

Participants : Julien Dusser, André Seznec.

It has been observed that some applications manipulate large amounts of null data. Moreover these zero data often exhibit high spatial locality. On some applications more than 20% of the data accesses concern null data blocks.

We propose to leverage this property in the whole memory hierarchy. We have first proposed the Zero-Content Augmented cache, the ZCA cache [19] . A ZCA cache consists of a conventional cache augmented with a specialized cache for memorizing null blocks, the Zero-Content cache or ZC cache. In the ZC cache, the data block is represented by its address tag and a validity bit. Moreover, as null blocks generally exhibit high spatial locality, several null blocks can be associated with a single address tag in the ZC cache. For instance, a ZC cache mapping 32MB of zero 64-byte lines uses less than 80KB of storage. Decompression of a null block is very simple, therefore read access time on the ZCA cache is in the same range as on a conventional cache. On applications manipulating large amount of null data blocks, such a ZC cache allows to significantly reduce the miss rate and memory traffic, and therefore to increase performance for a small hardware overhead.

To reduce the pressure on main memory, we have proposed a hardware compressed memory that only targets null data blocks, the decoupled zero-compressed memory [30] . Borrowing some ideas from the decoupled sectored cache [15] , the decoupled zero-compressed memory, or DZC memory, manages the main memory as a decoupled sectored set-associative cache where null blocks are only represented by a validity bit. Our experiments show that for many applications, the DZC memory allows to artificially enlarge the main memory, i.e. it reduces the effective physical memory size needed to accommodate the working set of an application without excessive page swapping. Moreover, the DZC memory can be associated with a ZCA cache to manage null blocks across the whole memory hierarchy. On some applications, such a management significantly decreases the memory traffic and therefore can significantly improve performance.

Emerging memory technologies

Participant : André Seznec.

Phase change memory (PCM) technology appears as more scalable than DRAM technology. As PCM exhibits access time slightly longer but in the same range as DRAMs, several recent studies have proposed to use PCMs for designing main memory systems. Unfortunately PCM technology suffers from a limited write endurance; typically each memory cell can be only be written a large but still limited number of times (10 millions to 1 billion writes are reported for current technology). Till now, research proposals have essentially focused their attention on designing memory systems that will survive to the average behavior of conventional applications. However PCM memory systems should be designed to survive worst-case applications, i.e., malicious attacks targeting the physical destruction of the memory through overwriting a limited number of memory cells.

We have proposed the design of a secure PCM-based main memory that would by construction survive to overwrite attacks [33] . In order to prevent a malicious user to overwrite some memory cells, the physical memory address (PA) manipulated by the computer system is not the same as the PCM memory address (PCMA). PCMA is made invisible from the rest of the computer system. The PCM memory controller is in charge of the PA-to-PCMA translation. Hiding PCMA alone does not prevent a malicious user to overwrite a PCM memory word. Therefore in the secure PCM-based main memory, PA-to-PCMA translation is continuously modified through a random process, such preventing a malicious user to overwrite some PCM memory words. PCM address invisibility and continuous random PA-to-PCMA translation ensures security against an overwrite attack as well it ensures a practical write endurance close to the theoretical maximum. The hardware overhead needed to ensure this security in the PCM controller includes a random number generator and a medium large address translation table.

Microarchitecture exploration of Control flow reconvergence

Participants : Nathanaël Prémillieu, André Seznec.

After continuous progress over the past 15 years [14] , [13] , the accuracy of branch predictors seems to be reaching a plateau. Other techniques to limit control dependency impact are needed. Control flow reconvergence is an interesting property of programs. After a multi-option control-flow instruction (i.e. either a conditional branch or an indirect jump including returns), all the possible paths merge at a given program point: the reconvergence point.

Superscalar processors rely on aggressive branch prediction, out-of-order execution and instruction level parallelism for achieving high performance. Therefore, on a superscalar core , the overall speculative execution after the mispredicted branch is cancelled leading to a substantial waste of potential performance. However, deep pipelines and out-of-order execution induce that, when a branch misprediction is resolved, instructions following the reconvergence point have already been fetched, decoded and sometimes executed. While some of this executed work has to be cancelled since data dependencies exist, cancelling the control independent work is a waste of resources and performance.

We are studying a new hardware mechanism called SRANT, Symmetric Resource Allocation on Not-taken and Taken paths, addressing control flow reconvergence.

Sequential accelerators in future general-purpose manycore processors

Participants : Pierre Michaud, André Seznec.

The number of transistors that can be put on a given silicon area doubles on every technology generation. Consequently, the number of on-chip cores increases quickly, making it possible to build general-purpose processors with hundreds of cores in a near future. However, though having a large number of cores is beneficial for speeding up parallel code sections, it is also important to speed up sequential execution. We argue that it will be possible and desirable to dedicate a large fraction of the chip area and power to high sequential performance.

Current processor design styles are restrained by the implicit constraint that a processor core should be able to run continuously; therefore power hungry techniques that would allow very high clock frequencies are not used. The “sequential accelerator”[31] we propose removes the constraint of continuous functioning. The sequential accelerator consists of several cores designed for ultimate instantaneous performance. Those cores are large and power hungry, they cannot run continuously (thermal constraint) and cannot be active simultaneously (power constraint) . A single core is active at any time, inactive cores are power-gated. The execution is migrated periodically to a new core so as to spread the heat generation uniformly over the whole accelerator area, which solves the temperature issue. The “sequential accelerator” will be a viable solution only if the performance penalty due to migrations can be tolerated. Migration-induced cache misses may incur a significant performance loss. We propose some solutions to alleviate this problem. We also propose a migration method, using integrated thermal sensors, such that the migration interval is variable and depends on the ambient temperature. The migration penalty can be kept negligible as long as the ambient temperature is maintained below a threshold.

This research is done in cooperation with Pr Yannakis Sazeides from University of Cyprus.

Exploiting confidence in SMT processors

Participants : Pierre Michaud, André Seznec.

Simultaneous multithreading (SMT) [50] processors dynamically share processor resources between multiple threads. The hardware allocates resources to different threads. The resources are either managed explicitly through setting resource limits to each thread or implicitly through placing the desired instruction mix in the resources. In this case, the main resource management tool is the instruction fetch policy which must predict the behavior of each thread (branch mispredictions, long-latency loads, etc.) as it fetches instructions.

We propose the use of Speculative Instruction Window Weighting (SIWW) [34] to bridge the gap between implicit and explicit SMT fetch policies. SIWW estimates for each thread the amount of outstanding work in the processor pipeline. Fetch proceeds for the thread with the least amount of work left. SIWW policies are implicit as fetch proceeds for the thread with the least amount of work left. They are also explicit as maximum resource allocation can also be set. SIWW can use and combine virtually any of the indicators that were previously proposed for guiding the instruction fetch policy (number of in-flight instructions, number of low confidence branches, number of predicted cache misses, etc.). Therefore, SIWW is an approach to designing SMT fetch policies , rather than a particular fetch policy.

Targeting fairness or throughput is often contradictory and a SMT scheduling policy often optimizes only one performance metric at the sacrifice of the other metric. Our simulations show that the SIWW fetch policy can achieve at the same time state-of-the-art throughput, state-of-the-art fairness and state-of-the-art harmonic performance mean.

This study was done in collaboration with Hans Vandierendonck from University of Ghent.


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