Idiomatic way of performance evaluation? - benchmarking

I am evaluating a network+rendering workload for my project.
The program continuously runs a main loop:
while (true) {
The main loop runs more than 60 times per second.
I want to see the performance breakdown, how much time each procedure takes.
My concern is that if I print the time interval for every entrance and exit of each procedure,
It would incur huge performance overhead.
I am curious what is an idiomatic way of measuring the performance.
Printing of logging is good enough?

Generally: For repeated short things, you can just time the whole repeat loop. (But microbenchmarking is hard; easy to distort results unless you understand the implications of doing that; for very short things, throughput and latency are different, so measure both separately by making one iteration use the result of the previous or not. Also beware that branch prediction and caching can make something look fast in a microbenchmark when it would actually be costly if done one at a time between other work in a larger program.
e.g. loop unrolling and lookup tables often look good because there's no pressure on I-cache or D-cache from anything else.)
Or if you insist on timing each separate iteration, record the results in an array and print later; you don't want to invoke heavy-weight printing code inside your loop.
This question is way too broad to say anything more specific.
Many languages have benchmarking packages that will help you write microbenchmarks of a single function. Use them. e.g. for Java, JMH makes sure the function under test is warmed up and fully optimized by the JIT, and all that jazz, before doing timed runs. And runs it for a specified interval, counting how many iterations it completes. See How do I write a correct micro-benchmark in Java? for that and more.
Beware common microbenchmark pitfalls
Failure to warm up code / data caches and stuff: page faults within the timed region for touching new memory, or code / data cache misses, that wouldn't be part of normal operation. (Example of noticing this effect: Performance: memset; or example of a wrong conclusion based on this mistake)
Never-written memory (obtained fresh from the kernel) gets all its pages copy-on-write mapped to the same system-wide physical page (4K or 2M) of zeros if you read without writing, at least on Linux. So you can get cache hits but TLB misses. e.g. A large allocation from new / calloc / malloc, or a zero-initialized array in static storage in .bss. Use a non-zero initializer or memset.
Failure to give the CPU time to ramp up to max turbo: modern CPUs clock down to idle speeds to save power, only clocking up after a few milliseconds. (Or longer depending on the OS / HW).
related: on modern x86, RDTSC counts reference cycles, not core clock cycles, so it's subject to the same CPU-frequency variation effects as wall-clock time.
Most integer and FP arithmetic asm instructions (except divide and square root which are already slower than others) have performance (latency and throughput) that doesn't depend on the actual data. Except for subnormal aka denormal floating point being very slow, and in some cases (e.g. legacy x87 but not SSE2) also producing NaN or Inf can be slow.
On modern CPUs with out-of-order execution, some things are too short to truly time meaningfully, see also this. Performance of a tiny block of assembly language (e.g. generated by a compiler for one function) can't be characterized by a single number, even if it doesn't branch or access memory (so no chance of mispredict or cache miss). It has latency from inputs to outputs, but different throughput if run repeatedly with independent inputs is higher. e.g. an add instruction on a Skylake CPU has 4/clock throughput, but 1 cycle latency. So dummy = foo(x) can be 4x faster than x = foo(x); in a loop. Floating-point instructions have higher latency than integer, so it's often a bigger deal. Memory access is also pipelined on most CPUs, so looping over an array (address for next load easy to calculate) is often much faster than walking a linked list (address for next load isn't available until the previous load completes).
Obviously performance can differ between CPUs; in the big picture usually it's rare for version A to be faster on Intel, version B to be faster on AMD, but that can easily happen in the small scale. When reporting / recording benchmark numbers, always note what CPU you tested on.
Related to the above and below points: you can't "benchmark the * operator" in C in general, for example. Some use-cases for it will compile very differently from others, e.g. tmp = foo * i; in a loop can often turn into tmp += foo (strength reduction), or if the multiplier is a constant power of 2 the compiler will just use a shift. The same operator in the source can compile to very different instructions, depending on surrounding code.
You need to compile with optimization enabled, but you also need to stop the compiler from optimizing away the work, or hoisting it out of a loop. Make sure you use the result (e.g. print it or store it to a volatile) so the compiler has to produce it. For an array, volatile double sink = output[argc]; is a useful trick: the compiler doesn't know the value of argc so it has to generate the whole array, but you don't need to read the whole array or even call an RNG function. (Unless the compiler aggressively transforms to only calculate the one output selected by argc, but that tends not to be a problem in practice.)
For inputs, use a random number or argc or something instead of a compile-time constant so your compiler can't do constant-propagation for things that won't be constants in your real use-case. In C you can sometimes use inline asm or volatile for this, e.g. the stuff this question is asking about. A good benchmarking package like Google Benchmark will include functions for this.
If the real use-case for a function lets it inline into callers where some inputs are constant, or the operations can be optimized into other work, it's not very useful to benchmark it on its own.
Big complicated functions with special handling for lots of special cases can look fast in a microbenchmark when you run them repeatedly, especially with the same input every time. In real life use-cases, branch prediction often won't be primed for that function with that input. Also, a massively unrolled loop can look good in a microbenchmark, but in real life it slows everything else down with its big instruction-cache footprint leading to eviction of other code.
Related to that last point: Don't tune only for huge inputs, if the real use-case for a function includes a lot of small inputs. e.g. a memcpy implementation that's great for huge inputs but takes too long to figure out which strategy to use for small inputs might not be good. It's a tradeoff; make sure it's good enough for large inputs (for an appropriate definition of "enough"), but also keep overhead low for small inputs.
Litmus tests:
If you're benchmarking two functions in one program: if reversing the order of testing changes the results, your benchmark isn't fair. e.g. function A might only look slow because you're testing it first, with insufficient warm-up. example: Why is std::vector slower than an array? (it's not, whichever loop runs first has to pay for all the page faults and cache misses; the 2nd just zooms through filling the same memory.)
Increasing the iteration count of a repeat loop should linearly increase the total time, and not affect the calculated time-per-call. If not, then you have non-negligible measurement overhead or your code optimized away (e.g. hoisted out of the loop and runs only once instead of N times).
Vary other test parameters as a sanity check.
For C / C++, see also Simple for() loop benchmark takes the same time with any loop bound where I went into some more detail about microbenchmarking and using volatile or asm to stop important work from optimizing away with gcc/clang.


Should I optimize my code myself or let the compiler/gcc to do it

I am writing a c code and I would like to know if making simple operation like multiplication more CPU friendly makes any difference and the code faster. For example, replacing this line of code:
y = x * 15;
y = x << 4;
y -= x;
Does the compiler already do that? Should I use the -O2 option in order to make it happen?
There are two parts to the answer:
No, unless you are writing a very specialized function (e.g. a signal processing function that must execute in 20 clocks) you should not optimize; leave that to the compiler. In general your job is to write readable code, and the compiler will (to it's capability optimize it). Note that the optimization will be different for different processors as their hardware (computational capability) can be very different. For example a shift by N instruction (like that in your code) may take N clocks on a processor with a regular shifter, but it will take a single clock (or less) on processors with a hardware barrel shifter.
Yes, most modern optimizing compilers will optimize (for example replace multiplication by shifting where appropriate) without explicit optimization options.
Summarized, optimize only in rare situations when you already know that the compiler didn't do a good job, it is a problem that must be addressed, you know well how to do better than the compiler, and the resulting increased maintenance cost is worth it.
Optimizing code by hand is almost always an exercise in futility these days, especially in higher level languages. While C is almost assembly, modern compilers have a lot more tricks built into them than most people are aware of.
In addition, unless the code you're optimizing is going to be used a lot, i.e., millions of times in close succession, the work of optimizing the code will cost more time than the savings you achieve.
With that said, the only way to see if your code is measurably faster would be to test it: Put each version in a tight loop and execute it a million (or more) times, and see if there's a noticeable difference.
Note that your optimization is for a specific multiplier - any other operand you use it for is going to yield different results. Because it can't be generalized, there's little likelyhood this optimization will be done by any compiler in all cases - and just looking at the code and not knowing what processor architecture it will be run on, I can't say whether it would be faster or not.

Is there an actual example where inline is detrimental to the performance of a C program?

In many debates about the inline keyword in function declarations, someone will point that it can actually make your program slower in some cases – mostly due to code explosion, if I am correct. I have never met such an example in practice myself. What is an actual code where the use of inline can be expected to be detrimental to the performance?
Exactly 10 years and one day ago I did this commit in OpenBSD:;r2=1.4
The commit message was:
deinline splraise, spllower and setsoftint.
Makes the kernel smaller and faster.
deraadt# ok
As far as I remember the kernel binary shrunk by more than 100kB and not a single test case could be produced that became slower and several macro benchmarks (like compiling the kernel) were measurably faster (5-10% if I recall correctly, but don't quote me on that).
Around the same time I went on a quest to actually measure inline functions in the OpenBSD kernel. I found a few that had minimal performance gains, but the majority had 0 measurable impact and several were making things much slower and were killed. At least one more uninlining had a huge impact and that one was the internal malloc macros (where the idea was to inline malloc if it had a size known at compile time) and packet buffer allocators that shrunk the kernel by 150kB and had a significant performance improvement.
One could speculate, although I have no proof, that this is because the kernel is large and we're struggling to stay inside the cache when executing system calls and every little bit helps. So what actually helped in those cases was just the shrinking of the binary, not the number of instructions executed.
Imagine a function that have no parameters, but intensive computation with a consistent number of intermediate values or register usage. Then Inline that function in code having a consistent number of intermediate values or register usage too.
Having no parameters make the call procedure more lightweight because no stack operations, that are time consuming, are required.
When inlined the compiler have to save many registers, and spill other to be used with the new function, reproducing the process of registers and data backup required for a function call possibly in worst way.
If the backup operations are more expansive, in terms of time and machine cycles, compared with the mechanism of function call, especially if the function is extensively called, then you have a detrimental effect.
This seems to be the case of some specific functions largely used in an OS.

In which scenario would "unroll-loops" not making result code faster?

Taken from GCC manual:
Unroll loops whose number of iterations can be determined at compile time or upon entry to the loop.
-funroll-loops implies -frerun-cse-after-loop. This option makes code larger, and may or may not make it
run faster.
According to my understanding, unroll loops will get rid of branching instructions in resulted code, I presume it is healthier for CPU pipelines.
But why would it "may not make it run faster"?
First of all, it may not make any difference; if your condition is "simple" and executed many times the branch predictor should quickly pick it up and always predict correctly the branch until the end of the loop, making the "rolled" code run almost as fast as the unrolled code.
Also, on non-pipelined CPUs the cost of a branch is quite small, so such optimization may not be relevant and code size considerations may be much more important (e.g. when compiling for a microcontroller - remember that gcc targets range from AVR micros to supercomputers).
Another case where unrolling can't speed up a loop is when the loop body is much slower than the looping itself - if e.g. you have a syscall in the body loop the loop overhead will be negligible compared to the system call.
As for when it may make your code run slower, making the code bigger can slow it down - if your code doesn't fit anymore in cache/memory page/... you'll have a cache/page/... fault and the processor will have to wait for the memory to fetch the code before executing it.
The answers so far are very good, but I'll add one thing that hasn't been touched on yet: eating up branch predictor slots. If your loop contains a branch, and it's not unrolled, it only consumes one branch predictor slot, so it won't evict other predictions the cpu has made in the outer loops, sister loops, or caller. However, if the loop body is duplicated many times via unrolling, each copy will contain a separate branch which consumes a predictor slot. This kind of performance hit is easily unnoticed, because, like cache eviction issues, it will not be visible in most isolated, artificial measurements of the loop performance. Instead, it will manifest as hurting the performance of other code.
As a great example, the fastest strlen on x86 (even better than the best asm I've seen) is an insanely unrolled loop that simply does:
if (!s[0]) return s-s0;
if (!s[1]) return s-s0+1;
if (!s[2]) return s-s0+2;
/* ... */
if (!s[31]) return s-s0+31;
However, this will tear through branch predictor slots, so for real-world purposes, some sort of vectorized approach is preferable.
I don't think it's common to fill an unrolled loop with conditional exits. That breaks most of the instruction scheduling which unrolling allows. What's more common is to check beforehand that the loop has at least n iterations remaining before entering into the unrolled section.
To acheive this the compiler may generate elaborate preamble and postamble to align the loop data for better vectorisation or better instruction scheduling, and to handle the remainder of the iterations which do not divide evenly into the unrolled section of the loop.
It can turn out (worst possible case) that the loop only runs zero or one time, or maybe twice in exceptional circumstances. Then only a small part of the loop would be executed, but many extra tests would be performed to get there. Worse; the alignment preamble might mean that different branch conditions occur in different calls, causing additional branch misprediction stalls.
These are all meant to cancel out over a large number of iterations, but for short loops this doesn't happen.
On top of this, you have the increased code size, where all of these unrolled loops together contribute to reducing icache efficiency.
And some architectures special-case very short loops to use their internal buffers without even referring to the cache.
And modern architectures have fairly extensive instruction reordering, even around memory accesses, which means that the compiler's reordering of the loop might offer no additional benefits even in the best case.
For example, unrolled function body larger than cache. Reading from memory is obviously slower.
Say you have a loop with 25 instructions and iterates 1000 times. The extra resources required to handle the 25,000 instructions could very well override the pain caused by branching.
It is also important to note that many kinds of looping branches are very painless, as the CPU has gotten quite good at branch predictions for simpler situations. For instance 8 iterations is probably more efficient unrolled, but even 50 is probably better left off to the CPU. Note that the compiler is probably better at guessing which is superior than you are.
Unrolling loops should always make the code faster. The trade-off is between faster code and larger code footprint. Tight loops (relatively small amounts of code executed in the body of the loop) which are executed a significant number of times can benefit from unrolling by removing all the loop overhead, and allowing the pipelining to do its thing. Loops which go through many iterations may unroll to a large amount of extra code - faster but maybe unacceptably larger footprint for the performance gain. Loops with a lot going on in the body may not benefit significantly from unrolling - the loop overhead becomes small compared to everything else.

measure time to execute single instruction

Is there a way using C or assembler or maybe even C# to get an accurate measure of how long it takes to execute a ADD instruction?
Yes, sort of, but it's non-trivial and produces results that are almost meaningless, at least on most reasonably modern processors.
On relatively slow processors (e.g., up through the original Pentium in the Intel line, still true on most small embedded processors) you can just look in the processor's data sheet and it'll (normally) tell you how many clock ticks to expect. Quick, simple, and easy.
On a modern desktop machine (e.g., Pentium Pro or newer), life isn't nearly that simple. These CPUs can execute a number of instructions at a time, and execute them out of order as long as there aren't any dependencies between them. This means the whole concept of the time taken by a single instruction becomes almost meaningless. The time taken to execute one instruction can and will depend on the instructions that surround it.
That said, yes, if you really want to, you can (usually -- depending on the processor) measure something, though it's open to considerable question exactly how much it'll really mean. Even getting a result like this that's only close to meaningless instead of completely meaningless isn't trivial though. For example, on an Intel or AMD chip, you can use RDTSC to do the timing measurement itself. That, unfortunately, can be executed out of order as described above. To get meaningful results, you need to surround it by an instruction that can't be executed out of order (a "serializing instruction"). The most common choice for that is CPUID, since it's one of the few serializing instructions that's available to "user mode" (i.e., ring 3) programs. That adds a bit of a twist itself though: as documented by Intel, the first few times the processor executes CPUID, it can take longer than subsequent times. As such, they recommend that you execute it three times before you use it to serialize your timing. Therefore, the general sequence runs something like this:
.align 16
; sequence under test
Add eax, ebx
; end of sequence under test
Then you compare that to a result from doing the same, but with the sequence under test removed. That's leaving out quite a fe details, of course -- at minimum you need to:
set the registers up correctly before each CPUID
save the value in EAX:EDX after the first RDTSC
subtract result from the second RDTSC from the first
Also note the "align" directive I've inserted -- instruction alignment can and will affect timing as well, especially if a loop is involved.
Construct a loop that executes 10 million times, with nothing in the loop body, and time that. Keep that time as the overhead required for looping.
Then execute the same loop again, this time with the code under test in the body. Time for this loop, minus the overhead (from the empty loop case) is the time due to the 10 million repetitions of your code under test. So, divide by the number of iterations.
Obviously this method needs tuning with regard to the number of iterations. If what you're measuring is small, like a single instruction, you might even want to run upwards of a billion iterations. If its a significant chunk of code, a few 10's of thousands might suffice.
In the case of a single assembly instruction, the assembler is probably the right tool for the job, or perhaps C, if you are conversant with inline assembly. Others have posted more elegant solutions for how to get a measurement w/o the repetition, but the repetition technique is always available, for example, an embedded processor that doesn't have the nice timing instructions mentioned by others.
Note however, that on modern pipeline processors, instruction level parallelism may confound your results. Because more than one instruction is running through the execution pipeline at a time, it is no longer true that N repetitions of an given instruction take N times as long as a single one.
Okay, the problem that you are going to encounter if you are using an OS like Windows, Linux, Unix, MacOS, AmigaOS and all those others that there are lots of processes already running on your machine in the background which will impact performance. The only real way of calculating actual time of an instruction is to disassemble your motherboard and test each component using external hardware. It depends whether you absolutely want to do this yourself, or simply find out how fast a typical revision of your processor actually runs. Companies such as Intel and Motorola test their chips extensively before release, and these results are available to the public. All you need to do is ask them and they'll send you a free CD-ROM (it might be a DVD - nonsense pedantry) with the results contained. You can do it yourself, but be warned that especially Intel processors contain many redundant instructions that are no longer desirable, let alone necessary. This will take up a lot of your time, but I can absolutely see the fun in doing this. PS. If its purely to help push your own machine's hardware to its theoretical maximum in a personal project that you're doing the Just Jeff's answer above is excellent for generating tidy instruction-speed-averages under real-world conditions.
No, but you can calculate it based upon the number of clock cycles the add instruction requires multiplied by the clock rate of the CPU. Different types of arguments to an ADD may result in more or fewer cycles but, for a given argument list, the instruction always takes the same number of cycles to complete.
That said, why do you care?

Design code to fit in CPU Cache?

When writing simulations my buddy says he likes to try to write the program small enough to fit into cache. Does this have any real meaning? I understand that cache is faster than RAM and the main memory. Is it possible to specify that you want the program to run from cache or at least load the variables into cache? We are writing simulations so any performance/optimization gain is a huge benefit.
If you know of any good links explaining CPU caching, then point me in that direction.
At least with a typical desktop CPU, you can't really specify much about cache usage directly. You can still try to write cache-friendly code though. On the code side, this often means unrolling loops (for just one obvious example) is rarely useful -- it expands the code, and a modern CPU typically minimizes the overhead of looping. You can generally do more on the data side, to improve locality of reference, protect against false sharing (e.g. two frequently-used pieces of data that will try to use the same part of the cache, while other parts remain unused).
Edit (to make some points a bit more explicit):
A typical CPU has a number of different caches. A modern desktop processor will typically have at least 2 and often 3 levels of cache. By (at least nearly) universal agreement, "level 1" is the cache "closest" to the processing elements, and the numbers go up from there (level 2 is next, level 3 after that, etc.)
In most cases, (at least) the level 1 cache is split into two halves: an instruction cache and a data cache (the Intel 486 is nearly the sole exception of which I'm aware, with a single cache for both instructions and data--but it's so thoroughly obsolete it probably doesn't merit a lot of thought).
In most cases, a cache is organized as a set of "lines". The contents of a cache is normally read, written, and tracked one line at a time. In other words, if the CPU is going to use data from any part of a cache line, that entire cache line is read from the next lower level of storage. Caches that are closer to the CPU are generally smaller and have smaller cache lines.
This basic architecture leads to most of the characteristics of a cache that matter in writing code. As much as possible, you want to read something into cache once, do everything with it you're going to, then move on to something else.
This means that as you're processing data, it's typically better to read a relatively small amount of data (little enough to fit in the cache), do as much processing on that data as you can, then move on to the next chunk of data. Algorithms like Quicksort that quickly break large amounts of input in to progressively smaller pieces do this more or less automatically, so they tend to be fairly cache-friendly, almost regardless of the precise details of the cache.
This also has implications for how you write code. If you have a loop like:
for i = 0 to whatever
end for
You're generally better off stringing as many of the steps together as you can up to the amount that will fit in the cache. The minute you overflow the cache, performance can/will drop drastically. If the code for step 3 above was large enough that it wouldn't fit into the cache, you'd generally be better off breaking the loop up into two pieces like this (if possible):
for i = 0 to whatever
end for
for i = 0 to whatever
end for
Loop unrolling is a fairly hotly contested subject. On one hand, it can lead to code that's much more CPU-friendly, reducing the overhead of instructions executed for the loop itself. At the same time, it can (and generally does) increase code size, so it's relatively cache unfriendly. My own experience is that in synthetic benchmarks that tend to do really small amounts of processing on really large amounts of data, that you gain a lot from loop unrolling. In more practical code where you tend to have more processing on an individual piece of data, you gain a lot less--and overflowing the cache leading to a serious performance loss isn't particularly rare at all.
The data cache is also limited in size. This means that you generally want your data packed as densely as possible so as much data as possible will fit in the cache. Just for one obvious example, a data structure that's linked together with pointers needs to gain quite a bit in terms of computational complexity to make up for the amount of data cache space used by those pointers. If you're going to use a linked data structure, you generally want to at least ensure you're linking together relatively large pieces of data.
In a lot of cases, however, I've found that tricks I originally learned for fitting data into minuscule amounts of memory in tiny processors that have been (mostly) obsolete for decades, works out pretty well on modern processors. The intent is now to fit more data in the cache instead of the main memory, but the effect is nearly the same. In quite a few cases, you can think of CPU instructions as nearly free, and the overall speed of execution is governed by the bandwidth to the cache (or the main memory), so extra processing to unpack data from a dense format works out in your favor. This is particularly true when you're dealing with enough data that it won't all fit in the cache at all any more, so the overall speed is governed by the bandwidth to main memory. In this case, you can execute a lot of instructions to save a few memory reads, and still come out ahead.
Parallel processing can exacerbate that problem. In many cases, rewriting code to allow parallel processing can lead to virtually no gain in performance, or sometimes even a performance loss. If the overall speed is governed by the bandwidth from the CPU to memory, having more cores competing for that bandwidth is unlikely to do any good (and may do substantial harm). In such a case, use of multiple cores to improve speed often comes down to doing even more to pack the data more tightly, and taking advantage of even more processing power to unpack the data, so the real speed gain is from reducing the bandwidth consumed, and the extra cores just keep from losing time to unpacking the data from the denser format.
Another cache-based problem that can arise in parallel coding is sharing (and false sharing) of variables. If two (or more) cores need to write to the same location in memory, the cache line holding that data can end up being shuttled back and forth between the cores to give each core access to the shared data. The result is often code that runs slower in parallel than it did in serial (i.e., on a single core). There's a variation of this called "false sharing", in which the code on the different cores is writing to separate data, but the data for the different cores ends up in the same cache line. Since the cache controls data purely in terms of entire lines of data, the data gets shuffled back and forth between the cores anyway, leading to exactly the same problem.
Here's a link to a really good paper on caches/memory optimization by Christer Ericsson (of God of War I/II/III fame). It's a couple of years old but it's still very relevant.
A useful paper that will tell you more than you ever wanted to know about caches is What Every Programmer Should Know About Memory by Ulrich Drepper. Hennessey covers it very thoroughly. Christer and Mike Acton have written a bunch of good stuff about this too.
I think you should worry more about data cache than instruction cache — in my experience, dcache misses are more frequent, more painful, and more usefully fixed.
UPDATE: 1/13/2014
According to this senior chip designer, cache misses are now THE overwhelmingly dominant factor in code performance, so we're basically all the way back to the mid-80s and fast 286 chips in terms of the relative performance bottlenecks of load, store, integer arithmetic, and cache misses.
A Crash Course In Modern Hardware by Cliff Click # Azul
--- we now return you to your regularly scheduled program ---
Sometimes an example is better than a description of how to do something. In that spirit here's a particularly successful example of how I changed some code to better use on chip caches. This was done some time ago on a 486 CPU and latter migrated to a 1st Generation Pentium CPU. The effect on performance was similar.
Example: Subscript Mapping
Here's an example of a technique I used to fit data into the chip's cache that has general purpose utility.
I had a double float vector that was 1,250 elements long, which was an epidemiology curve with very long tails. The "interesting" part of the curve only had about 200 unique values but I didn't want a 2-sided if() test to make a mess of the CPU's pipeline(thus the long tails, which could use as subscripts the most extreme values the Monte Carlo code would spit out), and I needed the branch prediction logic for a dozen other conditional tests inside the "hot-spot" in the code.
I settled on a scheme where I used a vector of 8-bit ints as a subscript into the double vector, which I shortened to 256 elements. The tiny ints all had the same values before 128 ahead of zero, and 128 after zero, so except for the middle 256 values, they all pointed to either the first or last value in the double vector.
This shrunk the storage requirement to 2k for the doubles, and 1,250 bytes for the 8-bit subscripts. This shrunk 10,000 bytes down to 3,298. Since the program spent 90% or more of it's time in this inner-loop, the 2 vectors never got pushed out of the 8k data cache. The program immediately doubled its performance. This code got hit ~ 100 billion times in the process of computing an OAS value for 1+ million mortgage loans.
Since the tails of the curve were seldom touched, it's very possible that only the middle 200-300 elements of the tiny int vector were actually kept in cache, along with 160-240 middle doubles representing 1/8ths of percents of interest. It was a remarkable increase in performance, accomplished in an afternoon, on a program that I'd spent over a year optimizing.
I agree with Jerry, as it has been my experience also, that tilting the code towards the instruction cache is not nearly as successful as optimizing for the data cache/s. This is one reason I think AMD's common caches are not as helpful as Intel's separate data and instruction caches. IE: you don't want instructions hogging up the cache, as it just isn't very helpful. In part this is because CISC instruction sets were originally created to make up for the vast difference between CPU and memory speeds, and except for an aberration in the late 80's, that's pretty much always been true.
Another favorite technique I use to favor the data cache, and savage the instruction cache, is by using a lot of bit-ints in structure definitions, and the smallest possible data sizes in general. To mask off a 4-bit int to hold the month of the year, or 9 bits to hold the day of the year, etc, etc, requires the CPU use masks to mask off the host integers the bits are using, which shrinks the data, effectively increases cache and bus sizes, but requires more instructions. While this technique produces code that doesn't perform as well on synthetic benchmarks, on busy systems where users and processes are competing for resources, it works wonderfully.
Mostly this will serve as a placeholder until I get time to do this topic justice, but I wanted to share what I consider to be a truly groundbreaking milestone - the introduction of dedicated bit manipulation instructions in the new Intel Hazwell microprocessor.
It became painfully obvious when I wrote some code here on StackOverflow to reverse the bits in a 4096 bit array that 30+ yrs after the introduction of the PC, microprocessors just don't devote much attention or resources to bits, and that I hope will change. In particular, I'd love to see, for starters, the bool type become an actual bit datatype in C/C++, instead of the ridiculously wasteful byte it currently is.
UPDATE: 12/29/2013
I recently had occasion to optimize a ring buffer which keeps track of 512 different resource users' demands on a system at millisecond granularity. There is a timer which fires every millisecond which added the sum of the most current slice's resource requests and subtracted out the 1,000th time slice's requests, comprising resource requests now 1,000 milliseconds old.
The Head, Tail vectors were right next to each other in memory, except when first the Head, and then the Tail wrapped and started back at the beginning of the array. The (rolling)Summary slice however was in a fixed, statically allocated array that wasn't particularly close to either of those, and wasn't even allocated from the heap.
Thinking about this, and studying the code a few particulars caught my attention.
The demands that were coming in were added to the Head and the Summary slice at the same time, right next to each other in adjacent lines of code.
When the timer fired, the Tail was subtracted out of the Summary slice, and the results were left in the Summary slice, as you'd expect
The 2nd function called when the timer fired advanced all the pointers servicing the ring. In particular....
The Head overwrote the Tail, thereby occupying the same memory location
The new Tail occupied the next 512 memory locations, or wrapped
The user wanted more flexibility in the number of demands being managed, from 512 to 4098, or perhaps more. I felt the most robust, idiot-proof way to do this was to allocate both the 1,000 time slices and the summary slice all together as one contiguous block of memory so that it would be IMPOSSIBLE for the Summary slice to end up being a different length than the other 1,000 time slices.
Given the above, I began to wonder if I could get more performance if, instead of having the Summary slice remain in one location, I had it "roam" between the Head and the Tail, so it was always right next to the Head for adding new demands, and right next to the Tail when the timer fired and the Tail's values had to be subtracted from the Summary.
I did exactly this, but then found a couple of additional optimizations in the process. I changed the code that calculated the rolling Summary so that it left the results in the Tail, instead of the Summary slice. Why? Because the very next function was performing a memcpy() to move the Summary slice into the memory just occupied by the Tail. (weird but true, the Tail leads the Head until the end of the ring when it wraps). By leaving the results of the summation in the Tail, I didn't have to perform the memcpy(), I just had to assign pTail to pSummary.
In a similar way, the new Head occupied the now stale Summary slice's old memory location, so again, I just assigned pSummary to pHead, and zeroed all its values with a memset to zero.
Leading the way to the end of the ring(really a drum, 512 tracks wide) was the Tail, but I only had to compare its pointer against a constant pEndOfRing pointer to detect that condition. All of the other pointers could be assigned the pointer value of the vector just ahead of it. IE: I only needed a conditional test for 1:3 of the pointers to correctly wrap them.
The initial design had used byte ints to maximize cache usage, however, I was able to relax this constraint - satisfying the users request to handle higher resource counts per user per millisecond - to use unsigned shorts and STILL double performance, because even with 3 adjacent vectors of 512 unsigned shorts, the L1 cache's 32K data cache could easily hold the required 3,720 bytes, 2/3rds of which were in locations just used. Only when the Tail, Summary, or Head wrapped were 1 of the 3 separated by any significant "step" in the 8MB L3cache.
The total run-time memory footprint for this code is under 2MB, so it runs entirely out of on-chip caches, and even on an i7 chip with 4 cores, 4 instances of this process can be run without any degradation in performance at all, and total throughput goes up slightly with 5 processes running. It's an Opus Magnum on cache usage.
Most C/C++ compilers prefer to optimize for size rather than for "speed". That is, smaller code generally executes faster than unrolled code because of cache effects.
If I were you, I would make sure I know which parts of code are hotspots, which I define as
a tight loop not containing any function calls, because if it calls any function, then the PC will be spending most of its time in that function,
that accounts for a significant fraction of execution time (like >= 10%) which you can determine from a profiler. (I just sample the stack manually.)
If you have such a hotspot, then it should fit in the cache. I'm not sure how you tell it to do that, but I suspect it's automatic.