Report Number: CSL-TR-95-673
Institution: Stanford University, Computer Systems Laboratory
Title: Informing Loads: Enabling Software to Observe and React to Memory Behavior
Author: Horowitz, Mark
Author: Martonosi, Margaret
Author: Mowry, Todd C.
Author: Smith, Michael D.
Date: July 1995
Abstract: Memory latency is an important bottleneck in system performance that cannot be adequately solved by hardware alone. Several promising software techniques have been shown to address this problem successfully in specific situations. However, the generality of these software approaches has been limited because current architectures do not provide a fine-grained, low-overhead mechanism to observe memory behavior directly. To fill this need, we propose a new set of memory operations called informing memory operations, and in particular, we describe the design and functionality of an informing load instruction. This instruction serves as a primitive that allows the software to observe cache misses and to act upon this information inexpensively (i.e. under the miss, when the processor would typically be idle) within the current software context. Informing loads enable new solutions to several important software problems. We demonstrate this through examples that show their usefulness in (i) the collection of fine-grained memory profiles with high precision and low overhead and (ii) the automatic improvement of memory system performance through compiler techniques that take advantage of cache-miss information. Overall, we find that the apparent benefit of an informing load instruction is quite high, while the hardware cost of this functionality is quite modest. In fact, the bulk of the required hardware support is already present in today's high-performance processors.