In his book "How music works", David Byrne points out that music is created to fit a given context: music that would sound great in a symphony hall would likely sound unconvincing in a stadium. Similarly, OpenCL™ programs are often created with a particular context in mind. In particular, OpenCL kernels are often optimised for a particular compute device (e.g. a GPU in the programmer's desktop machine).
I am continuing my blog series by presenting the fundamentals of the ARM Midgard architecture underpinning the ARM® Mali™-T600 and Mali™-T700 GPU series.
The number of Mali cores in a system-on-chip (SoC) can be scaled to satisfy the performance requirements for this SoC. For example, the Mali-T624 can be scaled from one to four cores. Each core contains a tri-pipe consisting of two arithmetic (A) pipelines, one load-store (LS) pipeline and one texturing (T) pipeline:
Thus, the peak throughput of each core is two A instruction words, one LS instruction word and one T instruction word per cycle.
Try as I might, I cannot refer the Midgard architecture to a single class:
- Midgard is a Very Long Instruction Word (VLIW) architecture, such that each pipe contains multiple units and most instruction words contain instructions for multiple units.
- Midgard is also a Single Instruction Multiple Data (SIMD) architecture, such that most instructions operate on multiple data elements packed in 128-bit vector registers.
- Finally, Midgard is a Fine-Grain Multi-Threaded (FGMT) architecture, such that each core runs its threads in a round-robin fashion, on every cycle switching to the next ready-to-execute thread. What's interesting, each thread has its individual program counter (unlike warp-based designs, where threads in a warp share the same program counter).
Guidelines for Optimising Compute Kernels
So what do the Midgard architectural features actually mean for optimising compute kernels? I recommend:
- Having sufficient instruction level parallelism in kernel code to allow for dense packing of instructions into instruction words by the compiler. (This addresses the VLIW-ness of the architecture.)
- Using vector operations in kernel code to allow for straightforward mapping to vector instructions by the compiler. (I will have much more to say on vectorisation later, as it's one of my favourite topics.)
- Having a balance between A and LS instruction words. Without cache misses, the ratio of 2:1 of A-words to LS-words would be optimal; with cache misses, a higher ratio is desirable. For example, a kernel consisting of 15 A-words and 7 LS-words is still likely to be bound by the LS-pipe.
- Using a sufficient number of concurrently executing (or active) threads per core to hide the execution latency of instructions (which is the depth of a corresponding pipeline). The maximum number of active threads I is determined by the number of registers R that the kernel code uses: I = 256, if 0 < R ≤ 4; I = 128, if 4 < R ≤ 8; I = 64, if 8 < R ≤ 16. For example, kernel A that uses 5 registers and kernel B that uses 8 registers can both be executed by running no more than 128 threads per core. This means that it may be preferable to split complex, register-heavy kernels into a number of simpler ones. (For compiler people among us, this also means the backend may decide to spill a value to memory rather than use an extra register to hold it when the number of used registers approaches 4, 8, or 16.)
In some respects, writing high performance code for the Mali GPUs embedded in SoCs is easier than for GPUs found in desktop machines:
- The global and local OpenCL address spaces get mapped to the same physical memory (the system RAM), backed by caches transparent to the programmer. This often removes the need for explicit data copying and associated barrier synchronisation.
- Since all threads have individual program counters, branch divergence is less of an issue than for warp-based architectures.
Fasten your Seat Belt!
With this theoretical knowledge under the belt, we can now look at optimising some kernels! Can you guess where we'll start?.. (Or use comments to vote for your favourite kernel!)