## Faster Collatz

May 1, 2012

Quite a while ago, I presented the Collatz conjecture and I was then interested in the graphical representation of the problem—and not really going anywhere with it.

In this entry, let us have a look at the implementation of the Collatz function.

## Trigonometric Tables Reconsidered

February 28, 2012

A couple of months ago (already!) 0xjfdube produced an excellent piece on table-based trigonometric function computations. The basic idea was that you can look-up the value of a trigonometric function rather than actually computing it, on the premise that computing such functions directly is inherently slow. Turns out that’s actually the case, even on fancy CPUs. He discusses the precision of the estimate based on the size of the table and shows that you needn’t a terrible number of entries to get decent precision. He muses over the possibility of using interpolation to augment precision, speculating that it might be slow anyway.

I started thinking about how to interpolate efficiently between table entries but then I realized that it’s not fundamentally more complicated to compute a polynomial approximation of the functions than to search the table then use polynomial interpolation between entries.

## Being Shifty

July 27, 2010

Hacks with integer arithmetic are always fun, especially when they’re not too hard to understand (because some are really strange and make you wonder what the author was thinking when he wrote that). One such simple hack is to replace divisions or multiplies by series of shifts and additions.

However, these hacks make a lot of assumptions that aren’t necessarily verified on the target platform. The assumptions are that complex instructions such as mul and div are very slow compared to adds, right shifts or left shifts, that execution time of shifts only depends very loosely on the number of bit shifted, and that the compiler is not smart enough to generate the appropriate code for you.

## Is Python Slow? (Part II)

June 8, 2010

In a previous post I expressed my worries about Python being excruciatingly slow and I used a toy problem to compare the speed of Python to programs in other several languages, including C.

Of course, all kind of people complained that I couldn’t compare a dynamic, interpreted language with static, compiled languages. First, let met tell you that I sure can. First, the goal was to measure speed, and not the effects of type system of the language (although logically correlated) nor the programming paradigm: the amount of CPU used to solve a given problem was the primary (if not only) point in interest.

But to be fair to Python, I extended the tests to other interpreted, dynamic languages, such as Lua, Perl, PHP and JavaScript. I also added Pascal and Haskell in the compiled languages groups.

## Powers of Ten (so to speak)

June 29, 2009

I am not sure if you are old enough to remember the 1977 IBM movie Powers of Ten (trippy version, without narration) [also at the IMDB and wikipedia], but that’s a movie that sure put things in perspective. Thinking in terms of powers of ten helps me sort things out when I am considering a design problem. Thinking of the scale of a problem in terms of physical scale is a good way to assess its true importance for a project. Sometimes the problem is the one to solve, sometimes, it is not. It’s not because a problem is fun, enticing, or challenging, that it has to be solved optimally right away because, in the correct context, considering its true scale, it may not be as important as first thought.

Maybe comparing problems’ scales to powers of ten in the physical realm helps understanding where to put your efforts. So here are the different scales and what I think they should contain:

## More Blinking Lights (and a disgression)

April 28, 2009

In Blinking Lights I told you about how I feel the modern computer for its exterior, except for its screen, is boring. When I look at my Antec case, I see a large, silent black box, which, by its very definition, is uninteresting at best. Something like a rock that slowly dissipates heat.

However Bill Buzbee built a computer that has an interesting exterior, and a much more interesting interior: the Magic-1. The Magic-1 is a computer running at 4.something MHz, and is in the same computational power range as the original 8086 4.77 Mhz IBM PC, except with a more advanced instruction set.

The Magic-1 Computer

## Compact Tree Storage

April 7, 2009

Implementing data structures in a way that uses efficiently memory should always be on your mind. I do not mean going overboard and micro-optimizing memory allocation right down to the bit. I mean organize data structures in memory so that you can avoid pointers, so that you can use contiguous memory segments, etc. Normally, minimizing storage by avoiding extra pointers when possible will benefit your program in at least two ways.

First, the reduced memory requirement will make your data structure fit in cache more easily. Remember that if pointers are 4 bytes long in 32 bits programming, they are 8 bytes long in 64 bits environments. This yields better run time performance because you maximize your chances of having the data you need in cache.

Second, contiguous memory layouts also allow for efficient scans of data structures. For example, if you have a classical binary tree, implemented using nodes having each two pointers, you will have to use a tree traversal algorithm, possibly recursive, to enumerate the tree’s content. If you don’t really care about the order in which the nodes are visited, what’s quite cumbersome.

It turns out that for special classes of trees, complete trees, there is a contiguous, and quite simple, layout.

## More Bit-twiddling

January 27, 2009

This week, two “quickies”: rounding up and down to the next power of two, and converting efficiently a value to exactly 0 or 1.

## The True Cost of Calls

December 30, 2008

The cost of virtual functions is often invoked as a reason to C++’s poor performance compared to other languages, especially C. This is an enduring myth that, like most myths, have always bugged me. C++ myths are propagated by individuals that did not know C++ very well, tried it one weekend in 1996, used a bad compiler, knew nothing about optimization switches, and peremptorily declared C++ as fundamentally broken. Well, I must agree that C++ compilers in the mid-90s weren’t all that hot, but in the last fifteen years, a lot have been done. Compilers are now rather good at generating efficient C++ code.

However, the cost of calls, whether or not they are virtual, is not dominated by the the call itself (getting the address to jump to and jumping) but by everything else surrounding the call, like the stack setup and argument passing. Let us debunk that myth by looking at what types of calls are available in C and C++, how they translate to machine code, and see how faster or slower they are relative to each other.

## The LP64 model and the AMD64 instruction set

October 28, 2008

Remember the old days where you had five or six “memory models” to choose from when compiling your C program? Memory models allowed you to chose from a mix of short (16 bits) and long (32 bits) offsets and pointers for data and code. The tiny model, if I recall correctly, made sure that everything—code, data and stack—would fit snugly in a single 16 bits segment.

With the advent of 64 bits computing on the x86 platform with the AMD64 instruction set, we find ourselves in a somewhat similar position. While the tiny memory model disappeared (phew!), we still have to chose between different compilation models although this time they do not support mixed offset/pointer sizes. The new models, such as LP32 or ILP64, specify what are the data sizes of int, long and pointers. Linux on AMD64 uses the LP64 model, where int is 32 bits, and long and pointers are 64 bits.

Using 64 bits pointers uses a bit more memory for the pointer itself, but it also opens new possibilities: more than 4GB allocated to a single process, the capability of using virtual memory mapping for files that exceed 4GB in size. 64 bits arithmetic also helps some applications, such as cryptographic software, to run twice as fast in some cases. The AMD64 mode doubles the number of SSE registers available enabling, potentially, significant performance enhancement into video codecs and other multimedia applications.

However one might ask himself what’s the impact of using LP64 for a typical C program. Is LP64 the best memory compilation model for AMD64? Will you get a speedup from replacing int (or int32_t) by long (or int64_t) in your code?