Slow down, Keep It Cool

20/12/2011

In a previous post, I discussed how to set the default power policy with Linux (Ubuntu) by detecting the battery/power status: if you’re plugged-in, set it to on-demand, if you’re running from the battery, set it to powersave. This is rather crude, but proved effective.

But CPUs that support SpeedStep (or similar) usually support a rather long list of possible speed settings. For example, my i7 supports about 15 different speeds, and “powersave” selects the slowest of all, 1.60GHz (on my laptop, that would be 800MHz). Maybe we could leave the policy to on-demand, but cap the maximum speed to something a bit lower than maximum?

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The Perfect Instruction Set

28/12/2010

The x86 architecture is ageing, but rather than looking for re-invention, it only saw incremental extensions (especially for operating system instructions and SIMD) over the last decade or so. Before getting to the i7 core, we saw a long series of evolutions—not revolutions. It all started with the 8086 (and its somewhat weaker sibling, the 8088), which was first conceived as an evolutionary extension to the 8085, which was itself binary compatible with the 8080. The Intel 8080’s lineage brings us to the 8008, a 8 bits of data, 14 bits of address micro-processor. Fortunately, the 8008 isn’t a double 4004. The successors of the 8086 include (but the list surely isn’t exhaustive) the 80186, the 80286, the 80386, first in the series to include decent memory protection for multitasking, then the long series of 486, various models of Pentium, Core 2 and i7.

So, just like you can trace the human lineage to apes, then to monkeys, and eventually to rodent-like mammals, the x86 has a long history and is still far from being perfect, and its basic weakness, in my opinion, is that it still use the 1974 8080 accumulator-based instruction set architecture. And despite a number of very smart architectural improvements (out of order execution, branch prediction, SIMD), it still suffers from the same problems the 8085 did: the instruction set is not orthogonal, it contains many obsolete complex instructions that aren’t used all that much anymore (such as the BCD helpers), and that everything has to be backwards compatible, meaning that every new generation still is more of the same, only (mostly) faster.

But what would be the perfect instruction set? In [1], the typical instruction set is composed of seven facets (to which I add an eighth):

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