[PATCH 1/3] Fix Unlikely(x) == y

Andi Kleen andi at firstfloor.org
Tue Feb 19 20:57:02 EST 2008

On Tue, Feb 19, 2008 at 08:46:46PM +1100, Nick Piggin wrote:
> On Tuesday 19 February 2008 20:25, Andi Kleen wrote:
> > On Tue, Feb 19, 2008 at 01:33:53PM +1100, Nick Piggin wrote:
> > > I actually once measured context switching performance in the scheduler,
> > > and removing the  unlikely hint for testing RT tasks IIRC gave about 5%
> > > performance drop.
> >
> > OT: what benchmarks did you use for that? I had a change some time
> > ago to the CFS scheduler to avoid unpredicted indirect calls for
> > the common case, but I wasn't able to benchmark a difference with the usual
> > suspect benchmark (lmbench). Since it increased code size by
> > a few bytes it was rejected then.
> I think it was just a simple context switch benchmark, but not lmbench
> (which I found to be a bit too variable). But it was a long time ago...

Do you still have it?

I thought about writing my own but ended up being too lazy for that @)

> > > However, the P4's branch predictor is pretty good, and it should easily
> >
> > I think it depends on the generation. Prescott class branch
> > prediction should be much better than the earlier ones.
> I was using a Nocona Xeon, which I think is a Prescott class? 


> And don't they have much higher mispredict penalty (than older P4s)?

They do have a longer pipeline, so yes more penalty (5 or 6 stages more iirc),
but also a lot better branch predictor which makes up for that.

> > > Actually one thing I don't like about gcc is that I think it still emits
> > > cmovs for likely/unlikely branches,
> >
> > That's -Os.
> And -O2 and -O3, on the gccs that I'm using, AFAIKS.

Well if it still happens on gcc 4.2 with P4 tuning you should
perhaps open a gcc PR. They tend to ignore these bugs mostly in
my experience, but sometimes they act on them. 

> > > which is silly (the gcc developers
> >
> > It depends on the CPU. e.g. on K8 and P6 using CMOV if possible
> > makes sense. P4 doesn't like it though.
> If the branch is completely predictable (eg. annotated), then I
> think branches should be used anyway. Even on well predicted
> branches, cmov is similar speed on microbenchmarks, but it will
> increase data hazards I think, so it will probably be worse for
> some real world situations.

At least the respective optimization manuals say they should be used.
I presume they only made this recommendation after some extensive

> > > the quite good numbers that cold CPU predictors can attain. However
> > > for really performance critical code (or really "never" executed
> > > code), then I think it is OK to have the hints and not have to rely
> > > on gcc heuristics.
> >
> > But only when the explicit hints are different from what the implicit
> > branch predictors would predict anyways. And if you look at the
> > heuristics that is not often the case...
> But a likely branch will be _strongly_ predicted to be taken,
> wheras a lot of the gcc heuristics simply have slightly more or
> slightly less probability. So it's not just a question of which
> way is more likely, but also _how_ likely it is to go that way.

Yes, but a lot of the heuristics are pretty strong (>80%) and gcc will
act on them unless it has a very strong contra cue. And that should
normally not be the case.


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