VESPA: VIPT Enhancements for Superpage Accesses

01/12/2017 ∙ by Mayank Parasar, et al. ∙ Georgia Institute of Technology Rutgers University 0

L1 caches are critical to the performance of modern computer systems. Their design involves a delicate balance between fast lookups, high hit rates, low access energy, and simplicity of implementation. Unfortunately, constraints imposed by virtual memory make it difficult to satisfy all these attributes today. Specifically, the modern staple of supporting virtual-indexing and physical-tagging (VIPT) for parallel TLB-L1 lookups means that L1 caches are usually grown with greater associativity rather than sets. This compromises performance -- by degrading access times without significantly boosting hit rates -- and increases access energy. We propose VIPT Enhancements for SuperPage Accesses or VESPA in response. VESPA side-steps the traditional problems of VIPT by leveraging the increasing ubiquity of superpages; since superpages have more page offset bits, they can accommodate L1 cache organizations with more sets than baseline pages can. VESPA dynamically adapts to any OS distribution of page sizes to operate L1 caches with good access times, hit rates, and energy, for both single- and multi-threaded workloads. Since the hardware changes are modest, and there are no OS or application changes, VESPA is readily-implementable. By superpages (also called huge or large pages) we refer to any page sizes supported by the architecture bigger than baseline page size.



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I Introduction

As processors keep integrating more CPUs, the cache subsystem continues to critically affect system performance and energy. Modern processors employ several levels of caches, but the L1 cache remains important. L1 caches are system-critical because they service every single memory reference, whether it is due to a CPU lookup or a coherence lookup. L1 caches must balance the following design objectives:

1⃝ Good performance: L1 caches must achieve high hit rates and low access times. This requires balancing the number of sets and set-associativity; for example, higher associativity can increase hit rates, but worsen access times.

2⃝ Energy efficiency: Cache hit, miss, and management (e.g., insertion, coherence, etc.) energy must be minimized. These too require a balance; for example, higher set-associativity may reduce cache misses and subsequent energy-hungry probes of larger L2 caches and LLCs. But higher set-associativity also magnifies L1 lookup energy.

3⃝ Simple implementation: L1 caches are on the pipeline’s timing-critical path. To meet timing constraints, they should not have complex implementations.

Balancing these design goals is challenging for many reasons [1, 2, 3, 4]. A particularly important one is the L1 cache’s interaction with the virtual memory subsystem. Virtual memory automates memory and storage management, but requires virtual-to-physical address translation. CPUs accelerate address translation with hardware Translation Lookaside Buffers (TLBs). Ideally, TLBs should be large and cache as many translations as possible. Unfortunately, this presents a problem. L1 caches are physically-addressed, and hence require address translations via the TLB prior to a cache lookup. Large and slow TLBs can delay L1 cache lookup time.

Fig. 1: Overview of VESPA compared to traditional VIPT caches. VESPA dynamically changes its associativity for superpages.

Architects have historically used virtual-indexing and physical-tagging (VIPT) to circumvent this problem. VIPT L1 caches are looked up in parallel with – rather that serially after – TLBs. The basic idea is that TLB lookup proceeds in parallel with L1 cache set selection, and must be completed by the time the L1 cache begins checking the tags of the ways in the set. On one hand, this allows architects to grow TLBs bigger. On the other hand, VIPT presents challenges in balancing 1⃝-3⃝. The key problem is this – in VIPT designs, the bits used to select the cache set must reside entirely within the page offset of the requested virtual address, as shown in Figure 1. This is because the page-offset bits remain the same in both the virtual and the physical address. This in turn means that the VIPT cache organization rests at the mercy of the operating system’s (OS’s) page size.

Consider, without loss of generality, x86 systems, where the smallest or base page size is 4KB. The 12 least significant bits of the virtual address correspond to the page offset. VIPT L1 caches with 64-byte lines need 6 bits for the cache block offset. Unfortunately, this only leaves 6 bits for the set index, meaning that the L1 cache can support a maximum of 64 sets. Consequently, VIPT L1 cache sizes can only be increased through higher set-associativity. This can compromise performance (1⃝) and energy (2⃝) significantly, especially as cache sizes increase. We identify and quantify the extent of this problem this work via a state-space exploration of cache microarchitectures with varying sizes and set-associativity (Section II-C) and find that it is pernicious.

Past work has tackled the limitations of VIPT with techniques like virtually-indexed, virtually-tagged (VIVT) caches [5, 6], reducing L1 cache associativity by pushing part of the index into physical page number [7], opportunistic virtual caching [8] and similar designs which argue that VIPT can be simplified by observing that page synonyms222Synonyms are scenarios where multiple virtual addresses map to the same physical address. are rare [7, 9, 10, 11, 12]. While effective, these techniques are complex, falling short on 3⃝. Unsurprisingly, VIPT therefore remains the standard in modern systems.

We propose VIPT Enhancements for Super Page Accesses or VESPA to free L1 caches from the shackles of VIPT design. VESPA hinges on the following observation. VIPT L1 caches were originally designed when OSes supported one page size. However, systems today support and use not only these traditional or base pages, but also several larger pages (e.g., 2MB and 1GB on x86 systems) called superpages [13, 14]. Superpages have historically been used to reduce TLB misses. In this work, we go beyond, and leverage the prevalence of superpages to realize VIPT caches that can achieve 1⃝, 2⃝, and 3⃝.

Superpages have wider page offsets and can therefore support more index bits for VIPT; this in turn means that the same sized cache can be realized with more sets and lower associativity. VESPA harnesses this property to dynamically reduce associativity within a set for superpages, as shown in Figure 1. Consequently, VESPA improves performance (1⃝) and energy efficiency (2⃝). Moreover, it leverages the current TLB-L1 interface, and only modestly changes the L1 microarchitecture, making it easy to implement (3⃝). In other words, VESPA improves, but still conceptually uses the concept of VIPT, and satisfies three types of lookups:

a⃝ CPU lookups for data in a superpage: VESPA checks fewer L1 cache ways than traditional VIPT caches, reducing hit time and saving energy.

b⃝ CPU lookups for data in a base page: VESPA checks the same number of L1 cache ways as traditional VIPT caches, and achieves the same performance and energy.

c⃝ Coherence lookups: Though coherence lookups at L1 use physical addresses and hence do not need to look up the TLB, they needlessly have look up the high number of ways in the L1s because the L1s adhere to VIPT constraints. VESPA solves this problem, allowing all coherence lookups, whether they are to addresses in superpages or base pages, to check fewer L1 cache ways. Consequently, coherence energy is reduced substantially.

Overall, our contributions are:

  • [itemsep=0in]

  • We study cache lookup time and energy in detail with Cacti 6.5 [15], motivating the need to design caches with lower associativities than those supported by VIPT.

  • We perform a real-system characterization study on the prevalence of superpages in modern systems. We find that current Linux/x86 systems create ample superpages for VESPA to be effective.

  • We showcase VESPA’s benefits for CPU memory lookups. On a wide suite of single- and multi-threaded workloads running on real systems and full-system simulators, VESPA demonstrates the following improvements in performance and energy over a baseline VIPT 32-64kB L1 cache: 5-12% in AMAT, 9-18% in dynamic energy, 95-98% in leakage energy. These go up to 19%, 23%, and 99% in larger forward-looking 128kB L1s. Further, we show how these benefits change as the prevalence of superpages varies.

  • We quantify VESPA’s energy benefits for L1 coherence lookup, showing significant benefits (e.g., 43% L1 energy savings on a 64-core system).

To the best of our knowledge, this is the first work to optimize L1 caches for superpages. VESPA improves 1⃝, 2⃝, and 3⃝ comprehensively.

Importantly, VESPA improves current systems, but is likely to be even more crucial as future systems seek ways to increase L1 cache sizes [16] while meeting VIPT constraints.

Ii Motivation and Background

(a) Cache Access Latency
(b) Cache access energy (dynamic + leakage)
(c) Average Miss-per-kilo-instructions (MPKI)
Fig. 5: Effect of cache latency, energy, and MPKI as a function of associativity for different cache sizes.

Ii-a TLBs and VIPT Caches

When CPUs access memory, they typically do so using program-visible virtual memory addresses (VA). These must be converted into physical memory addresses (PA). The OS maintains page tables to to record virtual-to-physical address mappings in the unit of pages. Since page tables are software data structures, they reside in the on-chip caches and system memory. CPUs cache the most frequently-used translations from the page table in private TLBs. Therefore when a CPU accesses memory using a VA, the TLB is probed to determine the PA. A TLB miss invokes a hardware page table walker, which looks up the page table. In general, TLBs interface with L1 caches in 3 ways:

a⃝ Physically-indexed physically-tagged (PIPT): L1 accesses commence only after TLBs are looked up to determine the physical address. Though simple to implement, serial TLB-L1 lookups are slow and rarely used.

b⃝ Virtually-indexed virtually-tagged (VIVT): L1 accesses do not need a prior TLB lookup, since they operate purely on virtual addresses. Unfortunately, VIVT caches are complex, requiring special support for virtual page synonyms and cache coherence (which typically uses physical addresses). We discuss this design further in Section V.

c⃝ Virtually-indexed physically-tagged (VIPT): By far the most popular choice, VIPT caches strike a compromise between PIPT and VIVT. With VIPT, the VA is used to index the L1 while the TLB is probed in parallel for the PA; TLB access latency is hidden. However, to support physically-addressed L1s, the cache index bits must fall within the page offset bits, as shown in Figure 1. This restricts the number of cache sets. Hence, the cache can grow only by increasing associativity (i.e., adding more ways). This is reflective in all modern systems. Intel Skylake [17] uses an 8-way cache to implement its 32kB L1 and AMD’s Jaguar uses a 16-way cache (8 banks of 2-ways each) to implement its 64kB L1 cache, since the base page size is 4kB.

Ii-B Impact of Associativity on AMAT and MPKI

We begin by assessing the associativity needs and benefits of L1 caches. To do this, we consider Average Memory Access Time (AMAT), the most basic metric to analyze memory system performance. AMAT is defined as:


AMAT accounts for the effect of memory level optimizations across the memory hierarchy. We first study the impact of cache associativity on a key variable determining AMAT, the miss rate of the L1 cache. Figure (c)c plots the MPKI averaged across a suite of big data applications (see Section II-D for workload details) as a function of cache associativity for increasing cache sizes. Since we target L1 caches, we focus on relatively smaller 16kB to 128kB capacities. We observe that increasing associativity beyond 4 does not result in any noticeable reduction in miss rates. This is not just an artifact of our particular workloads, but a more fundamental observation since the L1s are very small and service requests only from one (or 2-4 if SMT) thread running over the core; a low associativity is enough to reduce conflict misses, after which the L1 is fundamentally limited by capacity misses [8]. This is unlike LLCs which are orders of magnitude larger and are shared by multiple cores and typically require large 8-16 way associativities to mitigate conflicts in the set index bits among requests from the various cores.

Unfortunately, modern L1 caches use associativities larger than 4 due VIPT constraints. While this does not reduce miss rates, it increases hit time significantly, as we discuss next.

Ii-C Cache Access Time and Energy

We performed a comprehensive study of how cache access latency and lookup energy vary as a function of associativity across several cache sizes using Cacti 6.5 [15], at a 32nm node333This is the most advanced node that Cacti 6.5 supports. We also validated these trends using a 32nm ARM SRAM compiler, but cannot report the exact latency/energy numbers due to foundry confidentiality issues.. L1 caches are tightly coupled to the CPU pipeline, and need to be optimized for both latency and energy. Keeping this in mind, we used the high-performance (”itrs-hp”) transistor models, and a parallel data and tag lookup for faster access. For each design point, Cacti to optimizes access time, cycle time, dynamic power, and leakage power.

Figure (a)a plots the absolute access latency as associativity is increased from direct-mapped to 32-way for cache sizes varying from 16kB to 128kB. For each cache size, we observe access latency to be somewhat flat (around 0.5ns for 16kB and 32kB, and 1ns for 64kB and 128kB) till a low associativity of 4, beyond which there is a steep increase of around 85% on average at 8-way, 16-way, and 32-way.

A similar trend is also reflected in the total access energy graph in Figure (b)b. The total energy increases monotonically, as more ways need to be read out and compared. There is a steep increase in both dynamic and leakage energy at 16-way and 32-way, as Cacti tries to use larger cells to optimize for meeting a tight delay constraint. Dynamic energy shoots up by 45%, while leakage shoots up by 6 444At 32-way, 80% of the energy is reported to be in leakage. This is due to a large number of standard cells required to implement the highly associative muxes, while meeting a tight timing constraint that we specified to Cacti. The leakage component could be reduced using advanced circuit techniques or relaxing the timing - which is orthogonal to this work - but the overall trend of higher lookup energy with more associativity would still remain..

These trends of increasing access time and energy are an intrinsic artifact of cache associativity, and very similar graphs can also be found in Hennessy and Patterson’s 5th edition [18]. These trends suggest that a low 4-way associative cache is best suited in terms of both access time and energy across the given cache sizes. This is a fundamental observation. The exact associativity at which the latency and/or energy shoots up may vary based on the technology node, cache micro-architecture, and on the tight timing or energy constraint that is being optimized for. But we expect there to be a low associativity number beyond which a multi-way lookup is going to fail to meet timing (thus requiring an additional cycle for lookup) or the energy budget. As benefits from technology scaling have plateaued, a fairly similar behavior is expected at advanced nodes as well.

Thus L1 caches today are in a catch-22 situation - on one hand higher associativity is required for supporting parallel TLB and L1 accesses via VIPT (Section II-A); on the other hand higher associativity does not translate to increased hit-rates (Section II-B), and in fact increases cache access time and energy (Section II-C). This makes L1 design extremely challenging going forward, since on one hand future workloads would have larger working sets [19, 20, 21, 8] that would benefit from larger L1s, while on the other chips are highly power constrained [22]. There are only two solutions today; either use VIVT caches which require complex synonym management and are not used in mainstream systems, or use way prediction [23], which is popular for instruction caches [24] but harder to get right for data caches.

We offer an alternate lightweight solution that provides the hit time and energy benefits of lower associativity, without the challenges of synonyms or a predictor555In fact, our solution can be augmented with way prediction to provide even more benefits, as we show later.. We argue that the rigid assumption made by VIPT caches may not be appropriate in modern systems, as we discuss next.

Fig. 6: Fraction of total memory footprint allocated with 2MB superpages on a real 32-core Intel Sandybridge system with 32GB of memory. We show how superpage allocation varies as memory is fragmented with the memhog workload.

Ii-D Superpages in Modern Systems

Our main observation is that real-world systems often use superpages today. The advantage with superpages is the availability of more bits for virtual indexing, thus potentially increasing the number of sets in a cache.

Big data workloads: A large class of workloads today have large memory footprints, and stress virtual memory heavily. In this work, we use a suite of workloads from CloudSuite [19], Spec [25] and PARSEC [26] that have shown significant improvements in TLB and system performance when using superpages across multiple studies [27, 19, 28, 29, 30, 31]. As such, superpages are increasingly common [27, 31, 32].

OS support for multiple page sizes: Given the increasing use of superpages, modern architectures support multiple superpage sizes apart from the base page size. For example, Linux, FreeBSD, and Windows all support not only 4KB base pages, but also 2MB and 1GB superpages for x86 systems. Similarly, OSes for ARM systems use 4KB base pages, but also 1MB and 16MB superpages. All page sizes are useful. OSes allocate superpages to improve TLB hit rates, and occasionally to reduce page faults (see past work for more details [33, 34]). In contrast, OSes use base pages when they desire finer-grained memory protection [35]. In fact, the benefits of multiple page sizes have become so apparent that there is active work today on extending superpage support on mobile OSes like Android [36]. This work targets server system so we omit a discussion of mobile architectures; however, we expect that VESPA’s benefits may likely extend to mobile architectures eventually as they adopt superpages more aggressively.

Superpages in long-running systems: We demonstrate that superpages are common in most server-class systems today, even in the presence of modest to extreme memory fragmentation. We ran all our applications on a real 32-core Intel Sandybridge server-class system with 32GB of main memory, running Ubuntu Linux with a v4.4 kernel. The system had been active and heavily loaded for over a year, with user-level applications and low-level kernel activity (e.g., networking stacks, etc.). To further load the system, we ran a memory-intensive workload called memhog workload in the background. memhog is a microbenchmark for fragmenting memory that performs random memory allocations, and has been used in many prior works on virtual memory [37, 27, 38]. For example, memhog (50%) represents a scenario where memhog fragments as much as half of system memory. We enabled Linux’s transparent hugepage support [13] that attempts to allocate as much anonymous heap memory with 2MB pages as possible. Naturally, the more fragmented and loaded the system, the harder it is for the OS to allocate superpages.

Figure 6 plots the fraction of the workload’s memory footprint allocated to superpages. Fundamentally, it reveals that modern systems frequently use superpages today. When fragmentation is low (i.e., memhog (0-20%)), 65%+ of the memory footprint is covered by 2MB superpages, for every single workload. In many cases, this number is 80%+. Furthermore, even in systems with reasonable amounts of memory fragmentation (i.e., memhog (40-60%)), superpages continue to remain ample. This is not surprising, since Linux – and indeed, other OSes like FreeBSD and Windows – use sophisticated memory defragmentation logic to enable superpages even in the presence of non-trivial resource contention from co-running applications. It is only when contention increases dramatically (memhog(80-90%) that OSes struggle to allocate superpages. Nevertheless, even in the extreme cases, some superpages are allocated.

We also studied FreeBSD and Windows and we found that 20-60% of the memory footprint of our workloads, running on long-running server systems which have seen lots of memory activity, are covered by superpages. On average, the number is roughly 48%. Overall, this data suggests that OSes not only support, but actually use multiple page sizes with even modest and extreme memory fragmentation.

Hardware support for multiple page sizes - Split TLBs: Though many hardware components interact with the virtual memory system, the two most important ones are the TLBs and the L1 caches. Modern processors use a combination of TLBs to cache virtual-to-physical translations.

Multiple page sizes impose an important challenge on TLB design. As TLBs often consume 13-15% processor power [8], vendors usually use set-associative TLBs. It is, however, challenging to design a single set-associative TLB for all page sizes. Recall that TLBs are looked up using the virtual page number (VPN) of a virtual address. Identifying the VPN, and hence the set-index bits, requires masking off the page offset bits. This is a chicken-and-egg problem - the page-offset requires knowledge of the page- size, which is available only after TLB lookup [39].

To get around this problem, vendors use split TLBs at the L1 level (there are higher-latency workarounds for L2) for different page sizes [40, 41]. For example, Intel Sandybridge systems use 64-entry L1 TLBs for 4KB pages, 32-entry L1 TLBs for 2MB pages, and 8-entry L1 TLBs for 1GB pages [42]. Memory references probe all TLBs in parallel. A hit in one of the TLBs implicitly identifies the page size. Misses probe an L2 TLB, which can occasionally support multiple page sizes. Irrespective of the microarchitectural details, TLB hierarchies today are designed to operate harmoniously with multiple page sizes.

This is in stark contrast with VIPT L1 caches, as we have detailed thus far. VIPT L1 caches do support multiple page sizes, but not as efficiently as possible. In other words, since VIPT is conservatively tuned to support the page offset width of the base page size, it needlessly penalizes access to superpages. VESPA attacks exactly this problem.

Iii VESPA Microarchitecture

Fig. 7: VESPA Microarchitecture for a 32kB L1 Cache.

We have shown that L1 caches often achieve their best energy-performance points when they use relatively low set-associativity. Unfortunately, traditional VIPT constraints often preclude this possibility, as they are unable to realize high set counts (e.g., 64+ sets in x86 systems) and instead require high associativity. In this work, we modify the L1 cache hardware to support a new flavor of VIPT without these constraints by embracing the opportunity presented by superpages. We fulfill three design steps: a⃝ we judiciously modify existing L1 cache hardware and align it with the existing TLB hierarchy, b⃝ we explore optimizations for better cache insertion policies and scalability; and c⃝ we consider the implications of these changes on system-level issues like cache coherence, and OS-level paging.

We showcase these steps for a 32KB, 8-way L1 cache operating at 1.33 GHz for x86 with 4KB base pages, and 2MB/1GB superpages. However, our approach is equally applicable to other L1 cache sizes, as highlighted by our evaluations, and other architectures with different page sizes.

Iii-a Hardware Augmentations

VESPA operates as follows. When a memory reference is to a base page, VESPA looks up the same number of ways as a traditional VIPT cache. However, when the reference is to a superpage, VESPA needs to look up fewer cache ways, saving on both access latency and energy.

Iii-A1 L1 cache microarchitecture

VESPA uses a banked-microarchitecture for the L1 cache, i.e., each set is divided into multiple banks. Each bank is organized with a target associativity that is chosen for its desirable latency and energy spec. Recall that the page-offset bits remain the same in both the VA and the PA. VESPA exploits the fact that superpages increase the number of page-offset bits within the virtual address (VA) (for instance 21 bits for 2MB pages and 30 bits for 1GB pages, as Figure 7 shows). Thus, for superpages, it uses some of the additional page-offset bits as a bank_index to index into one of the banks of the set (which is selected by the set_index, as is usual) and only needs to lookup the ways within the bank.

Accesses to base pages require a lookup of all banks (i.e., all the ways in the set) like a traditional VIPT design, since the bank_index bits are now part of the VPN which would change in the PA after address translation.

The banked implementation can be used for the baseline VIPT caches as well, like AMD’s Jaguar does, and is an implementation choice. But it does not directly provide any latency benefit over a non-banked one since the ways in all banks need to be looked up anyway; for instance for the 32kB design, the lookup of all ways takes 2 cycles - either 4-ways serially each cycle, or 8-ways in parallel across both cycles. The total access energy for a serial vs parallel lookup was also found to be similar for a 8-way cache; but might make a difference at very large associativities.

Figure 7 shows the microarchitecture of a 32kB cache, which requires 8-ways for a VIPT access. In VESPA, we partition the 8-way set into two banks of 4-ways each; based on the latency and energy characterization presented earlier in Figures (a)a and (b)b. We introduce a bank decoder to index into one of the banks, using the bank_index (bit 12 of the virtual address). We present the policy for indexing into one of the banks (for superpages) versus reading all banks (for base pages) next. Table IV-B1 presents the access latencies in the cache for baseline and superpages across various cache sizes and clock frequencies, to point to the robustness of this idea.

Page Size TLB Cache Cycle 1 Cycle 2 Savings
2MB/1GB Hit Hit Bank lookup using bank_index (bit 12 of the VA). Not Required. Latency
Tag matches. This is the same case as a traditional +
VIPT for a 4-way cache. Energy
2MB/1GB Hit Miss Bank lookup using bank_index (bit 12 of the VA).
Tag mismatch triggers cache miss. Not Required. Energy
2MB/1GB Miss * Bank lookup using bank_index (bit 12 of the VA). Other bank is read. 4kB TLB miss
2MB/1GB TLB miss signal triggers a read of the triggers Level-2 TLB (if present)
remaining 4-ways of the adjacent bank lookup which may trigger a page None
(i.e., assume a 4kB page). table walk.
4kB Hit Hit Bank lookup using bank_index (bit 12 of the VA). Other bank is read. Tag matches.
The 2MB/1GB TLB miss signal triggers a read This is the same case as a traditional None
of the remaining 4-ways of the adjacent bank. VIPT for a 8-way set associative cache
4kB Hit Miss Appropriate bank is looked up using the Other bank is read. Tag mismatch
bank_index (bit 12 of the VA). triggers cache miss. None
The 2MB TLB miss signal triggers a read of the
remaining 4-ways of the adjacent bank.
4kB Miss * Appropriate bank is looked up using the Other bank is read. 4kB TLB miss
bank_index (bit 12 of the VA). triggers Level-2 TLB (if present) None
The 2MB TLB miss signal triggers a read of the lookup which may trigger a page
remaining 4-ways of the adjacent bank. table walk
TABLE I: Anatomy of a Lookup

Iii-A2 TLB-L1 cache interface

VESPA needs to infer, from the virtual memory lookup address, whether a reference is to a superpage (2MB/1GB) or a base page (4kB), and accordingly lookup the right bank or all banks respectively. One option is to look up the TLB for the virtual-to-physical translation to determine the page size and then look up the L1 cache. Naturally, this option is a non-starter as serially looking up the TLB and L1 cache excessively degrades performance and is what VIPT caches want to avoid in the first place.

Instead, recall that CPUs use dedicated split TLBs for different page sizes [40, 17, 43, 39], as discussed in Section II-D. We piggyback on this design. The separate TLBs are sized as per the page size they support. In other words, TLBs for 2MB pages have fewer entries than TLBs for 4KB pages since each 2MB TLB entry covers a larger chunk of the address space than each 4KB TLB entry. For example, Intel Sandybridge processors use 2MB-page L1 TLBs with half the number of entries as the 4KB-page L1 TLB. Further, each 2MB-page TLB entry requires fewer bits to store the virtual and physical page numbers than 4KB-page TLB entries. We find that 2MB-page L1 TLBs are 40% smaller than 4KB-page L1 TLBs. 1GB-page L1 TLBs are even smaller. Consequently, superpage TLBs have much shorter access latencies than base page TLBs. Table IV-B1 lists TLB access latencies for varying sizes and clock frequencies.

The split TLBs with differing access times drive VESPA as follows. All memory references look up the TLB hierarchy and L1 cache in parallel. However, unlike conventional VIPT, VESPA performs the L1 cache lookup speculating a superpage access. Therefore, not only is a specific set chosen, so too is a specific bank within that set, using the bank_index bits. In parallel, the 2MB/1GB-page TLB lookup, which is faster than the 4kB lookup (e.g., half the time at 1.33GHz), indicates whether the access is to a superpage. If not, i.e., the speculation failed, the L1 cache logic begins a lookup of the remaining banks in the set. Accesses to lines on superpages thus finish faster, while those for base pages takes the same time as before.

Iii-A3 Anatomy of a Lookup

Table I lists the cache lookup timeline on a case-by-case basis for a 32kB L1 at 1.33GHz on a x86 machine with 4kB base pages and 2MB/1GB superpages. A superpage access takes 1-cycle in this design, and a base page takes 2-cycles. The behavior for other configurations (Table IV-B1) and page sizes can accordingly be derived.

Iii-A4 Implementation Overheads

VESPA uses set banking to support the ability to dynamically change associativity from 8- to 4-way. Two modest hardware enhancements are needed. The first is a bank decoder (two 2:1 OR gates in Figure 7) placed before the banks. The second is an extra 2:1 mux at the end to choose between the two banks. Within each bank, VESPA needs a 4:1 mux instead of the 8:1 mux used by baseline VIPT for the entire set. We updated the Cacti cache model to implement these changes, using the 32nm standard-cells used internally for implementing the decoder and the muxes. We observe less than 1% increase in access time, which does not our affect cycle time at 1.33GHz as it is within the timing margings in the design. The lookup energy for a 4-way access in VESPA increases by just 0.41%, which is still 39.43% lower than that for 8-way access in the baseline.

Iii-B Design Optimizations

Iii-B1 Cache Line Insertion Policy

Since VESPA dynamically switches the L1 cache from 8- to 4-way, there can be two variants of traditional cache line insertion policies.

a⃝ 4way-8way insertion policy: On a cache line miss from a superpage (see Table I), the replacement victim line is chosen from the same bank using an LRU policy. However, if there is a cache line miss from a base 4KB page, the replacement victim is chosen across both banks, by following an LRU policy. Thus, VESPA behaves like a 4-way associative cache for superpages and a 8-way associative cache for base pages from an insertion policy perspective.

b⃝ 4way insertion policy: On a cache line miss from either a superpage or a base page, the line is installed in the bank specified by the bank_index bits from the physical address (which is available post TLB lookup). The replacement victim is chosen using an LRU policy from the same bank. The 4way policy uses a local replacement policy within the 4 ways of the concerned bank, instead of a global replacement within 8 ways of the original set, irrespective of page size.

We decided to use the 4way insertion policy in VESPA for 4 reasons. 1⃝ Correctness: There may be cases where a page is mapped both as a base page and a superpage. A 4way-8way policy might lead to the same line getting installed twice in the cache; a uniform policy for both base and superpages avoids this problem. 2⃝ Energy: The LRU policy is simpler and saves energy on each cache-line installation due to tracking and lookup of fewer ways. 3⃝ Performance: As an academic exercise, we ran all our experiments with both policies, and noticed only a 1% difference drop in hit rate with the 4way policy, in line with the earlier observations in Figure (c)c. 4⃝ Coherence lookups: The 4-way policy reduces lookup time and energy for coherence lookups, as we discuss later in Section III-C.

Iii-B2 Supporting Larger L1 Caches

Current trends suggest that L1 cache sizes will grow beyond 32KB with coming processor generations. AMD’s Jaguar uses 64kB caches, and Excavator chips  [16] are expected to use 128KB L1 caches666There are no publicly released documents yet but tech websites suggest an implementation using 4 banks of 32kB caches. Increasing L1 size exacerbates the access latency and energy of VIPT L1 caches, since they are usually grown by increasing associativity (see Section II-A). Our detailed studies with Cacti 6.5 (Figures (a)a and  (b)b) suggests even worse latency and energy with higher associativity at 64KB and 128KB cache sizes. This makes VESPA even more relevant and necessary going forward.

Fig. 8: Bank Decoder for 64KB VESPA.

VESPA’s operation for larger L1 caches mirrors our description of 32KB L1 caches. The difference is that the number of banks, each of which is 16KB, increases. This changes the bank decoder circuitry (Figure 8). We show the possible circuit of a bank decoder for a 64KB VESPA in Figure 8. Similarly, a bank decoder for a 128KB cache can be built. We choose 16KB as the bank size because our Cacti-based analysis suggest that 4-way associativity remains optimal for even 64KB and 128KB L1 caches. If this number happens to be different at another technology node for a certain cache model, different bank sizes can be accommodated, with the cache being built using multiples of these banks.

One caveat in VIPT cache design is scaling of TLBs. As the cache size grows, its access latency increases, and accordingly TLB sizes can also be increased in terms of number of entries. This way, VIPT caches can still perform parallel TLB and cache lookups. In our 64KB and 128KB caches, the TLBs are sized accordingly to fulfill the above mentioned condition. Our evaluations (Section IV) show even higher benefits in terms of energy and AMAT with VESPA as cache size increases.

Iii-B3 Way Prediction

As VIPT caches are highly set-associative (Section II-A), VESPA can essentially be viewed as a predictor for which subset of ways (which we call a bank) to lookup. VESPA’s approach is to predict all accesses to be superpage accesses, and access the appropriate bank using the bank_index bit(s), and access the other banks on a mis-prediction (signaled by monitoring the TLB hit/miss signals, as Table I discussed).

An orthogonal approach that that is potentially symbiotic with VESPA is the idea of way-prediction [44, 45]. Way-prediction uses simple hardware to predict which way in a cache set is likely to be accessed in the future. When the prediction is accurate, access energy is saved without compromising access latency, as the cache effectively behaves in a direct-mapped manner. The key is accurate prediction, with past work proposing several schemes like using MRU, the PC, or XOR functions to achieve this [45]. Naturally, predictor accuracy can vary, with good results for workloads with good locality and poor results for emerging workloads with poor access locality (e.g., like graph processing).

VESPA presents an effective additional design point to way-prediction. Crucially, VESPA can improve not only access energy but also access latency (which way-prediction does not target). This is particularly important when way-predictor accuracy is sub-optimal. Naturally, both approaches can be used in tandem; VESPA can reduce the penalty of way-predictor mistakes by reducing the number of cache ways that need to be looked up on a misprediction. Conceptually, combining both approaches provides an effective means of tackling L1 caches – VESPA always reduces energy and latency for superpage accesses and way-prediction effectively reduces the energy of base-page accesses for which the predictor accurately guesses the required way. We evaluate the confluence of these designs in subsequent sections.

Iii-C System-Level Issues

VESPA has several interesting implications on system-level issues involving multi-core interactions and the software stack. We discuss some of these interactions here.

Cache coherence: One may initially expect cache coherence to be unaided by VESPA. However, the choice of insertion policy (see Sec. III-B1) affects coherence lookup (invalidations/probes) access time and energy from the L2/directory. Consider the 4way-8way insertion policy. Coherence lookups for cache lines residing in superpages only need to search in the 4 ways of the appropriate bank, as the coherence request comes with the physical address. However, for cache lines on a 4KB page, coherence lookups at L1 need to search in all the 8 ways by activating both banks. Here VESPA saves energy for all superpage coherence requests and does no worse for baseline 4KB page coherence requests.

However, if we implement the 4way insertion policy, the correct bank can be accessed using the bank_index bits of the physical address for all requests, whether on base pages or superpages. This saves energy for every coherence lookups, irrespective of page size. As mentioned in Section III-B1, there is minimal change in the hit rate for L1 caches with this policy and it does not change the AMAT of the system. Hence we use this policy in rest of our paper.

Page table modifications: Important system-level optimizations like copy-on-write mechanisms, memory deduplication, page migration between NUMA memories, checkpointing, and memory defragmentation (to generate superpages) rely on modifying page table contents. Some of these modifications can cause superpages to be converted into base pages (or vice-versa). In these cases, while the physical addresses of data in these pages remains unchanged, they must now be correctly treated by VESPA as residing in base pages instead of superpages. There are two cases to consider.

First, suppose that a superpage is broken into constituent base pages. We must ensure that L1 cache lines that belonged to the superpage are correctly accessed. Fortunately, this is simple. VESPA looks up more L1 cache banks for data mapping to base pages than superpages; in fact, accesses to base pages automatically also look up the bank that the superpage would have previously been allowed to fill. Therefore, there are no correctness issues when transitioning from 2MB/1GB pages to 4KB pages.

Second, several base pages may together be promoted to create a superpage. Since VESPA probes fewer banks, it is possible a line from one of the prior base pages may be cached in a bank that is no longer probed. Naturally, this is problematic if that line maintains dirty data. While several solutions are possible, we use a simple - albeit heavyweight - one. When the OS promotes base pages to a superpage, it has to invalidate all the base page translation entries in the page table. For correctness reasons, OSes then executes an instruction (e.g., invlpg

in x86) to invalidate cached translations from the TLBs. These instructions are usually high-latency (e.g., we have designed micro benchmarks that estimate this latency to be 150-200 clock cycles, consistent with measurements made by Linux kernel developers). We propose overlapping extending this instruction so that it triggers a sweep of the L1 cache, evicting all lines mapping to each invalidated base page. In practice, we have found 150-200 cycles more than enough to perform a full cache sweep. Finally, we model such activities in our evaluation infrastructure and find that page table modifications events only minimally affect performance.

TLB-bypassing: Occasionally, there may be accesses to physical data without a prior virtual-to-physical translation. For example, page table walkers are aware of the physical memory address of the page tables and do not look up the TLB. The OS also accesses several data structures in a similar way. Since these data structures do not reside in virtual pages, VESPA can handle their L1 cache lookups similar to base page or superpages. To promote good performance and energy efficiency, their lookups mirror the superpage case.

CPU In-order, x86, 1.33GHz
L1 Cache Private, Split Data & Instruction
L2 cache (Unicore) Unified, 1MB, 16-way
L2 cache (Multicore) Unified, 8MB, 16-way
DRAM 4GB, 51ns access latency
Technology 32nm

tableSystem Parameters

Iv Evaluation

Iv-a Target System

We evaluate VESPA within a target x86 system described in Table III-C, and compare its performance and energy against a baseline VIPT (BaseVIPT) cache. To demonstrate the robustness and benefits of our scheme with different processor frequencies and L1 cache sizes, we evaluated VESPA under various configurations. We target 32kB, 64kB, and 128kB caches, with frequencies of 1.33GHz, 2.80GHz (e.g., AMD Phenom) and 4.00GHz (e.g., Intel Skylake). Table IV-B1 shows the access latency of the L1 caches under each configuration: The L2 cache is the Last Level Cache (LLC) in our system.

Instruction Caches. OSes like Linux do not currently have superpage support for instruction footprints. This has historically been because instruction footprints have generally been considered small, and hence a poor fit for 2MB/1GB superpages. Thus our studies focus on L1 data caches. However, we believe that this could change with the advent of server-side and cloud workloads [19, 20] that use considerably larger instruction-side footprints. In this context, VESPA would support and benefit L1 instruction caches too.

Performance and Energy Metrics. To measure the access time and total energy of the L1 cache, we use Cacti 6.5[15] with the configuration mentioned in Section II-C. Since we optimize L1 lookups in terms of both latency and energy, we report AMAT (Average Memory Access Time) as our metric of performance and total energy of the L1 cache as our metric of energy efficiency.

Iv-B Single-Core Performance and Energy

Iv-B1 Methodology and Workloads

Fig. 9: Percentage of accesses to superpages, and L1 hit rates.
Fig. 10: Normalized total L1 energy improvement provided by VESPA over the baseVIPT cache for 32kB, 64kB and 128kB L1 cache sizes respectively.
(a) Normalized AMAT improvement @ 1.33GHz
(b) Normalized AMAT improvement @ 2.80GHz
(c) Normalized AMAT improvement @ 4.00GHz
Fig. 14: Normalized AMAT improvement by VESPA at different frequencies for 32kB, 64kB and 128kB L-1 cache sizes respectively. Each bar is normalized to its corresponding baseline VIPT cache for a given cache size.

Our single-core studies take a two-step approach, using detailed memory tracing from a real 32-core Intel Sandybridge system with 32GB of RAM and Ubuntu Linux (v4.4 kernel), as well as careful simulation. We pick long-running systems with on-times of several months to ensure that our system has the memory fragmentation and load representative of server-class scenarios. We pick several workloads from Spec [25], Parsec [26], Biobench [46], and Cloudsuite [19] for our studies. In order to capture the full-system interactions between the OS and these workloads, we use a modified version of Pin [47] - that reports both virtual and physical addresses - to record 10-billion memory traces containing virtual and physical pages, information about page sizes allocated by the OS, references from kernel activity, and information on page table modifications. Page table modifications are tagged to identify situations when base pages are promoted to superpages and vice-versa. We pass these traces to a carefully designed and calibrated software simulation framework that models a Sandybridge-style architecture with a detailed TLB and memory hierarchy. We use an exhaustive set of studies on Cacti to model the hardware with the correct timing and energy parameters. Figure 9 shows the percentage of memory references that fall on superpages across the workloads, and the hit rates with a 32kB L1 cache.

Access Latency (cycles)
Cache VIPT Fre- TLB TLB L1 L1
Size Assoc- quency base- super- base- super-
(kB) iativity (GHz) page page page page
32 8 1.33 2 1 2 1
32 8 2.80 4 2 4 2
32 8 4.00 5 3 5 3
64 16 1.33 5 1 5 1
64 16 2.80 9 2 9 2
64 16 4.00 13 3 13 3
128 32 1.33 14 2 14 2
128 32 2.80 30 3 30 3
128 32 4.00 42 4 42 4

tableL1 Cache Configurations

Fig. 15: Comparison of way-prediction with VESPA architecture on 64kB size cache. Graph shows that benefits from way-prediction are tied to its accuracy and depend on workload unlike VESPA, which consistently gives lower Energy and AMAT than baseline.
(a) Superpage Allocation Probabilty = 25%
(b) Superpage Allocation Probabilty = 50%
(c) Superpage Allocation Probabilty = 75%
Fig. 19: AMAT and energy reduction with VESPA as a function of memory fragmentation. The x-axis represent normalized AMAT for an application with respect to their corresponding BaseVIPT cache, similarly y-axis represent normalized energy with respect to corresponding BaseVIPT cache for a given application.

Iv-B2 Energy

Figure 10 shows the normalized improvement in total L1 access energy for 32kB, 64kB and 128kB L1 caches respectively, across the workloads. Energy benefits are seen across all the workloads, even for those that showed low AMAT reductions (such as tigr). This is because of two reasons. First, for both L1 hits and misses for superpages, VESPA saves dynamic energy, as Section III-A3 discussed. Second, leakage energy is saved per application as its overall runtime decreases. On average we see 8.92% and 77% reduction in dynamic and leakage energy respectively with 32kB VESPA, 17.81% and 95% reduction in dynamic and leakage energy respectively with 64kB VESPA and 22.24% and 98.89% reduction in dynamic and leakage energy with 128kB VESPA over their respective baseline VIPT L1 caches.

Iv-B3 Performance

Figure (a)a shows VESPA’s normalized AMAT improvement across their respective baseline VIPT caches, for bigger caches. That is, VESPA-32kB shows the improvement over BaseVIPT-32kB, VESPA-64kB shows the improvement over BaseVIPT-64kB, and so on. Some workloads such as canneal and gems show up to 10-40% reduction in AMAT. This is because 60% of their accesses fall on superpages as Figure 9 shows. Others such as cactusADM, gups and mummer show negligible reduction as less than 10% of their accesses are to superpages. Workloads such as tigr exhibit interesting behavior. Even though 70% of the references are to superpages, AMAT reduces by only 1% at 32KB, and marginally increases with larger caches. The reason is a low L1 hit rate of 48% as Figure 9 shows. VESPA is an optimization for the L1 cache; if the workload’s working set does not fit in L1, or if workload is streaming in nature, leading to high L1 misses, then the AMAT is dominated by L2/DRAM access latencies which are an order of magnitude higher than L1 access latency and are not benefited by VESPA in terms of AMAT. But even in these cases, VESPA still saves energy as we show in Section IV-B2. On average, VESPA provides 4.45% improvement in 32kB VESPA, 12.09% improvement in 64kB VESPA and 18.44% improvement in 128kB VESPA in AMAT, over their respective baselines.


Normalized improvement in AMAT in a 32-core system as the probability of superpage allocation increases.

(b) Normalized improvement in Dynamic Energy in a 32-core system as the probability of superpage allocation increases.
(c) Energy consumption for coherence lookups in L1, as core counts increase, normalized to the 16-core BL energy for each benchmark.
Fig. 23: Performance and Energy benefits of VESPA in a Multicore System.

Iv-B4 Impact of Way Prediction

Figure 15 quantifies the characteristics of VESPA versus a design with way-prediction. On the left, we plot AMAT values while on the right, we plot energy values. All values are normalized to a design with neither VESPA no way-prediction. Note that lower AMAT and energy values are desirable. We plot data from three separate designs – a design with just way-prediction (using an MRU predictor as per prior work [44]), just VESPA, and a combination of VESPA and way-prediction. Figure 15 reveals the following.

First, standard way-prediction always degrades AMAT. This is expected since way-prediction trades access latency for better performance. When prediction accuracy is good (e.g., for astar and omnetpp which have prediction accuracy over 75%), AMAT goes up only marginally. But when MRU prediction suffers because workloads use pointer-chasing memory access patterns with poorer access locality (e.g., canneal, graph500, and tunkrank), way prediction can increase AMAT significantly. In contrast, VESPA can never degrade performance. At worst, it maintains baseline performance in the absence of superpages. Far more commonly (as Figure 15 shows), AMAT is improved dramatically.

Second, way-prediction can improve energy. However, in cases when superpages are ample (e.g., for canneal, graph500, and tunkrank), VESPA saves even more energy. In other cases, when way-prediction is effective, VESPA actually saves even more energy when applied atop way-prediction (see the VESPA-waypred results). Therefore, in every single case, VESPA remains beneficial and orthogonal. Further, Figure 15 reveals the potential symbiosis between VESPA and way-prediction. We intend studying more advanced schemes that dynamically choose when to combine VESPA and way-prediction, in future work.

Iv-B5 Effect of Memory Fragmentation

We perform a sensitivity study on how energy and latency of access gets affected as the percentage of memory covered by superpages changes, by running applications along with Memhog in the background, which was described earlier in Section II-D. We define superpage allocation probability as the probability of a page being a superpage, which goes down as memory fragmentation increases..

In Figure 19 we plot normalized AMAT and L1 access energy reduction with varying cache sizes as a scatter plot, as the superpage probability increases. For workloads with high L1 hit rates (Figure 9), such as cactusADM, gups and mummer, we see the points moving towards the origin as the superpage probability increases, demonstrating both AMAT and energy reductions. For those with low hit rates, such as tigr, mcf and graph, the AMAT reduction remains low but the plots move vertically down as superpage probability increases, demonstrating increased energy reduction. For 32kB caches, at a 75% probability of superpages, we see up to 17.17% reduction in AMAT and 25.6% reduction in L1 access energy for a 32kB cache. The improvements go up to 56.72% and 58.56% respectively for 128kB.

Iv-C Multicore results

Iv-C1 Methodology and workloads

To observe the effect of VESPA in multicore systems, we performed full-system simulations in gem5 [48] for 16, 32, and 64-core systems, running a directory-based MOESI protocol. gem5’s x86 model boots Linux v2.6 that does not have support for superpages without the hugetlbfs filesystem, as modern Linux does. We mimic superpage support by adding our own shadow page table inside the memory system that maps every virtual address being sent to the memory system either on a base page or on a superpage, based on a superpage allocation probability (Section IV-B5). We run the PARSEC2.0 benchmark suite [26], and study the AMAT and energy savings at the L1 for both demand lookups from the core, as well as coherence lookups from the L2/directory. All evaluations use a 32KB Private L1.

Iv-C2 Performance and energy for demand lookups

Figure (a)a shows the normalized improvement in AMAT for demand lookups for a 32 core system as a function of the superpage allocation probability. We see an AMAT reduction of 9.46% on average at 25% probability, which goes up to 37.85% at 100% probability. Figure (b)b similarly shows the normalized improvement in dynamic energy consumed by the L1 for the system for the same configuration. We see a dynamic energy reduction of 7.45% on average at 25% probability, increasing up to 25.16% at 100% fragmentation.

Iv-C3 Energy savings for coherence lookups

As discussed in Section III-B1, VESPA can reduce energy for all coherence traffic coming to L1, irrespective of whether it is for data on a base page or a superpage, since the right bank can be looked up from the physical address. We studied the savings in energy for coherence lookups (i.e., remote loads, remote stores, invalidates, and writeback requests) at the L1 as the number of cores go up. Figure (c)c plots our observations. Data is normalized to the coherence energy consumption of a 16 core BaseVIPT configuration. As the number of cores go up, the total energy consumed by coherence lookups also goes up as expected since the number of L1’s has gone up. For benchmarks with heavy sharing, such as blackscholes and fluidanimate, coherence lookup energy goes up by 5-5.5 going from 16-core to 64-core. For others like canneal and streamcluster, it remains fairly flat. VESPA reduces dynamic energy for each lookup by 30%, with higher absolute energy savings as core counts go up. Note that these savings are for a full-bit directory protocol that only send coherence lookups to the actual sharers. Scalable commercial protocols, such as AMD HyperTransport [49], that use limited-directories that occasionally broadcast would show even more benefits with VESPA.

V Related Work

The challenges of VIPT caches have been an area of active study for several years. Prior work has proposed VIVT caches [11, 6, 7, 50, 5] as an alternative, obviating the need for TLB lookup before L1 cache access. While VIVT caches are attractive because they decouple the TLB and L1 cache, they remain hard to implement because of the challenges of maintaining virtual page synonyms, the difficulties of correctly managing multiple processes and their context switches, and their interactions with standard cache coherence protocols which operate on physical addresses. While recent work does present interesting and effective solutions to the problems of synonyms [7, 5] and cache coherence [50], they require non-trivial modifications to L1 cache and datapath design. At the same time, work on opportunistic virtual caching [8] proposes an L1 cache design that caches some lines with virtual addresses, and others (belonging to synonym virtual pages) as physical addresses. And finally, as an alternative to hardware enhancements, past work has proposed modifying OS page allocation techniques to prevent synonym problems on virtually-addressed caches [51].

Unlike prior work, we minimally modify the L1 cache to increase the flexibility of VIPT, not replace it entirely. As a result, unlike prior work, we do not require sophisticated prediction logic, significant changes to coherence protocols, or changes to the OS or applications stack. We exploit already-existing OS optimizations (i.e., superpages) and repurpose them to attack the difficulties of traditional VIPT.

Vi Conclusion

L1 caches are critical for system performance as they service every cacheable memory access from the CPU and coherence lookups from the underlying memory hierarchy. Their design involves a delicate balance between fast lookups, low access energy, high hit rates, and simplicity of implementation. In this work, we identify the opportunity presented by superpages in virtual memory systems today, to optimize current VIPT L1 caches. Our design, VESPA, provides performance improvements, and energy (dynamic + leakage) reduction for all L1 lookups - both CPU initiated and coherence initiated. We add modest hardware changes, and no changes to the page table or the OS. We believe that VESPA will become even more crucial in future as L1 cache sizes increase to handle larger working sets of big data applications. To the best of our knowledge, this is the first work to optimize L1 caches for superpages.


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