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Re: Intel and TOE in the news

To: rick jones <rick.jones2@xxxxxx>
Subject: Re: Intel and TOE in the news
From: Andi Kleen <ak@xxxxxx>
Date: Sun, 20 Feb 2005 22:29:45 +0100
Cc: netdev@xxxxxxxxxxx
In-reply-to: <91f1bcca156f343c17918ce67ef23666@xxxxxx> (rick jones's message of "Sun, 20 Feb 2005 11:45:02 -0800")
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rick jones <rick.jones2@xxxxxx> writes:

>> <speculating freely>
>>
>> It would be nice if the NIC could asynchronously trigger prefetches in
>> the CPU. Currently a lot of the packet processing cost goes
>> to waiting for read cache misses.
>>
>> E.g.
>>
>> - NIC receives packet.
>> - Tells target CPU to prefetch RX descriptor and headers.
>> - CPU later looks at them and doesn't have to wait a for a cache miss.
>>
>> Drawback is that you would need to tell the NIC in advance
>> on which CPU you want to process the packet, but with Linux
>> IRQ affinity that's easy to figure out.
>
> With all the interrupt avoidance that is going-on these days, would
> prefetching in the driver be sufficient?  Presumably the driver is
> going to be processing multiple packets at a time on an interrupt/etc
> so having it issue prefetches in SW would seem to help with all but
> the very first packet.

Yes, we came up with this idea some years ago too ;-). It was even
tried in some simple variants, but didn't work very well:

- The time between finding out you have a packet and it being processed
is often too short to make it worthwhile. That gets worse with NAPI 
under high load.
- You have to fetch the RX descriptor anyways to find out where
the packet memory is to prefetch the header, and that is a cache
miss too.
(presumably you could keep a second sw only cache hot table that allows
to figure this out faster, that hasn't been tried so far) 
- It really requires a NIC that tells you in the RX descriptor
if a packet is IP (some do, but other popular ones don't). 
Otherwise the network driver has to eat an early cache miss
anyways to read the 802.x protocol ID for passing the packet up
the network stack.
(one possible fix for that would be to shift the protocol parsing
to later to avoid this, but that would be an incompatible change in 
the driver interface) 

I guess with more intrusive changes Linux could do this better.
e.g. if you have the cache hot secondary table and a really cheap
way to find out from the NIC on a interrupt how many packets
it accepted you could aggressive prefetching and do the protocol
lookup later with a callback to the driver. But this has a problems too:

- Even on modern CPUs you cannot do too many prefetches in parallel
because you're overwhelming the load store units. At some points
new prefetches just get ignored. On older CPUs this problem is even worse.

Jamal and Robert did some experiments with routing on this and they
ran also into this.

If the NIC initiated the transfers the bandwidth of the CPU would be
much more evenly used because the transfers are spaced out in time
as the packets arrive. Software prefetch will be always bursty.

However I agree that probably some smaller software only improvements
could be still done in this area on Linux.

-Andi

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