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Performance WTF

by Leandro Lucarella on 2010- 07- 14 03:47 (updated on 2010- 07- 25 03:11)
tagged d, dgc, en, gc, make, memory layout, performance, voronoi, wtf - with 0 comment(s)

How do I start describing this problem? Let's try to do it in chronological order...


I've collected a bunch of little programs to use as a benchmark suite for the garbage collector for my thesis. I was running only a few manually each time I've made a change to the GC to see how things were going (I didn't want to make changes that degrade the performance). A little tired of this (and missing the point of having several tests using just a few), I've decided to build a Makefile to compile the programs, run the tests and generate some graphs with the timings to compare the performance against the current D GC (Tango really).

The Problem

When done, I noticed a particular test that was notably slower in my implementation (it went from ~3 seconds to ~5 seconds). Here is the result (see the voronoi test, if you can read the labels, there is some overlapping because my effort to improve the graph was truncated by this issue :).

But I didn't recall it being that way when running the test manually. So I ran the test manually again, and it took ~3 seconds, not ~5. So I started to dig where the difference came from. You'll be surprised by my findings, the difference came from executing the tests inside the Makefile!

Yes, take a look at this (please note that I've removed all output from the voronoi program, the only change I've made):

$ /usr/bin/time -f%e ./voronoi -n 30000
$ echo 'all:' > Makefile
$ echo -e '\t$C' >> Makefile
$ make C="/usr/bin/time -f%e ./voronoi -n 30000"
/usr/bin/time -f%e ./voronoi -n 30000

This is not just one isolated run, I've tried hundreds of runs and the results are reproducible and stable.

Further Investigation

I don't remember exactly how I started, but early enough, noticing that the Tango's basic GC didn't suffered from that problem, and being my GC based on that one, I bisected my repository to see what was introducing such behaviour. The offending patch was removing the difference between committed and uncommitted pages in pools. I can see that this patch could do more harm than good now (I didn't tried the benchmark when I did that change I think), because more pages are looped when working with pools, but I can't see how this would affect only the program when it's executed by Make!!!

I had a patch that made thing really nasty but not a clue why they were nasty. I've tried everything. First, the obvious: use nice and ionice (just in case) to see if I was just being unlucky with the system load (very unlikely since I did hundreds of runs in different moments, but still). No change.

I've tried running it on another box. Mine is a Quad-Core, so I've tried the Dual-Core from work and I had the same problem, only the timing difference were a little smaller (about ~4.4 seconds), so I thought it might be something to do to with the multi-cores, so I've tried it in a single core, but the problem was the same (~10.5 seconds inside make, ~7 outside). I've tried with taskset in the multi-core boxes too. I've tried putting all the CPUs with the performance governor using cpufreq-set too, but didn't help.

Since I'm using DMD, which works only in 32 bits for now, and since my box, and the box at work are both 64 bits, I suspected from that too, but the old AMD is 32 bits and I see the problem there too.

I've tried valgrind + callgrind + kcachegrind but it seems like valgrind emulation is not affected by whatever difference is when the program is ran inside make because the results for the run inside and outside make were almost identical.

I've tried env -i, just in case some weird environment variable was making the difference, but nothing.

I've tried strace too, to see if I spotted anything weird, and I saw a couple of weird things (like the addresses returned by mmap being suspiciously very different), but nothing too concrete (but I think inspecting the strace results more thoughtfully might be one of the most fertile paths to follow). I took a look at the timings of the syscalls and there was nothing taking too much time, most of the time is spent in the programs calculations.

So I'm really lost here. I still have no idea where the difference could come from, and I guess I'll have to run the tests from a separate shell script instead of directly inside make because of this. I'll ask to the make developers about this, my only guess is that maybe make is doing some trickery with the scheduler of something like that for the -j option. And I'll take a look to the offending patch too, to see if the performance was really degraded and maybe I'll revert it if it does, no matter what happen with this issue.

If you have any ideas on what could be going on, anything, please let me know (in a comment of via e-mail). Thanks :)


I've posted this to the Make mailing list, but unfortunately didn't got any useful answer. Thanks anyway to all the people that replied with nice suggestions!


Thanks Alb for the investigation, that was a 1/4kg of ice-cream well earned =P

A couple of notes about his findings. An easy way to trigger this behaviour is using the command setarch, the option -L changes the memory layout to ADDR_COMPAT_LAYOUT, see the commit that introduced the new layout for more details.

The call to setrlimit(RLIMIT_STACK,  RLIM_INFINITY) by Make (which has a reason) triggers that behaviour too because the new layout can't have an unlimited stack, so using ulimit (ulimit -s unlimited) causes the same behaviour.

The same way, if you type ulimit -s 8192 ./voronoi as a command in a Makefile, the effect is reverted and the command behaves as outside the Makefile.

Part of the mystery is solved, but a question remains: why the test is so address-space-layout dependant? It smells like a GC bug (present in the basic GC too, as other tests I've done show the same odd behaviour, less visibly, but still, probably because of the removal of the distinction between committed and uncommitted memory patch).


Last update, I promise! =)

I think I know what is adding the extra variance when the memory layout is randomized: false pointers.

Since the GC is conservative, data is usually misinterpreted as pointers. It seems that are address spaces that makes much more likely that simple data is misinterpreted as a valid pointer, at least for the voronoi test. This is consistent with other tests. Tests with random data notably increases their variance among runs and are pretty stable when the memory layout is not randomized.

I'll try to give the patch to integrate precise heap scanning a try, and see if it improves things.

What remains a mystery is what happened with the committed memory distinction, now I can't reproduce the results. I made so many measures and changes, that maybe I just got lost in a bad measure (for example, with the CPU using the ondemand governor). I've tried again the tests with and without that change and the results are pretty the same (a little better for the case with the distinction, but a really tiny difference indeed).

Well, that's all for now, I'll give this post a rest =)


Don't believe me, ever! =P

I just wanted to say that's is confirmed, the high variance in the timings when heap randomization is used is because of false pointers. See this comment for more details.