Some means of 64-bit Windows application performance improvements are considered in the article.
People often have questions concerning 64-bit solution performance and means to improving it. Some questionable points are considered in this article, and then some recommendations concerning program code optimizations are given.
The result of porting to 64-bit systems
In a 64-bit environment, old 32-bit applications run owing to the Wow64 subsystem. This subsystem emulates a 32-bit environment by means of an additional layer between the 32-bit application and the 64-bit Windows API. In some localities, this layer is thin, in others it's thicker. For an average program, the productivity loss caused by this layer is about 2%. For some programs, this value may be larger. 2% is certainly not much, but still, we have to take into account the fact that 32-bit applications function a bit slower under a 64-bit Operating System than under a 32-bit one.
Compiling a 64-bit code not only eliminates Wow64, but also increases performance. It's related to architectural alterations in microprocessors, such as the increase in the number of general-purpose registers. For an average program, the expected performance growth caused by an ordinary compilation is 5-15%. But in this case, everything depends upon the application and data types. For instance, the Adobe company claims that the new 64-bit "Photoshop CS4" is 12% faster than its 32-bit version.
Some programs dealing with large data arrays may greatly increase their performance when expanding address space. The ability to store all the necessary data in the random access memory eliminates slow operations of data swapping. In this case, performance increase can be measured in times, not in percent rate.
Here, we will consider the following example: Alfa Bank integrates an Itanium 2-based platform into its IT infrastructure. The bank's investment growth resulted in the fact that the existing system became unable to cope with the increasing workload: users' service delays attained its deadline. Case analysis showed up that the system's bottleneck is not the processors' performance but the limitation of the 32-bit architecture in a memory subsystem part that does not allow efficiently using more than 4 GB of the server's addressing space. The database itself was larger than 9 GB. Its intensive usage resulted in the critical workload of the input-output subsystem. Alfa Bank decides to purchase a cluster consisting of two four-processor Itanium2-based servers with 12GB of random access memory. This decision allows to ensure the necessary level of system performance and fault-tolerance. As explained by company representatives, the implementation of Itanium2-based servers allows to terminate problems to cut costs.
Program code optimization
We can consider optimization at three levels: microprocessor instructions optimization, code optimization on the level of high-level languages, and algorithmic optimization (which takes into account the peculiarities of the 64-bit systems). The first one is available when we use such development tools as assemblers, and is too specific to be of any interest for a wide audience. For those who are interested in the theme, I recommend "Software Optimization Guide for AMD64 Processors" - an AMD guide for application optimization for a 64-bit architecture. Algorithmic optimization is unique for every task, and its consideration is beyond this article.
From the point of view of high-level languages such as C++, 64-bit architecture optimization depends on the choice of optimal data types. Using homogeneous 64-bit data types allows the optimizing compiler to construct a simpler and more efficient code, as there's no need to convert 32-bit and 64-bit data so often. Primarily, this can be referred to variables which are used as loop counters, array indexes, and for variables storing different sizes. Traditionally, we use such types as int, unsigned, and long to represent the above-listed types. With 64-bit Windows systems which use the LLP64 data model, these types remain 32-bit ones. In a number of cases, this results in less efficient code construction, for there are some additional conversions. For instance, if you need to figure out the address of an element in an array with a 64-bit code, first, you must turn the 32-bit index into a 64-bit one.
The use of such types as
size_t is more effective, as they possess optimal size for representing indexes and counters. For 32-bit systems, they are scaled as 32-bit; for 64-bit systems as 64-bit (see table 1).
Table 1. Data type dimension of 32-bit and 64-bit versions of the Windows Operation System.
size_t and derivative types allows to optimize program code up to 30%. Additional advantage here is a more reliable code. Using 64-bit variables as indexes permits to avoid overflows when we deal with large arrays having several billions of elements.
Data type alteration is not an easy task, far less if the alteration is really necessary.
Memory usage decrease
After a program is compiled in a 64-bit regime, it starts consuming more memory than its 32-bit variant used to do. Often, this increase is almost imperceptible, but sometimes memory consumption might even double. This coheres with the following reasons:
- Increasing memory allocation size for certain objects storage, for instance, pointers;
- Alteration of regulations of data alignment in structures;
- Stack memory consumption increase.
We can often put up with RAM memory consumption increase. The advantage of 64-bit systems is exactly that the amount of this memory is rather large. There's nothing bad in the fact that with a 32-bit system having 2 GB of memory a program took 300 MB, but with a 64-bit system having 8 GB of memory this program takes 400 MB. In relative units, we see that with a 64-bit system, this program takes three times less available physical memory. There is no sense trying to fight this memory consumption growth. It's easier to add some memory.
But, the increase of consumed memory has one disadvantage. This increase causes loss of performance. Though a 64-bit program code functions faster, extracting large amounts of data out of memory cancels all the advantages, and even decreases performance. Data transfer between the memory and the microprocessor (cache) is not a cheap operation.
Let us assume that we have a program which processes a large amount of text data (up to 400 MB). It creates an array of pointers, each indicating a succeeding word in the processed text. Let the average word length be 5 symbols. Then, the program will require about 80 million pointers. So, a 32-bit variant of the program will require 400 MB + (80 MB * 4) = 720 MB memory. As for a 64-bit version of the program, it will require 400 MB + (80 MB * 8) = 1040 MB memory. This is a considerable increase which may adversely affect the program performance. And, if there's no need to process gigabyte-sized texts, the chosen data structure will be useless. The use of unsigned- type indexes instead of pointers may be viewed as a simple and effective solution to the problem. In this case, the size of consumed memory again is 720 MB.
We can waste considerable amount of memory altering regulations of data alignment. Let us consider an example:
Structure size in a 32-bit program is 12 bytes, and in a 64-bit one is 24 bytes, which is not thrifty. But, we can improve this situation by altering the sequence of elements in the following way:
MyStruct2 structure size still equals to 12 bytes in a 32-bit program, and in a 64-bit program, it is only 16 bytes. Therewith, from the point of view of data access efficiency, the
MyStruct2 structures are equivalent. Picture 1 is a visual representation of the structure elements distribution in memory.
It's not easy to give clear instructions concerning the order of elements in structures. But, the common recommendation is the following: the objects should be distributed in descending order of their size.
The last point is the stack memory consumption growth. Storing large return addresses and data alignment increases the size. Optimizing them makes no sense. A sensible developer would never create megabyte-sized objects in stack. If you are porting a 32-bit program to a 64-bit system, don't forget to alter the size of the stack in the project settings. For instance, you can double it. By default, a 32-bit application as well as 64-bit ones are assigned a 2 MB stack. It may turn out to be insufficient, and securing makes sense.