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Octopiler to Ease Use of Cell Processor 423

Sean0michael writes "Ars Technica is running a piece about The Octopiler from IBM. The Octopiler is supposed to be compiler designed to handle the Cell processor (the one inside Sony's PS3). From the article: 'Cell's greatest strength is that there's a lot of hardware on that chip. And Cell's greatest weakness is that there's a lot of hardware on that chip. So Cell has immense performance potential, but if you want to make it programable by mere mortals then you need a compiler that can ingest code written in a high-level language and produce optimized binaries that fit not just a programming model or a microarchitecture, but an entire multiprocessor system.' The article also has several links to some technical information released by IBM."
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Octopiler to Ease Use of Cell Processor

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  • Makes you wonder (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Egregius ( 842820 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @04:50PM (#14805050)
    It makes you wonder what the release-titles of the PS3 will be like, if they didn't have a decent compiler untill now. And 'the PS3 is due out in 2006.'
  • Hello, Itanium... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by general_re ( 8883 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @04:50PM (#14805052) Homepage
    Sound familiar? "All we need to make it work as advertised is a really slick compiler that doesn't actually exist yet..."
  • by mosel-saar-ruwer ( 732341 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @04:53PM (#14805064)

    'Cell's greatest strength is that there's a lot of hardware on that chip. And Cell's greatest weakness is that there's a lot of hardware on that chip.

    Sadly, there's almost no FPU hardware to speak of: 32-bit single precision floats in hardware; 64-bit double precision floats are [somehow?] implemented in software and bring the chip to its knees [wikipedia.org].

    Why can't someone invent a chip for math geeks? With 128-bit hardware doubles? Are we really that tiny a proportion of the world's population?

  • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @05:03PM (#14805106) Journal
    I seem to remember that the PS2 was a bitch to code for as well and that many of the early titles did not make full use of its capabilities. So?

    All this meant that as the PS2 aged it could 'keep up' because the coders kept getting better and better.

    Mere mortals do not write the latest graphics engines. I think there are a lot more tier1 people running around then /. seems to think. They are just to busy to comment here.

    All that really matters is wether the launch titles will be 'good' enough. Then the full power of the system can be unleashed over its lifespan.

    If your a game company and your faced with the choice of either making just another engine OR spending some money on the kind of people that code for super computers and get an engine that will blow the competition out of the water then it will be a simple choice.

    Just because some guy on website finds it hard doesn't mean nobody can do it.

  • by Ceriel Nosforit ( 682174 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @05:03PM (#14805107)
    Sound familiar? "All we need to make it work as advertised is a really slick compiler that doesn't actually exist yet..."

    From TFA:
    "I say "intended to become," because judging from the paper the guys at IBM are still in the early stages of taming this many-headed beast. This is by no means meant to disparage all the IBM researchers who have done yeoman's work in their practically single-handed attempts to move the entire field of computer science forward by a quantum leap. No, the Octopiler paper is full of innovative ideas to be fleshed out at a further date, results that are "promising," avenues to be explored, and overarching approaches that seem likely to bear fruit eventually."

    Too early to say for sure, of course, but I'd rather take this guy's word for it than study the papers myself. - Would I invest/bet money on it? Yes, I would.
  • compilers ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dioscaido ( 541037 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @05:07PM (#14805126)
    ... can get you only so far. You need to have parallelism in mind when you write the high-level code, otherwise it may end up with needless dependence on serial execution that a compiler may not be able to break, reducing the benefits of such an architecture. It will be interesting to see how well games are suited for concurrent execution. Logically there are lots of computations that can be performed independently (AI, physics) but all of it has inherent interaction with a central data source (the game world).
  • Far too complex? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by hptux06 ( 879970 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @05:17PM (#14805159)
    Cells big programming problem goes right down to each SPE: The assembler commands for which cannot actually address main memory! Every time information is read into / out of the 256K "local storage" on each SPE, a dma command must be issued. Now, while this is Cell's greatest asset (Execution continues while seriously slow memory movement occurs), it is also difficult to work with.

    Your average C programmer doesn't take architecture into account, and so there's no user indication of whether a variable can be paged to maim memory, if code needs to be fetched, and crucially: how far in advance data can be pre-loaded into the local storage, to avoid the SPE hanging on a memory operation.

    I'd guess that this new compiler will try to address these issues, which is suggested by the article.
  • by stedo ( 855834 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @05:18PM (#14805164) Homepage
    The basic purpose of the Cell is to make the PS3 work. The basic purpose of the PS3 is to play games. Games, as a rule, don't give a damn about 64-bit floating point. Games can get away with 32-bit because they don't need to be incredibly accurate, they just need to be fast. No gamer will care whether or not the trajectory of the bullet was out by 0.000000000023~ as long as it moves fluidly. So, in making a chip for gaming, you are far better off making 32-bit really fast than spending time and die space on perfecting useless 64-bit.
  • by timeOday ( 582209 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @05:23PM (#14805181)
    Everybody prefers a simpler programming model, there's no doubt about that. But with the recent lack of progress in unicore speeds, something has to give, and apparently that "something" is programming complexity. While the PC world moves from 1 to 2 cores, the PS3 is jumping straight to 8. But going from 1 to 2 threads is a bigger conceptual jump than from 2 to 8 anyways.

    Fortunately for IBM and Sony, games are one place where hand-optimizing certain algorithms is still practical. I doubt they will place all their eggs in the octopiler basket. I can't imagine a compiler will find that much paralellism in code that isn't explicitly written to be parallel. Personally, I think they should instead focus on explicitly parallel libraries for common game algorithms like collision detection.

  • by stedo ( 855834 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @05:27PM (#14805201) Homepage
    Your average C programmer will not be developing the core code. Most likely, a group of very good coders will create a game engine, and the average C programmers can use the API that the highly-skilled, highly-paid engine coders created to hide unnecessary implementation details.
  • by irexe ( 567524 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @05:32PM (#14805213)
    Hypothesis: A compiler can be developed that takes serially written programs and auto-transforms them into parallel programs to exploit the benefits of parallelism.

    Parallel programming and automated parallelization have already been researched exhaustively throughout the last thirty years of the 20th century. The outcome of all this research is that it is not feasible/tractable to create a compiler that is capable of recongising parallelism, as you suggest. Compilers that can do this are sometimes called 'heroic' compilers, for the reason that the required transformations are so incredibly difficult, and heroic compilers that actually work (well) simply don't exist.

  • by idlake ( 850372 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @05:36PM (#14805229)
    If a CPU needs a special compiler in order to give good performance, it's basically dead; there are simply too many different applications that do binary code generation.

    Also, the division into "expert programmer" and "regular programmer" is silly. Most coding is done by people who aren't experts in the cell architecture (or any other architecture). That's not because people are too stupid to do this sort of thing, it's because it's not worth the investment.

    If Cell can't deliver top-notch performance with a simple compiler back-end and regular programmers who know how to write decent imperative code, then Cell is going to lose. Hardware designers really need to get over the notion that they can push off all the hard stuff into software. People want hardware that works reliably, predictably,and with a minimum of software complexity.

    Maybe CISC wasn't such a bad idea after all--you may get less bang for the buck, but at least you get a predictable bang for the buck.
  • by theJML ( 911853 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @06:33PM (#14805458) Homepage
    As a programmer, there's only so much that can be done in software. Sure you can parallize things, and you can come up with newer/faster algorthms, but if we didn't get dual proc systems, that would have been pointless. So with parallel procs, we get better parallel code. Hardware advances will create software advances, and new algorthms will direct hardware futures. This is the way the world works, and I think it's worked out fairly well so far. Lets see what the Cell and processors after it can do!
  • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @06:52PM (#14805528) Journal
    If a CPU needs a special compiler in order to give good performance, it's basically dead

    Pretty much all modern CPUs need special compilers to give good performance. Unless you can keep track of the number of pipeline stages, the degree of superscalar architecture, etc. you will get sub-optimal code. The P4, for example, can have 140 instructions in-flight at once. Can you keep track of your code over a 140 instruction window and make sure there are no hazards? If not, then you're probably better off using a 'special' compiler.

    The days when a compiler could just turn each statement into a fixed instruction sequence are long gone.

    Maybe CISC wasn't such a bad idea after all--you may get less bang for the buck, but at least you get a predictable bang for the buck.

    No, actually, you don't. One of the key features of RISC was that instructions took the same time to execute. On a CISC architecture, instruction timings are far from constant. Some instructions (have you looked at the x86 instruction set? It even has string manipulation instructions) can take several times longer to execute than others, which makes generating code very difficult. For example, you might know that it takes n instructions for a load to complete if accessing from memory and m if accessing from cache. How many instructions is that? That's much, much easier to work out on RISC. To prevent pipeline stalls, you need to make sure that you have a minimum of m instructions (and ideally m) between your load and your first operation that depends on the that data. Try doing that with a fixed-timing instruction set (RISC), and then with a variable-timing instruction set (CISC), and see which is easier.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 26, 2006 @07:09PM (#14805593)
    Fortunately for IBM and Sony, games are one place where hand-optimizing certain algorithms is still practical

    That's the key right there. Cell will only run brand-new software, while Itanium is expected to run a bunch of 30 year old C code originally written for the VAX.
  • by DichotomicAnalogist ( 955934 ) on Sunday February 26, 2006 @08:00PM (#14805752) Homepage Journal
    C still has a niche, can't realy change that.
    C definitely has a niche. I, for one, vote to let C return to it.
    Large parts of the kernel, if not the whole kernel, fall into that niche. I'm less convinced about the network stack. Compilers fall quite far away from it. Graph-based or continuous path-finding, artificial intelligence, concurrent programming, interpreters, webservers, webbrowsers, VoIP applications... all that is getting further and further away from that niche.
    But, please, whatever you do, everyone, stop considering C as a general-purpose language. It has been. It is not anymore. It wastes too many precious hours of everyone's life. Which could be better spent trolling on /.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 26, 2006 @08:53PM (#14805859)
    The age of the paper doesn't matter. The OP was pointing out what a huge difference just 16 bits of precision makes. The fact that you no longer have to deal with this problem in Java doesn't invalidate the point he was trying to make.

    It's like somebody asking why the move from eight bit colour to sixteen bit, and me linking to a 16 bit image versus an 8 bit rendition of that same image. Sure, it isn't all that relevant nowadays, but it still helps to explain the problem.

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