The content of this blog is my personal opinion only. Although I am an employee - currently of Imagination Technologies's MIPS group, in the past of other companies such as Intellectual Ventures, Intel, AMD, Motorola, and Gould - I reveal this only so that the reader may account for any possible bias I may have towards my employer's products. The statements I make here in no way represent my employer's position, nor am I authorized to speak on behalf of my employer. In fact, this posting may not even represent my personal opinion, since occasionally I play devil's advocate.

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Monday, April 18, 2011

Potential customers for tagged memory


There are many potential customers for [[tagged memory]] or [[memory metadata]].
I have long maintained a list (or, rather, lists, since I have had to recreate these lists on 3 occasions)
of uses for tagged memory.
Here is a list that is by no means complete (previous versions of this list have exceeded 20 items).

Which should be allocated the tags?
Obviously, my favorite idea...

Glew opinion: tagged memory should be microarchitecture, not macroarchitecture. If there are physical tags, it is a good idea to be able to use them to speed things up. But there should always be a fallback proposal that does not depend on having main memory tags. See Milo Martin's Hardbound for an example of how to have metadata in memory, without tags.

* Tagged memory to identify data types - integer, floating point ...
:* Problem: there is an infinite number of types ...
:* 1..n bits. Per qword? Maybe per byte?
* Tagged memory to aid in [[garbage collection]]. [[Read and write barriers]].
:* 1 bit (or more) per minimum allocation unit, 1-4 words
* Tagged memory to aid security, e.g. to create [[non-forgeable pointers]] as in the IBM AS400
:* This may well be my favorite use of only a single bit of tagged memory.
:* 1 bit per pointer - 64 or 128 bits
* Tagged memory for [[taint or poison propagation]], as in [[DIFT (Dynamic Information Flow Tracking)]]. E.g. Raksha.
:* 1 bit per ... word? byte?
:* Raksha uses multiple bits
* Tagged memory for [[transactional memory]] support
:* 1 bit per ... many TM systems use cache line granularity, although smaller better
* Tagged memory for [[debugging]]
:* 1 bit per ... can deal with coarse granularity, e.g. by trapping, determining not interested, and going on.
* Tagged memory for [[performance monitoring]] - e.g. to mark all memory accessed in a time interval.
:* 1 bit per cache line
* Tagged memory for [[uninitialized memory]]
:* 1 bit per ... byte? word?
* Tagged emory for [[synchronization]] of parallel programs. E.g. [[full/empty bits]].
* Fine grain [[copy-on-write]] data structures
** [[Myrias style parallelism]]
:* 1 bit per ... byte? word? ...

Heck, I suppose that conventional width oriented ECC can be considered a form of tagged memory. And although ECC is common, at least at the time of writing it is not in 99% of all PCs. It causes problems enough to warrant the invention of [[Poor Man's ECC]], a non-width oriented implementation of ECC that avoids physical tagged memory.

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