Architectural Support for Virtual Memory in GPUs

Bharath Subramanian Pichai
Rutgers University, Graduate School – New Brunswick
Rutgers University, 2013


   title={Architectural support for virtual memory in GPUs},

   author={Pichai, Bharath},


   school={Rutgers University-Graduate School-New Brunswick}


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The proliferation of heterogeneous compute platforms, of which CPU/GPU is a prevalent example, necessitates a manageable programming model to ensure widespread adoption. A key component of this is a shared unified address space between the heterogeneous units to obtain the programmability benefits of virtual memory. Indeed, processor vendors have already begun embracing heterogeneous systems with unified address spaces (e.g., Intel’s Haswell, AMD’s Berlin processor, and ARM’s Mali and Cortex cores). We are the first to explore GPU Translation Lookaside Buffers (TLBs) and page table walkers for address translation in the context of shared virtual memory for heterogeneous systems. To exploit the programmability benefits of shared virtual memory, it is natural to consider mirroring CPUs and placing TLBs prior (or parallel) to cache accesses, making caches physically addressed. We show the performance challenges of such an approach and propose modest hardware augmentations to recover much of this lost performance. We then consider the impact of this approach on the design of general purpose GPU performance improvement schemes. We look at: (1) warp scheduling to increase cache hit rates; and (2) dynamic warp formation to mitigate control flow divergence overheads. We show that introducing cache-parallel address translation does pose challenges, but that modest optimizations can buy back much of this lost performance. In the CPU world, the programmability benefits of address translation and physically addressed caches have outweighed their performance overheads. This paper is the first to explore similar address translation mechanisms on GPUs. We find that while cache-parallel address translation does introduce non-trivial performance overheads, modestly TLB-aware designs can move performance losses into a range deemed acceptable in the CPU world. We presume this stake-in-the-ground design leaves room for improvement but hope the larger result, that a little TLB-awareness goes a long way in GPUs, sets the stage for future work in this fruitful area.
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