A Memory Bandwidth-Efficient Hybrid Radix Sort on GPUs

Elias Stehle, Hans-Arno Jacobsen
Technical University of Munich (TUM), Boltzmannstr. 3, 85748 Garching, Germany
arXiv:1611.01137 [cs.DB], (3 Nov 2016)


   title={A Memory Bandwidth-Efficient Hybrid Radix Sort on GPUs},

   author={Stehle, Elias and Jacobsen, Hans-Arno},






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Sorting is at the core of many database operations, such as index creation, sort-merge joins and user-requested output sorting. As GPUs are emerging as a promising platform to accelerate various operations, sorting on GPUs becomes a viable endeavour. Over the past few years, several improvements have been proposed for sorting on GPUs, leading to the first radix sort implementations that achieve a sorting rate of over one billion 32-bit keys per second. Yet, state-of-the-art approaches are heavily memory bandwidth-bound, as they require substantially more memory transfers than their CPU-based counterparts. Our work proposes a novel approach that almost halves the amount of memory transfers and, therefore, considerably lifts the memory bandwidth limitation. Being able to sort two gigabytes of eight byte records in as little as 50 milliseconds, our approach achieves a 2.32-fold improvement over the state-of-the-art GPU-based radix sort for uniform distributions, sustaining a minimum speed-up of no less than a factor of 1.66 for skewed distributions. To address inputs that either do not reside on the GPU or exceed the available device memory, we build on our efficient GPU sorting approach with a pipelined heterogeneous sorting algorithm that mitigates the overhead associated with PCIe data transfers. Comparing the end-to-end sorting performance to the state-of-the-art CPU-based radix sort running 16 threads, our heterogeneous approach achieves a 2.06-fold and a 1.53-fold improvement for sorting 64 GB key-value pairs with a skewed and a uniform distribution, respectively.
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