Internal Organization of the Alpha 21164, a 300-MHz 64-bit Quad-issue CMOS RISC Microprocessor


A new CMOS microprocessor, the Alpha 21164, reaches 1,200 mips/600 MFLOPS (peak performance). This new implementation of the Alpha architecture achieves SPECint92/SPECfp92 performance of 345/505 (estimated). At these performance levels, the Alpha 21164 has delivered the highest performance of any commercially available microprocessor in the world as of January 1995. It contains a quad-issue, superscalar instruction unit; two 64-bit integer execution pipelines; two 64-bit floating-point execution pipelines; and a high-performance memory subsystem with multiprocessor-coherent write-back caches. OVERVIEW OF THE ALPHA 21164 The Alpha 21164 microprocessor is now a product of Digital Semiconductor. The chip is the second completely new microprocessor to implement the Alpha instruction set architecture. It was designed in Digital's 0.5-micrometer (um) complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) process. First silicon was powered on in February 1994; the part has been commercially available since January 1995. At SPECint92/SPECfp92 ratings of 345/505 (estimated), the Alpha 21164 achieved new heights of performance. The performance of this new implementation results from aggressive circuit design using the latest 0.5-um CMOS technology and significant architectural improvements over the first Alpha implementation.[1] The chip is designed to operate at 300 MHz, an operating frequency 10 percent faster than the previous implementation (the DECchip 21064 chip) would have if it were scaled into the new 0.5-um CMOS technology.[2] Relative to the previous implementation, the key improvements in machine organization are a doubling of the superscalar dimension to four-way superscalar instruction issue; reduction of many operational latencies, including the latency in the primary data cache; a memory subsystem that does not block other operations after a cache miss; and a large, on-chip, second-level, write-back cache. The 21164 microprocessor implements the Alpha instruction set architecture. It runs existing Alpha programs without modification. It supports a 43-bit virtual address and a 40-bit physical address. The page size is 8 kilobytes (KB). In the following sections, we describe the five functional units of the Alpha 21164 microprocessor and relate some of the design decisions that improved the performance of the microprocessor. First, we give an overview of the chip's internal organization and pipeline layout. Internal Organization Figure 1 shows a block diagram of the chip's five functional units: the instruction unit, the integer function unit, the floating-point unit, the memory unit, and the cache control and bus interface unit (called the C-box). The three on-chip caches are also shown. The instruction cache and data cache are primary, direct-mapped caches. They are backed by the second-level cache, which is a set-associative cache that holds instructions and data. [Figure 1 (Five Functional Units on the Alpha 21164 Microprocessor) is not available in ASCII format.] Alpha 21164 Pipeline The Alpha 21164 pipeline length is 7 stages for integer execution, 9 stages for floating-point execution, and as many as 12 stages for on-chip memory instruction execution. Additional stages are required for off-chip memory instruction execution. Figure 2 depicts the pipeline for integer, floating-point, and memory operations. [Figure 2 (Alpha 21164 Pipeline Stages) is not available in ASCII format.]

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@article{Edmondson1995InternalOO, title={Internal Organization of the Alpha 21164, a 300-MHz 64-bit Quad-issue CMOS RISC Microprocessor}, author={John H. Edmondson and Paul I. Rubinfeld and Peter J. Bannon and Bradley J. Benschneider and Debra Bernstein and Ruben W. Castelino and Elizabeth M. Cooper and Daniel E. Dever and Dale R. Donchin and Timothy C. Fischer and Anil K. Jain and Shekhar Mehta and Jeanne E. Meyer and Ronald P. Preston and Vidya Rajagopalan and Chandrasekhara Somanathan and Scott A. Taylor and Gilbert M. Wolrich}, journal={Digital Technical Journal}, year={1995}, volume={7} }