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“When I looked closely as this, I realized that the two cycles for the final ADD is just the sum of 1 cycle to load the data from memory, and 1 cycle to add it to DX, so the code could just as well have been written as shown in Listing 13.3. The final breakthrough came when I realized that by initializing AX to zero outside the loop, I could rearrange it as shown in Listing 13.4 and do the final ADD DX,AX after the loop. This way there are two single-cycle instructions between the first and the fourth line, avoiding all pipeline stalls, for a total throughput of two cycles/char.”

LISTING 13.3 L13-3.ASM

mov bl,[di]         ;get the state value for the pair
mov di,[bp+OFFS]    ;get the next pair of characters
mov ax,[bx+8000h]   ;increment word and line count
add dx,ax           ; appropriately for the pair

LISTING 13.4 L13-4.ASM

mov bl,[di]         ;get the state value for the pair
mov di,[bp+OFFS]    ;get the next pair of characters
add dx,ax           ;increment word and line count
                    ; appropriately for the pair
mov ax,[bx+8000h]   ;get increments for next time

I’d like to point out two fairly remarkable things. First, the single cycle that Terje saved in Listing 13.4 sped up his entire word-counting engine by 25 percent or more; Listing 13.4 is fully twice as fast as Listing 13.1—all the result of nothing more than shifting an instruction and splitting another into two operations. Second, Terje’s word-counting engine can process more than 16 million characters per second on a 486/33.

Clever 486 optimization can pay off big. QED.

BSWAP: More Useful Than You Might Think

There are only 3 non-system instructions unique to the 486. None is earthshaking, but they have their uses. Consider BSWAP. BSWAP does just what its name implies, swapping the bytes (not bits) of a 32-bit register from one end of the register to the other, as shown in Figure 13.2. (BSWAP can only work with 32-bit registers; memory locations and 16-bit registers are not valid operands.) The obvious use of BSWAP is to convert data from Intel format (least significant byte first in memory, also called little endian) to Motorola format (most significant byte first in memory, or big endian), like so:


BSWAP can also be useful for reversing the order of pixel bits from a bitmap so that they can be rotated 32 bits at a time with an instruction such as ROR EAX,1. Intel’s byte ordering for multiword values (least-significant byte first) loads pixels in the wrong order, so far as word rotation is concerned, but BSWAP can take care of that.

Figure 13.2
  BSWAP in operation.

As it turns out, though, BSWAP is also useful in an unexpected way, having to do with making efficient use of the upper half of 32-bit registers. As any assembly language programmer knows, the x86 register set is too small; or, to phrase that another way, it sure would be nice if the register set were bigger. As any 386/486 assembly language programmer knows, there are many cases in which 16 bits is plenty. For example, a 16-bit scan-line counter generally does the trick nicely in a video driver, because there are very few video devices with more than 65,535 addressable scan lines. Combining these two observations yields the obvious conclusion that it would be great if there were some way to use the upper and lower 16 bits of selected 386 registers as separate 16-bit registers, effectively increasing the available register space.

Unfortunately, the x86 instruction set doesn’t provide any way to work directly with only the upper half of a 32-bit register. The next best solution is to rotate the register to give you access in the lower 16 bits to the half you need at any particular time, with code along the lines of that in Listing 13.5. Having to rotate the 16-bit fields into position certainly isn’t as good as having direct access to the upper half, but surely it’s better than having to get the values out of memory, isn’t it?

LISTING 13.5 L13-5.ASM

mov   cx,[initialskip]
shl   ecx,16       ;put skip value in upper half of ECX
mov   cx,100       ;put loop count in CX
      ror   ecx,16      ;make skip value word accessible in CX
      add   bx,cx       ;skip BX ahead
      inc   cx          ;set next skip value
      ror   ecx,16      ;put loop count in CX
      dec   cx          ;count down loop
      jnz   looptop

Not necessarily. Shifts and rotates are among the worst performing instructions of the 486, taking 2 to 3 cycles to execute. Thus, it takes 2 cycles to rotate the skip value into CX in Listing 13.5, and 2 more cycles to rotate it back to the upper half of ECX. I’d say four cycles is a pretty steep price to pay, especially considering that a MOV to or from memory takes only one cycle. Basically, using ROR to access a 16-bit value in the upper half of a 16-bit register is a pretty marginal technique, unless for some reason you can’t access memory at all (for example, if you’re using BP as a working register, temporarily making the stack frame inaccessible).

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Graphics Programming Black Book © 2001 Michael Abrash