Winter 2022 SPO600 Weekly Schedule

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This is the schedule and main index page for the SPO600 Software Portability and Optimization course for Fall 2021.

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This page is in the process of being updated from a previous semester's content. It is not yet updated for the current semester. Do not rely on the accuracy of this information until this warning is removed.

Schedule Summary Table

This is a summary/index table. Please follow the links in each cell for additional detail which will be added below as the course proceeds -- especially for the Deliverables column.

Week Week of... Class I
Tuesday 11:40-1:30
Class II
Friday 9:50-11:40
(Summary - click for details)
1 Jan 10 Introduction to the Course / Introduction to the Problem / Computer Architecture Basics Binary Representation of Data Set up for the course / Lab 1
2 Jan 17 Introduction to 6502 Assembly Writing and Debugging 6502 Code / Assembly Language Conventions / Using Macros Effectively Lab 2
3 Jan 24 6502 Math / Jumps, Branches, and Subroutines 6502 Strings Lab 3
4 Jan 31 Introduction to 64-bit Assembly (x86_64 and AArch64) / Modern Architectural Enhancements Building Code / Make and Makefiles / Autotools and Friends Lab 4, January blog posts
5 Feb 07 More 64-bit Assemly Compiler Optimizations Lab 5
6 Feb 14 SIMD Inline Assembly Lab 6
7 Feb 21 Using ARMv9 instructions (for SVE2) on an ARMv8 system Project Selection Lab 7
Reading Oct 25 Reading Week February Blog Posts
8 Mar 07 Benchmarking and Profiling Project Stage 1 Project Stage 1
9 Mar 14 Memory System Design - Paging / Virtual Memory Project Discussion Blog about project work
10 Mar 21 Memory - Cache / NUMA Project Discussion Blog about project work
11 Mar 28 Memory - Observability, Barriers Project Stage 2 Project Stage 2, March Blog Posts
12 Apr 04 Atomic Operations Project Discussion Blog about project work
13 Apr 11 Project Discussion Good Friday Blog about project work
14 Apr 18 Future Directions in Architecture Project Stage 3 Project Stage 3, April Blog Posts

Week 1

Week 1 - Class I

Introduction to the Problems

Porting and Portability
  • Most software is written in a high-level language which can be compiled into machine code for a specific computer architecture. In many cases, this code can be compiled for multiple architectures. However, there is a lot of existing code that contains some architecture-specific code fragments which contains assumptions based on the architecture written in architecture-specific high-level code or in Assembly Language.
  • Reasons that code is architecture-specific:
    • System assumptions that don't hold true on other platforms
    • Code that takes advantage of platform-specific features
  • Reasons for writing code in Assembly Langauge include:
    • Performance
    • Atomic Operations
    • Direct access to hardware features, e.g., CPUID registers
  • Most of the historical reasons for including assembler are no longer valid. Modern compilers can out-perform most hand-optimized assembly code, atomic operations can be handled by libraries or compiler intrinsics, and most hardware access should be performed through the operating system or appropriate libraries.
  • A new architecture has appeared: AArch64, which is part of ARMv8. This is the first new computer architecture to appear in several years (at least, the first mainstream computer architecture).
  • At this point, most key open source software (the software typically present in a Linux distribution such as Ubuntu or Fedora, for example) now runs on AArch64. However, it may not run as well as on older architectures (such as x86_64).
Benchmarking and Profiling

Benchmarking involves testing software performance under controlled conditions so that the performance can be compared to other software, the same software operating on other types of computers, or so that the impact of a change to the software can be gauged.

Profiling is the process of analyzing software performance on finer scale, determining resource usage per program part (typically per function/method). This can identify software bottlenecks and potential targets for optimization.


Optimization is the process of evaluating different ways that software can be written or built and selecting the option that has the best performance tradeoffs.

Optimization may involve substituting software algorithms, altering the sequence of operations, using architecture-specific code, or altering the build process. It is important to ensure that the optimized software produces correct results and does not cause an unacceptable performance regression for other use-cases, system configurations, operating systems, or architectures.

The definition of "performance" varies according to the target system and the operating goals. For example, in some contexts, low memory or storage usage is important; in other cases, fast operation; and in other cases, low CPU utilization or long battery life may be the most important factor. It is often possible to trade off performance in one area for another; using a lookup table, for example, can reduce CPU utilization and improve battery life in some algorithms, in return for increased memory consumption.

Most advanced compilers perform some level of optimization, and the options selected for compilation can have a significant effect on the trade-offs made by the compiler, affecting memory usage, execution speed, executable size, power consumption, and debuggability.

Build Process

Building software is a complex task that many developers gloss over. The simple act of compiling a program invokes a process with five or more stages, including pre-proccessing, compiling, optimizing, assembling, and linking. However, a complex software system will have hundreds or even thousands of source files, as well as dozens or hundreds of build configuration options, auto configuration scripts (cmake, autotools), build scripts (such as Makefiles) to coordinate the process, test suites, and more.

The build process varies significantly between software packages. Most software distribution projects (including Linux distributions such as Ubuntu and Fedora) use a packaging system that further wraps the build process in a standardized script format, so that different software packages can be built using a consistent process.

In order to get consistent and comparable benchmark results, you need to ensure that the software is being built in a consistent way. Altering the build process is one way of optimizing software.

Note that the build time for a complex package can range up to hours or even days!

General Course Information

  • Course resources are linked from the CDOT wiki, starting at (Quick find: This page will usually be Google's top result for a search on "SPO600").
  • Coursework is submitted by blogging.
  • Quizzes will be short (1 page) and will be held without announcement at the start of any synchronous class. There is no opportunity to re-take a missed quiz, but your lowest three quiz scores will not be counted, so do not worry if you miss one or two.
    • Students with test accommodations: an alternate monthly quiz can be made available via the Test Centre. See your professor for details.
  • Course marks (see Weekly Schedule for dates):
    • 60% - Project Deliverables
    • 20% - Communication (Blog and Wiki writing)
    • 20% - Labs and Quizzes (10% labs - completed/not completed; 10% for quizzes - lowest 3 scores not counted)


  • Tuesday: synchronous (live) classes on Big Blue Button at 11:40 am - login to ("Blackboard"), go to SPO600, and select the "Tuesday Classes" option on the left-hand menu.
  • Friday: these classes will usually be asynchronous (pre-recorded) - see this page for details each week.

Course Setup

Follow the instructions on the SPO600 Communication Tools page to set up a blog, create SSH keys, and send your blog URLs and public key to me.

Once this information has been submitted, I will:

  1. Update the Current SPO600 Participants page with your information, and
  2. Create an account for you on the SPO600 Servers.

This updating is done in batches once or twice a week -- allow some time!

How open source communities work

Week 1 - Class II

Binary Representation of Data

  • Binary
    • Binary is a system which uses "bits" (binary digits) to represent values.
    • Each bit has one of two values, signified by the symbols 0 and 1. These correspond to:
      • Electrically: typically off/on, or low/high voltage, or low/high current. Many other electrical representations are possible.
      • Logically: false or true.
    • Binary numbers are resistant to errors, especially when compared to other systems such as analog voltages.
      • To represent the numbers 0-5 as an analog electical value, we could use a voltage from 0 - 5 volts. However, if we use a long cable, there will be signal loss the voltage will drop: we could apply 5 volts on one end of the cable, but only observe (say) 4.1 volts on the other end of the cable. Alternately, electromagnetic interference from nearby devices could slight increase the signal.
      • If we use instead use the same voltages and cable length to carry a binary signal, where 0 volts = off and 5 volts = on, a signal that had degraded from 5 volts to 4.1 volts would still be counted as a "1" and a 0 volt signal with some stray electromagnetic interference presenting as (say) 0.4 volts would still be counted as "0". However, we will need to use multiple bits to carry larger numbers -- either in parallel (multiple wires side-by-side), or sequentially (multiple bits presented over the same wire in sequence).
  • Integers
    • Integers are the basic building block of binary numbering schemes.
    • In an unsigned integer, the bits are numbered from right to left starting at 0, and the value of each bit is 2bit. The value represented is the sum of each bit multiplied by its corresponding bit value. The range of an unsigned integer is 0:2bits-1 where bits is the number of bits in the unsigned integer.
    • Signed integers are generally stored in twos-complement format, where the highest bit is used as a sign bit. If that bit is set, the value represented is -(!value)-1 where ! is the NOT operation (each bit gets flipped from 0→1 and 1→0)
  • Fixed-point
    • A fixed-point value is encoded the same as an integer, except that some of the bits are fractional -- they're considered to be to the right of the "binary point" (binary version of "decimal point" - or more generically, the radix point). For example, binary 000001.00 is decimal 1.0, and 000001.11 is decimal 1.75.
    • An alternative to fixed-point values is integer values in a smaller unit of measurement. For example, some accounting software may use integer values representing cents. For input and display purposes, dollar and cent values are converted to/from cent values.
  • Floating-point
    • Floating point numbers have three parts: a sign bit (0 for positive, 1 for negative), a mantissa or significand, and an exponent. The value is interpreted as sign mantissa * 2exponent.
    • The most commonly-used floating point formats are defined in the IEEE 754 standard.
  • Sound
    • Sound waves are air pressure vibrations
    • Digital sound is most often represented in raw form as a series of time-based measurements of air pressure, called Pulse Coded Modulation (PCM)
    • PCM takes a lot of storage, so sound is often compressed in either a lossless (perfectly recoverable) or lossy format (higher compression, but the decompressed data doesn't perfectly match the original data). To permit high compression ratios with minimal impact on quality, psychoacoustic compression is used - sound variations that most people can't perceive are removed.
  • Graphics
    • The human eye perceives luminance (brightness) as well as hue (colour). Our hue receptors are generally sensitive to three wavelengths: red, green, and blue (RGB). We can stimulate the eye to perceive most colours by presenting a combination of light at these three wavelengths.
    • Digital displays emit RGB colours, which are mixed together and perceived by the viewer. For printing, cyan/yellow/magenta inks are used, plus black to reduce the amount of colour ink required to represent dark tones; this is known as CYMK colour.
    • Images are broken into picture elements (pixels) and each pixel is usually represented by a group of values for RGB or CYMK channels, where each channel is represented by an integer or floating-point value. For example, using an 8-bit-per-pixel integer scheme (also known as 24-bit colour), the brightest blue could be represented as R=0,G=0,B=255; the brightest yellow would be R=255,G=255,B=0; black would be R=0,G=0,B=0; and white would be R=255,G=255,B=255. With this scheme, the number of unique colours available is 256^3 ~= 16 million.
    • As with sound, the raw storage of sampled data requires a lot of storage space, so various lossy and lossless compression schemes are used. Highest compression is achieved with psychovisual compression (e.g., JPEG).
    • Moving pictures (video, animations) are stored as sequential images, often compressed by encoding only the differences between frames to save storage space.
  • Compression techniques
    • Huffman encoding / Adaptive arithmetic encoding
      • Instead of fixed-length numbers, variable-length numbers are used, with the most common values encoded in the smallest number of bits. This is an effective strategy if the distribution of values in the data set is uneven.
    • Repeated sequence encoding (1D, 2D, 3D)
      • Run length encoding is an encoding scheme that records the number of repeated values. For example, fax messages are encoded as a series of numbers representing the number of white pixels, then the number of black pixels, then white pixels, then black pixels, alternating to the end of each line. These numbers are then represented with adaptive artithmetic encoding.
      • Text data can be compressed by building a dictionary of common sequences, which may represent words or complete phrases, where each entry in the dictionary is numbered. The compressed data contains the dictionary plus a sequence of numbers which represent the occurrence of the sequences in the original text. On standard text, this typically enables 10:1 compression.
    • Decomposition
      • Compound audio wavforms can be decomposed into individual signals, which can then be modelled as repeated sequences. For example, a waveform consisting of two notes being played at different frequencies can be decomposed into those separate notes; since each note consists of a number of repetitions of a particular wave pattern, they can individually be represented in a more compact format by describing the frequency, waveform shape, and amplitude characteristics.
    • Pallettization
      • Images often contain repeated colours, and rarely use all of the available colours in the original encoding scheme. For example, a 1920x1080 image contains about 2 million pixels, so if every pixel was a different colour, there would be a maximum of 2 million colours. But it's likely that many of the pixels in the image are the same colour, so there might only be (perhaps) 4000 colours in the image. If each pixel is encoded as a 24-bit value, there are potentially 16 million colours available, and there is no possibility that they are all used. Instead, a palette can be provided which specifies each of the 4000 colours used in the picture, and then each pixel can be encoded as a 12-bit number which selects one of the colours from the palette. The total storage requirement for the original 24-bit scheme is 1920*1080*3 bytes per pixel = 5.9 MB. Using a 12-bit pallette, the storage requirement is 3 * 4096 bytes for the palette plus 1920*1080*1.5 bytes for the image, for a total of 3 MB -- a reduction of almost 50%
    • Psychoacoustic and psychovisual compression
      • Much of the data in sound and images cannot be perceived by humans. Psychoacoustic and psychovisual compression remove artifacts which are least likely to be perceived. As a simple example, if two pixels on opposite sides of a large image are almost but not exactly the same, most people won't be able to tell the difference, so these can be encoded as the same colour if that saves space (for example, by reducing the size of the colour palette).

Week 1 Deliverables

  1. Follow the SPO600 Communication Tools set-up instructions.
  2. Optional (strongly recommended): Set up a personal Linux system.
  3. Optional: Purchase an AArch64 development board (such as a Raspberry Pi 4, Raspberry Pi 400, or 96Boards device. (Note: install a 64-bit Linux operating system on it, not a 32-bit version).
  4. Start work on Lab 1. Blog your work.