Large pages; page coloring

Matthew Dillon dillon at
Sat May 30 19:21:53 PDT 2015

I think what you are describing is Intel's virtually indexed physical
cache.  It is designed to allow the L1 cache access to occur concurrent
with the PTE (page table entry) lookup, which is much more efficient than
having to wait for the page table lookup first and then start the memory
access on the L1 cache.

The downside of this is that being virtually indexed, many programs tend to
load at the same virtual memory address and memory map operations also tend
to map at the same virtual memory address.  When these represent private
data rather than shared data, the cpu caches can wind up not being fully
utilized.  They are still N-way set associative so all is not lost, but
they aren't optimally used.

The general solution is to implement an offset in the userland memory
allocator (not so much in the kernel) which is what we do for larger memory


On Fri, May 29, 2015 at 8:52 AM, Alex Merritt <merritt.alex at>

> I learned this recently, having gained access to newer Intel processors:
> these CPUs (Sandybridge, Haswell) use a form of indexing into the LLC which
> is no longer direct (i.e. taking specific bits from a physical address to
> determine which set the cache line in the LLC it goes into), but rather
> what they call "complex indexing"[1]. Presumably this is some proprietary
> hashing.
> I wanted to ask -- does page coloring, using direct indexing logic by the
> kernel, have an advantage if such hashing is used, also if we are unaware
> of the specific algorithm used to index the LLC? If we are unable to
> determine which pages will conflict in the cache without careful study, and
> assuming this algorithm may change between microarchitectures, it seems
> there may be less benefit to applying the technique.
> [1]  Intel Manual Vol.2A Table 3-17, cpuid command 04H
> -Alex
> On Tue, Apr 14, 2015 at 10:47 AM, Matthew Dillon <dillon at>
> wrote:
>> --
>> If I recall, FreeBSD mostly removed page coloring from their VM page
>> allocation subsystem.  DragonFly kept it and integrated it into the
>> fine-grained-locked VM page allocator.  There's no advantage to
>> manipulating the parameters for two reasons.
>> First, all page coloring really does is try to avoid degenerate
>> situations in the cpu caches.  The cpu caches are already 4-way or 8-way
>> set-associative.  The page coloring improves this but frankly even the set
>> associativeness in the base cpu caches gets us most of the way there.  So
>> adjusting the page coloring algorithms will not yield any improvements.
>> Secondly, the L1 cache is a physical memory cache but it is also
>> virtually indexed.  This is a cpu hardware optimization that allows the
>> cache lookup to be initiated concurrent with the TLB lookup.  Because of
>> this, physical set associatively does not actually solve all the problems
>> which can occur with a virtually indexed cache.
>> So the userland memory allocator implements an offsetting feature for
>> allocations which attempts to address the virtually indexed cache issues.
>> This feature is just as important as the physical page coloring feature for
>> performance purposes.
>> -Matt
>> On Tue, Apr 14, 2015 at 10:10 AM, Alex Merritt <merritt.alex at>
>> wrote:
>>> Hello!
>>> I am interested in learning whether Dragonfly supports large pages (2M
>>> and 1G), and secondly, what mechanisms exist for applications to have
>>> influence over the colors used to assign the physical pages backing their
>>> memory, specifically for private anonymous mmap'd regions. Regarding
>>> coloring, I'd like to be able to evaluate applications with a small number
>>> of colors (restricting their access to the last-level cache) and compare
>>> their performance to more/all colors available. I am initially looking to
>>> work in hacks to achieve this to perform some preliminary experiments,
>>> perhaps by way of a kernel module or something.
>>> A cursory search of the code showed no hints at support for large pages,
>>> but I did find there are more internal functions governing the allocation
>>> of pages based on colors, compared to FreeBSD (10.1). In FreeBSD it seems
>>> colors are only considered for regions which are added that are backed by a
>>> file, but I am not 100% certain.
>>> I appreciate any help!
>>> Thanks,
>>> Alex
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