Michaels Guide to Using Computers Properly and Effectively

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Action Cable Learn to create ultra-responsive real-time applications with the power and convenience of Rails. A: It changes often. Thanks for such a great, educational guide in Ruby on Rails. That sounds pretty serious, but we did make an unfounded assumption about memory access speed. The code in Listing 4. That means that on average, 1. In other words, the display adapter cycle-eater can more than double the execution time of code! A line-drawing subroutine, which executes perhaps a dozen instructions for each display memory access, generally loses less performance to the display adapter cycle-eater than does a block-copy or scrolling subroutine that uses REP MOVS instructions.

Scaled and three-dimensional graphics, which spend a great deal of time performing calculations often using very slow floating-point arithmetic , tend to suffer less. In addition, code that accesses display memory infrequently tends to suffer only about half of the maximum display memory wait states, because on average such code will access display memory halfway between one available display memory access slot and the next. As a result, code that accesses display memory less intensively than the code in Listing 4. Nonetheless, the display adapter cycle-eater always takes its toll on graphics code.

Interestingly, that toll becomes much higher on ATs and machines because while those computers can execute many more instructions per microsecond than can the based PC, it takes just as long to access display memory on those computers as on the based PC. What can we do about the display adapter cycle-eater? Well, we can minimize display memory accesses whenever possible. The key here is that only half as many display memory accesses are required to write a byte to display memory as are required to read a byte from display memory, mask part of it off and alter the rest, and write the byte back to display memory.

Half as many display memory accesses means half as many display memory wait states. Moreover, s and Pentiums, as well as recent Super VGAs, employ write-caching schemes that make display memory writes considerably faster than display memory reads. Along the same line, the display adapter cycle-eater makes the popular exclusive-OR animation technique, which requires paired reads and writes of display memory, less-than-ideal for the PC.

Exclusive-OR animation should be avoided in favor of simply writing images to display memory whenever possible. Another principle for display adapter programming on the is to perform multiple accesses to display memory very rapidly, in order to make use of as many of the scarce accesses to display memory as possible. This is especially important when many large images need to be drawn quickly, since only by using virtually every available display memory access can many bytes be written to display memory in a short period of time.

Repeated string instructions are ideal for making maximum use of display memory accesses; of course, repeated string instructions can only be used on whole bytes, so this is another point in favor of modifying display memory a byte at a time. On faster processors, however, display memory is so slow that it often pays to do several instructions worth of work between display memory accesses, to take advantage of cycles that would otherwise be wasted on the wait states.


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For the time being, all you really need to know about the display adapter cycle-eater is that on the you can lose more than 8 cycles of execution time on each access to display memory. For intensive access to display memory, the loss really can be as high as 8cycles and up to 50, , or even more on s and Pentiums paired with slow VGAs , while for average graphics code the loss is closer to 4 cycles; in either case, the impact on performance is significant.

Joey Brown, software engineer

There is only one way to discover just how significant the impact of the display adapter cycle-eater is for any particular graphics code, and that is of course to measure the performance of that code. There you have it: Still, some of those cycle-eaters can be minimized by keeping instructions short, using the registers, using byte-sized memory operands, and accessing display memory as little as possible. Those three little words should strike terror into the heart of anyone who owns more than a sleeping bag and a toothbrush.

Our last move was the usual zoo—and then some. Because the distance from the old house to the new was only five miles, we used cars to move everything smaller than a washing machine. We have a sizable household—cats, dogs, kids, com, you name it—so the moving process took a number of car trips. A large number—33, to be exact. I personally spent about 15 hours just driving back and forth between the two houses.

The move took days to complete.

Should You Shut Down Your Computer or Put It to Sleep?

As it happens, the second question answers the first. It costs quite a bit to drive a car miles, to say nothing of the value of 15 hours of my time. But, at the time, it seemed as though my approach would be easier and cheaper. In Chapter 1, I briefly discussed using restartable blocks. This, you might remember, is the process of handling in chunks data sets too large to fit in memory so that they can be processed just about as fast as if they did fit in memory. The restartable block approach is very fast but is relatively difficult to program.

At the opposite end of the spectrum lies byte-by-byte processing, whereby DOS or, in less extreme cases, a group of library functions is allowed to do all the hard work, so that you only have to deal with one byte at a time. Byte-by-byte processing is easy to program but can be extremely slow, due to the vast overhead that results from invoking DOS each time a byte must be processed. I moved via the byte-by-byte approach, and the overhead of driving back and forth made for miserable performance. Renting a truck the restartable block approach would have required more effort and forethought, but would have paid off handsomely.

The easy, familiar approach often has nothing in its favor except that it requires less thinking; not a great virtue when writing high-performance code—or when moving. The first point to address in designing our program involves the appropriate text-search approach to use.

Computer Workstation Ergonomics

Literally dozens of workable ways exist to search a file. We can immediately discard all approaches that involve reading any byte of the file more than once, because disk access time is orders of magnitude slower than any data handling performed by our own code. Based on our experience in Chapter 1, we can also discard all approaches that get bytes either one at a time or in small sets from DOS.

A good rough cut is a buffer that will be between 16K and 64K, depending on the exact search approach, 64K being the maximum size because near pointers make for superior performance. So we know we want to work with a large buffer, filling it as infrequently as possible. Now we have to figure out how to search through a file by loading it into that large buffer in chunks.

Where do we begin? Well, it might be instructive to consider how we would search if our search involved only one buffer, already resident in memory. The closest match to what we need is strstr , which searches one string for the first occurrence of a second string. Where we want to search a fixed-length buffer for the first occurrence of a string, strstr searches a string for the first occurrence of another string. We could put a zero byte at the end of our buffer to allow strstr to work, but why bother?

The strstr function must spend time either checking for the end of the string being searched or determining the length of that string—wasted effort given that we already know exactly how long our search buffer is. Even if a given strstr implementation is well-written, its performance will suffer, at least for our application, from unnecessary overhead. By the way, we could, of course, use our own code, working with pointers in a loop, to perform the comparison in place of memcmp.