64 bit is a lot!

When people talk about porting their applications to 64 bit, I sometimes hear them wonder how long it will be until they have to port everything to 128 bit – after all, the swiches from 8 to 16 bit (e.g. CP/M to DOS), 16 to 32 bit (DOS/Windows 3 to Windows 95/NT) and 32 to 64 have all happened in the last 25 years. read more

Game Development Archeology: Zelda on Game Boy comes with source

Imagine you’re writing a Game Boy game, and the resulting ROM with all the code and data is just a little over one megabyte in size. No big deal, just pad the game to two megabytes, and use a 2 MB ROM in the cartridge. Just tell the linker to allocate 2 MB or RAM, put the actual data at the beginning, and then write a 2 MB “.gb” image to disk, which will then be sent to the ROM chip factory. read more

How retiring segmentation in AMD64 long mode broke VMware

UNIX, Windows NT, and all the operating systems in their class rely on virtual memory, or paging, in order to provide every process on the system a complete address space of its own. An easier way to protect processes from each other is segmentation: The 4 GB address space of a 32 bit CPU is divided into segments (consisting of a physical base address and a limit), one for each process, and every process may only access their own segment. This is what the 286 did. read more

How to divide fast by immediates

In almost all assembly books you’ll find some nice tricks to do fast multiplications. E.g. instead of “imul eax, ebx, 3” you can do “lea eax, [ebx+ebx*2]” (ignoring flag effects). It’s pretty clear how this works. But how can we speed up, say, a division by 3? This is quite important since division is still a really slow operation. If you never thought or heart about this problem before, get pen and paper and try a little bit. It’s an interesting problem. read more

Shift oddities

Most of the x86 instructions will automatically alter the flags depending on the result. Sometimes this is rather frustrating because you actually what to preserve the flags as long as possible, and sometimes you miss a “mov eax, ecx” which alters the flags. But at least it’s guaranteed that an instruction either sets the flags or it doesn’t touch them, independent of the actual operation… Or is it? read more

Redundant SSE instructions

As we all know the x86-ISA has a lot of redundant instructions (ie. instructions with the same semantic but different opcodes). Sometimes this is unavoidable, sometimes it looks like bad design. But with SSE it gets really weird. Let’s say we want to perform xmm0 <- xmm0 & xmm1 (ie. bitwise and). Not an uncommon operation; but we have 3 different ways do archive this:

  • andps xmm0, xmm1 (0f 54 c1)
  • andpd xmm0, xmm1 (66 0f 54 c1)
  • pand xmm0, xmm1 (66 0f db c1)

(Note that andpd/pand are SSE2 instructions)
Regarding the result in xmm0 these are really the same instructions. Now, why did Intel do this? First we’re going to inspect andps/andpd. Looking at the optimization manuals we get a hint: The ps/pd mark the target register to contain singles or doubles, so they should match the actual data you are operating on. read more

Virtualization: The elegant way and the x86 way

Virtualization means running one or more complete operating systems (at the same time) on one machine, possibly on top of another operating system. VMware, VirtualPC, Parallels etc. support, for example, running a complete GNU/Linux OS on top of Windows. For virtualization, the Virtual Machine Monitor (VMM) must be more powerful than kernel mode code of the guest: The guest’s kernel mode code must not be allowed to change the global state of the machine, but may not notice that its attempts fail, as it was designed for kernel mode. The VMM as the arbiter must be able to control the guest completely. read more