Suggestion for “Required Viewing”: Machine Architecture Talk Online

Over the past 15 years or so that I’ve been giving software development talks, I’ve never had the chutzpah to suggest one of my own talks be considered "required viewing" for serious developers regardless of language or platform. But I’m going to suggest it now.

Two years ago, several highly experienced software architects I know (whose names many of you gentle readers would recognize) complained to me privately that "we shouldn’t let developers labor in ignorance" of how the enormous complexity of modern commodity computers affects our code’s performance and correctness. From that seed and others like it sprang this talk, now freely available online:

Section of a slide imageMachine Architecture: Things Your Programming Language Never Told You (117 minutes)

Video: Google video (recorded live on Sep 19, 2007)
Slides: PDF slides

Abstract: Programmers are routinely surprised at what simple code actually does and how expensive it can be, because so many of us are unaware of the increasing complexity of the machine on which the program actually runs. This talk examines the “real meanings” and “true costs” of the code we write and run especially on commodity and server systems, by delving into the performance effects of bandwidth vs. latency limitations, the ever-deepening memory hierarchy, the changing costs arising from the hardware concurrency explosion, memory model effects all the way from the compiler to the CPU to the chipset to the cache, and more — and what you can do about them.

Teaser: Would you be surprised to discover that only about 1% (one percent) of all the transistors on your modern CPU exist to ever compute anything? And that the other 99% (ninety-nine percent) of your CPU’s transistors are essentially dedicated to nothing but hiding memory latency? Those are round numbers, of course. But you get the idea…

So how do we cope with latency...?This is a talk I wish I’d been able to attend years ago. Consider making this required viewing for your team, including for new hires in software development roles. I guarantee it’ll be time well invested.

Here’s one suggestion: Roll your own training session. Arrange an extended lunch brownbag for your developers in a conference or training room, give each person a printout of the PDF slides to follow along and make notes, and display the video on the big screen. For extra benefit, leave a little time for group discussion, both during the session (the Pause feature is your friend) and afterwards ("how does this apply to our projects?"). Presto, instant training session — and you don’t even have to put your developers on a plane to attend a class somewhere, or arrange for a speaker to fly out to your site.

Finally, if you like the material and agree that it’s worthwhile, please help spread the word. For example, you can tell Slashdot by going to Submit Story. Or, if you prefer, you can tell Digg, or Reddit, or one of the others… you know the rest of the usual suspects.


4 thoughts on “Suggestion for “Required Viewing”: Machine Architecture Talk Online

  1. Any way of downloading this to watch at home?

    I cannot sit 2 hours at work watching videos.

  2. Please turn off the mouse over script on your images. I started reading your article and got so annoyed by their intrusion that I have no interest in finishing. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should.

  3. Herb –
    Great talk, thanks for sharing.  The slides don’t seem to be the same version that you show in the video.  Do you have the updated slides and/or a higher-res video so that the slides can be seen? 

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