Gamasutra is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Gamasutra: The Art & Business of Making Gamesspacer
Sponsored Feature: Common Performance Issues in Game Programming
View All     RSS
March 9, 2021
arrowPress Releases
March 9, 2021
Games Press
View All     RSS

If you enjoy reading this site, you might also want to check out these UBM Tech sites:


Sponsored Feature: Common Performance Issues in Game Programming

June 18, 2008 Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

[In this technical article, part of Microsoft's XNA-related Gamasutra microsite, XNA Developer Connection staffer and Interplay co-founder Becky Heineman gives tips on avoiding the 'Load-Hit-Store' performance-killer when making games.]

"90% of the time is spent in 10% of the code, so make that 10% the fastest code it can be."

One of the most common problems encountered in creating computer games is performance. Issues like disk access, GPU performance, CPU performance, race conditions, and memory bandwidth (or lack thereof) can cause stalls or delays that may turn a 30-frames-per-second game into a 9-frames-per-second game.

This article will describe one of the most common CPU performance killers, the Load-Hit-Store, and give tips and tricks on how to avoid it.


Ask any Xbox 360 performance engineer about Load-Hit-Store and they usually go into a tirade. The sequence of a memory read operation (The Load), the assignment of the value to a register (The Hit), and the actual writing of the value into a register (The Store) is usually hidden away in stages of the pipeline so these operations cause no stalls. However, if the memory location being read was one recently written to by a previous write operation, it can take as many at 40 cycles before the "Store" operation can complete.


stfs fr3,0(r3) ;Store the float
lwz r9,0(r3) ;Read it back into an integer register
oris r9,r9,0x8000 ;Force to negative

The first instruction writes a 32-bit floating-point value into memory, and the following instruction reads it back. What's interesting is that the load instruction isn't where the stall occurs; it's the "oris" instruction. That instruction can't complete until the "store" into r9 finishes, and it's waiting for the L1 cache to update.

What's going on? The first instruction stores the data and marks the L1 cache as "dirty". It takes about 40 cycles for the data to be written into the L1 cache and become available for the CPU to use. During this window of time, an instruction requests that data from the cache and then "hits" R9 for a "store". Since the last instruction can't execute until the store is complete, you've got a stall.

The Microsoft tool, PIX, can locate these issues. Since it's confusing to tag the "oris" instruction as the cause of the stall (which it is), PIX flags the load instruction that started the chain of events so the programmer has a better chance of fixing the issue.

Three CPUs in One Thread

Think of the PowerPC as three completely separate CPUs, each with its own instruction set, register set, and ways of performing operations on the data. The first is the integer unit with its 32-integer registers, which is considered the workhorse, handling a large percentage of the operations.

The second is the floating-point unit with its 32 floating-point registers, handling all of the simple mathematics. Finally, the third is the VMX unit with its 128 registers dealing with complex vector operations.

Why think of the units as three CPUs that share a common instruction stream? These units have no way of directly transferring data between one another internally. Due to the lack of an instruction to move the contents of an integer register to a floating-point register, the CPU must write the integer value to memory, and then load it into a floating-point register using a memory read instruction. That pattern of operation is by nature, a Load-Hit-Store.

Moving data from the integer unit to the floating-point unit is as simple as...


int iTime;
float fTime;
fTime = static_cast<float>(iTime);

This is extremely simple code and very common, but on the PowerPC, an instruction is generated to store the integer value to memory such that a floating-point instruction can be executed to load from memory into a floating-point register. A fix-up instruction follows that converts the integer representation into a floating-point representation, and the sequence is complete.

A common way to generate Load-Hit-Store is using member values or reference pointers as iterators in tight loops.


for (int i=0;i<100;++i)

Seldom are compilers smart enough to figure out that the above loop resolves into m_iData+=100 and optimizes it into a single operation. Most will happily load m_iData at runtime, increment it, and store it back into memory referenced by the "this" pointer. The first pass of the loop will run at full speed, but once it loops back, the m_iData value will incur a Load-Hit-Store from the write operation of the previous pass through the loop.

Since registers invoke no penalty, if the code was rewritten to look like this:

int iData = m_iData;
for (int i=0;i<100;++i) {
m_iData = iData;

Not only will the code run much faster since the operations are all in registers, you increase the chances the compiler will reduce this to iData+=100 and remove any chance of a Load-Hit-Store bottleneck.

Article Start Page 1 of 3 Next

Related Jobs

Gear Inc.
Gear Inc. — Hanoi, Vietnam

[Vietnam] Senior Game Designer
Brass Lion Entertainment
Brass Lion Entertainment — New York, New York, United States

Principal Software Programmer
Bit Fry Game Studios
Bit Fry Game Studios — Portsmouth, New Hampshire, United States

Technical Animator
Bit Fry Game Studios
Bit Fry Game Studios — Portsmouth, New Hampshire, United States

Senior Technical Artist

Loading Comments

loader image