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Compilers Catapult CoreMark Scores

July 23, 2013

Author: J. Scott Gardner

Now that the industry is finally embracing EEMBC CoreMark, compiler writers have discovered several ways to boost scores by more than 50% without changing the underlying CPU hardware. Many of these compiler optimizations are unlikely to see adoption for typical embedded software, since they can inflate object files by as much as 40% owing to aggressive loop unrolling and subroutine in-lining. But when code-size constraints are less critical, the higher scores are valid because they result from compiler optimizations that can boost real-world performance.

This new compiler war can distort comparisons among vendors—making our job as analysts even more difficult. CPU vendors (understandably) want to show the highest possible performance, and CoreMark’s popularity inevitably creates a strong incentive for compiler writers to seek optimizations. The higher CoreMark scores have started a compiler arms race among CPU-IP vendors, resulting in new performance numbers both for existing cores and for CPUs still in development. CoreMark scores reported after late 2012 should not be compared with earlier results; furthermore, some small CPU vendors may never gain access to these new optimizing compilers, raising the question of whether CoreMark remains a valid tool for performance comparisons. We believe EEMBC should define a standard method for reporting CoreMark code size and require companies to include this information with raw scores.

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