Let me get straight to the main point before delving into details: We now have a limare (our proto/research driver) port of Quake 3 Arena which is running the q3a timedemo 2% faster than the binary driver. With 3% less cpu overhead than the binary driver to boot!
Here is the timedemo video up on youtube. It is almost pixel-perfect, with just a few rounding errors introduced due to us being forced to use a slightly different vertex shader (ESSL, pulled through the binary compiler instead of a hand coded shader). We have the exact same tearing as the binary drivers, which are also not synced to display on the linux-sunxi kernel (but ever so slightly more tearing than the original ;)).
This Q3A port is not playable for a few reasons. One is, i threw out the touchscreen input support, but never hacked in the standard SDL based input, so we have no input today. It should be easy to add though. Secondly, i only include the shaders that are needed for running the timedemo. The full game (especially its cut scenes) requires a few more shaders, which are even simpler than the ones currently included. I also need to implement the equivalent of glTexSubImage2d, as that is used by the cut-scenes. So, yes, it is not playable today, but it should be easy to change that :)
We are also not fully open source yet, as we are still using the binary shader compiler. Even after begging extensively, Connor was not willing to "waste time" on hand coding the few shaders needed. He has the necessary knowledge to do so though. So who knows, maybe when i push the code out (the q3a tree is a breeze to clean, but the lima code is a mess, again), he might still give us the few shaders that we need, and we might even gain a few promille performance points still :)
I will first be pushing out the q3a code, so that others can use the dumping code from it for their own GPU reverse engineering projects. The limare code is another hackish mess again (but not as bad as last time round), so cleaning that up will take a bit longer than cleaning up q3a.
Why frag like it is 1999?
Until now, i was mostly grabbing, replaying, and then porting, EGL/GLES2 programs that were specifically written for reverse engineering the mali. These were written by an absolute openGL/openGLES newbie, someone called libv. These tests ended up targetting very specific but far too limited things, and had very little in common with real world usage of the GPU. As most of the basic things were known for mali, it was high time to step up things a level.
So what real world OpenGL(ES) application does one pick then?
Quake 3 Arena of course. The demo four timedemo was the perfect next step for reverse engineering our GPU.
This 1999 first person shooter was very kindly open sourced by ID Software in 2005. Oliver McFadden later provided an openGLES1 port of ioquake3 for the Nokia N900. With the Mali binary providing an OpenGLES1 emulation library, it was relatively easy to get a version going which runs on the Mali binary drivers. Thank you Oliver, you will be missed.
The Q3A engine was written for fixed 3D pipelines and this has some very profound consequences. First, it limits the dependency on the shader compiler and allowed me to focus almost purely on the command stream. This completely fits with the main strategy of our reverse engineering project, namely it being 2 almost completely separate projects in one (command stream versus shader compilers). Secondly, and this was a nice surprise when i started looking at captures, the mali OpenGLES1 implementation had some very hardware specific optimizations that one could never expose with OpenGLES2 directly. Q3A ended up being vastly more educational than I had expected it to be.
With Q3A we also have a good benchmark, allowing us to get a better insight into performance for the first time. And on top of all of that, we get a good visual experience and it is a dead-certain crowdpleaser (and it was, thanks for the cheers guys :))
The only downside is that the data needed to run demo four is not available with the q3a demo release and therefor not freely downloadable. Luckily you can still find Q3A CDs on ebay, and i have heard that steam users can easily download it from there.
The long story
After linuxtag, where i demoed the rotating companion cube, I assumed that my knowledge about the mali was advanced enough that bringing up Q3A would take only a given number of weeks. But as these things usually go, and with work an real life getting in the way, it never pans out like that. January 17th is when i had q3a first work correctly, time enough to worry about some optimization still before FOSDEM, but only just enough.
I started with an android device and the kwaak3 "app", which is just Olivers port with some androidiness added. I captured some frames to find out what i still missed with limare. When i finally had some time available, i first spent it cleaning up the linuxtag code, which i pushed out early december. I had already brought up Q3A on linux-sunxi with the mali binary drivers, which can be seen from the video i then published on youtube.
One thing about the youtube video though... Oliver had a tiny error in his code, one that possibly never did show up on the N900. In his version of the texture loading code, the lightmaps original format would end up being RGB whereas the destination format is RGBA. This difference in format, and in-driver conversion, is not supported by the openGLES standard. This made the mali driver refuse to load the texture, which later on had the driver use only the primary texture, even though a second set of texture coordinates were attached to the command stream. The vertex shader did not reflect this, and in my openGL newbieness i assumed that Ben and Connor had a bug in their vertex shader disassembler. You can clearly see the flat walls in the video i posted. Once i fixed the bug though, q3a suddenly looked a lot more appealing.
I then started with turning the openGLES1 support code in Quake's GLimp layer into a dumper of openGLES1 commands and data in a way that made it easy to replay individual frames. Then i chose some interesting frames, and replayed them, turned them into a GLES2 equivalent (which is not always fully possible, alphaFunc comes to mind), and then improved limare until it ran the given frames nicely through (the mali has hw alphaFunc, so limare is able to do this directly too). Rince and repeat, over several interesting frames.
By the evening of January the 16th, i felt that i knew enough to attempt to write a GLimp for limare. This is exactly when my father decided to give me a call. Some have met him at Le Paon last Friday, when he, to my surprise, joined us for a beer after work as his office is not far away. He remarked that i seemed "a bit on edge" when he called on the 16th. Yes, i indeed was, and how could i be anything else at a time like this :) I hacked all night, as at the time i was living purely at night anyway, and minutes before my girlfriend woke up i gave it my first shot. Crash, a stupid bug in my code. I told my girlfriend that i wouldn't join her for "breakfast" before i went to bed, as i was simply way too close. By the time she left for work, i was able to run until the first few in-game frames, when the rendering would hang, with the mali only coming back several seconds later. After a bit of trying around, i gave the GP (vertex shader) a bit more space for its tile heap. This time it ran for about 800 frames before the same thing happened. I doubled the tile-heap again, and it ran all the way through!
The evening before i had hoped that i would get about 20fps out of this hardware. This already was a pretty cocky and arrogant guess, as the binary driver ran this demo at about 47.3fps, but i felt confident that the hardware had little to hide. And then the demo ran through, and produced a number.
Way beyond my wildest dreams. Almost 65% of the performance of the binary driver. Un-be-liev-ab-le. And this was with plain sequential job handling. Start a GP job, wait for it to finish, then start the PP job, wait for it to finish, then flip. 30.5fps still! Madness!
I had two weeks left for FOSDEM, so i had a choice, either add input support and invite someone from the public to come and play before the audience, or, optimize until we beat the binary driver. The framerate of the first pass decided that, optimization it was. I had a good benchmark, and only a third of the performance needed to be found, and most of the corners for that extra performance were known.
My first optimization was to tackle the PP polygon list block access pattern. During my previous talk at FOSDEM, i explained that this was the only bit I found that might be IP encumbered. In the meantime, over the weekly beers with Michael Matz, the SuSE Labs toolchain lead, i had learned that there is thing called the "hilbert space filling curve". Thanks Matz, that was worth about ~2.2fps. I benchmarked another few patterns: two level hilbert (inside plb block, and out), and the non-rotated hilbert pattern that is used for the textures. None would give us the same performance as the hilbert curve.
Building with -O3 then gave us another 1.5fps. Passing vec2s between the shaders gave us 0.3fps. It was time to put in proper interleaved job handling. With the help of Marcus Meissner (the SuSE Security lead), an ioctl struct sizing issue was found for the job wait thread. This fixed the reliability issues with threading on the r3p0 kernel of linux-sunxi. (ARM! Stable kernel interfaces now!) But thanks Marcus, as proper threading and interleaved job handling put me at 40.7 fps!
And then i got stuck. I only had 40.7fps and knew nothing that could account for such a big gap in performance. I tried a few things left and right, but nothing... I then decided to port q3a to GLES2 (with the loss of alphafunc and buggered up lamps as a result) to see whether our issue was with the compiled versus hand-coded shader. But I quickly ran into an issue with multi-texture program state tracking, which was curious, as the lima code was logically the same. Once this was fixed the GLES2 port ran at about 47.6fps, slightly faster than GLES1, which i think might be because of the lack of alphafunc.
Immediately after that i ported the multi-texture state tracking fix to the limare GLimp, but i sadly got no change in framerate out of it. Strangely, it seemed like there was no multitexturing going as my debugging printfs were not being triggered. I then noticed the flag for telling Q3A that our GL implementation supports multitexturing. Bang. 46.7fps. I simply couldn't believe how stupid that was. If that had been correct on the first run, i would've hit above 75% of the framerate, how insane would that have been :)
For the final 1.5fps, which put us at 48.2fps, i added a third frame, this while only rendering out to two framebuffers. Job done!
Adding a fourth frame did not improve numbers, and i left some minute cpu usage and memory usage optimizations untouched. We are faster than the binary driver, while employing no tricks. We know what we need to know about this chip and there is nothing left to prove with Q3A performance.
The fact that we are slightly faster is actually normal. We do not have to adhere to the OpenGLES standard, we can do without a lot of the checking that a proper driver normally needs to do. This is why the goal was not to match the binary driver's performance, but to beat it, which is exactly what we achieved. From some less PP and CPU bound programs, like the spinning cubes, it does seem that we are more aggressive with scheduling though.
Now let's look at some numbers. Here is the end of the timedemo log for the binary driver, on an Allwinner A10 (single cortex a8, at 1GHz), with a Mali-400MP1 at 320MHz, rendering to a 1024x600 LCD, with framerate printing enabled:
THEINDIGO^7 hit the fraglimit. marty^7 was melted by THEINDIGO^7's plasmagun 1260 frames 27.3 seconds 46.2 fps 10.0/21.6/50.0/5.6 ms ----- CL_Shutdown ----- RE_Shutdown( 1 ) -----------------------
And here is the end of the timedemo log for the limare port:
THEINDIGO^7 hit the fraglimit. marty^7 was melted by THEINDIGO^7's plasmagun ]64f in 1.313632s: 48.719887 fps (1280 at 39.473158 fps) 1260 frames 26.7 seconds 47.2 fps 9.0/21.2/74.0/5.6 ms ----- CL_Shutdown ----- RE_Shutdown( 1 ) ]Max frame memory used: 2731/4096kB Auxiliary memory used: 13846/16384kB Total jobs time: 32.723190 seconds GP job time: 2.075425 seconds PP job time: 39.921429 seconds -----------------------
Looking at the numbers from the limare driver, my two render threads are seriously overcommitted on the fragment shader (PP). We really are fully fragment shader bound, which is not surprising, as we only have a single fragment shader. Our GP is sitting idle most of the time.
It does seem promising for a quad core mali though. I will now get myself a quad-core A9 SoC, and put that one through its paces. My feeling is that there we will either hit a wall with memory bandwidth or with the CPU, as q3a is single threaded. Since limare does not yet support multiple fragment shaders the last remaining big unknown will get solved too.
Another interesting number is the maximum frame time. 50.0ms for the binary driver, versus 74.0ms for limare. My theory there is that i am scheduling differently than the original driver and that we get hit by us overcommitting the fragment shader. Wait and see whether this difference in scheduling will improve or worsen the numbers on the potentially 4 times faster SoC. We will not be context switching anymore with our render threads, and we will no longer be limited by the fragment shader. This should then decide whether another scheme should be picked or not.
Once we fix up the Allwinner A10 display engine, and can reliably sync to refresh rate, this difference in job scheduling should become mostly irrelevant.
The star: the mali by falanx.
In the previous section i was mostly talking about the strategy of scheduling GP and PP jobs, of which one tends to have 1 of each per frame. Performance optimization is a very high level problem on the mali, which is a luxury. On mali we do not need to bother with highly specific command queue patterns which most optimally use the available resources, which then ends up being SoC and board specific. We are as fast as the original driver without any trickery, and this has absolutely nothing to do with my supposed ability as a hacker. The credit fully goes to the design of the mali. There is simply no random madness with the mali. This chip makes sense.
The mali is the correct mix of the sane and the insane. All the real optimization is baked into the hardware design. The vertex shader is that insane for a reason. There is none of that "We can fix it in software" bullshit going on. The mali just is this fast. And after 20 months of throwing things at the mali, i still have not succeeded in getting the mali to hard or soft lockup the machine. Absolutely amazing.
When i was pretty much the only open source graphics developer who was pushing display support and modesetting forwards, I often had to hear that modesetting was easy, and that 3d is insane. The mali proves this absolutely wrong. Modesetting is a very complex problem to solve correctly, with an almost endless set of combinations that requires very good insight and the ability to properly structure things. If you fail to structure correctly, you have absolutely no chance of satisfying 99.9% of your users, you'll be lucky if you satisfy 60%. Compared to modesetting, 3D is clearly delineated, and it is a vastly more overseeable and managable problem... Provided that your hardware is sane.
The end of the 90s was an absolute bloodbath for graphics hardware vendors with just a few, suddenly big, companies surviving. That's exactly when a few Norwegian demo-sceners, at the Trondheim University, decided that they would do 3D vastly better than those survivors and they formed a company to do so, called Falanx. It must've seemed like suicide, and I am very certain that pretty much everybody declared them absolutely insane (like engadget did). Now, 12 years later, seeing what came out of that, I must say that I have to agree. Falanx was indeed insane, but it was that special kind of insanity that we call pure genius.
You crazy demo-sceners. You rock, and let this Q3a port be my salute to you.