Hardware Implementation#

This chapter describes the typical hardware implementation of GPUs supported by HIP, and how the Inherent Thread Model maps to the hardware.

Compute Units#

The basic building block of a GPU is a compute unit (CU), also known as streaming multiprocessor (SM) on NVIDIA GPUs. The thread blocks making up a grid are scheduled for execution on CUs. Each block is assigned to an individual CU, and a CU can accommodate several blocks. Depending on their resource usage up to thousands of threads can reside on a CU.

CUs contain an array of processing elements, referred to as vector ALU (VALU), that execute the actual instructions of the threads according to the SIMT model, together with the necessary registers and caches.

The threads are executed in groupings called warps. The amount of threads making up a warp is architecture dependent. On AMD GPUs the warp size is commonly 64 threads, except in RDNA architectures which can utilize a warp size of 32 or 64 respectively. The warp size of supported AMD GPUs is listed in the Accelerator and GPU hardware specifications. NVIDIA GPUs have a warp size of 32.

In contrast to CPUs, GPUs generally do not employ complex cache structures or control logic, like branch prediction or out-of-order execution, but instead rely on massive hardware multithreading to hide latency.

Context switching between warps residing on a CU incurs no overhead, as the context for the warps is stored on the CU and does not need to be fetched from memory. If there are not enough free registers to accommodate all warps of a block, the block can not be scheduled to that CU and it has to wait until other blocks finish execution.

The amount of warps that can reside concurrently on a CU, known as occupancy, is determined by the warp’s resource usage of registers and shared memory.

Diagram depicting the general structure of a compute unit of an AMD GPU.

Fig. 8 An AMD Graphics Core Next (GCN) CU. The CDNA and RDNA CUs are based on variations of the GCN CU.#

On AMD GCN GPUs the basic structure of a CU is:

  • four Single Instruction Multiple Data units (SIMDs)

  • a vector cache

  • a local data share

  • and a scalar unit


A SIMD consists of a VALU, that executes the instruction of a warp, together with a register file, that provides the registers warps.

The size of the warp is inherently related to the width of the vector ALU of the SIMD. On GCN compute units the width of the VALU is 16, so a warp can be issued to a SIMD every 4 cycles. Since a CU has 4 SIMDs it issues one warp per cycle. The instructions of a warp are effectively executed in lock-step.

A SIMD always executes the same instruction for the whole VALU. If the control flow of a warp diverges, the performance is decreased, as the results for the threads that do not participate in that branch have to be masked out, and the instructions of the other branch have to be executed in the same way. The best performance can therefore be achieved when thread divergence is kept to a warp level, i.e. when all threads in a warp take the same execution path.

Vector Cache#

The usage of cache on a GPU differs from that on a CPU, as there is less cache available per thread. Its main purpose is to coalesce memory accesses of the warps in order to reduce the amount of accesses to device memory, and make that memory available for other warps that currently reside on the compute unit, that also need to load those values.

Local Data Share#

The local data share is memory that is accessible to all threads within a block. Its latency and bandwidth is comparable to that of the vector cache. It can be used to share memory between the threads in a block, or as a software managed cache.

Scalar Unit#

The scalar unit performs instructions that are uniform within a warp. It thereby improves efficiency and reduces the pressure on the vector ALUs and the vector register file.

CDNA Architecture#

The general structure of CUs stays mostly as it is in GCN architectures. The most prominent change is the addition of matrix ALUs, which can greatly improve the performance of algorithms involving matrix multiply-accumulate operations for int8, float16, bfloat16 or float32.

Block diagram showing the structure of a CDNA3 compute unit. It includes Shader Cores, the Matrix Core Unit, a Local Data Share used for sharing memory between threads in a block, an L1 Cache and a Scheduler. The Shader Cores represent the vector ALUs and the Matrix Core Unit represents the matrix ALUs. The Local Data Share is used as the shared memory.

Fig. 9 Block Diagram of a CDNA3 Compute Unit.#

RDNA Architecture#

RDNA makes a fundamental change to CU design, by changing the size of a warp to 32 threads. This is done by effectively combining two GCN5 SIMDs, creating a VALU of width 32, so that a whole warp can be issued in one cycle. The CU is also replaced by the work group processor (WGP), which encompasses two CUs. For backwards compatibility the WGP can also run in wave64 mode, in which it issues a warp of size 64 in two cycles.

It also adds an extra layer of cache to the WGP, shared by the CUs within it. This cache is referred to as L1 cache, promoting the per-CU cache to an L0 cache.

Block diagram showing the structure of an RDNA3 Compute Unit. It consists of four SIMD units, each including a vector and scalar register file, with the corresponding scalar and vector ALUs. All four SIMDs share a scalar and instruction cache, as well as the shared memory. Two of the SIMD units each share an L0 cache.

Fig. 10 Block Diagram of an RDNA3 work group processor.#

Shader Engines#

For hardware implementation’s sake, multiple CUs are grouped together into a Shader Engine or Compute Engine, typically sharing some fixed function units or memory subsystem resources.

Block diagram showing four Compute Engines each with 28 Compute Units inside. These four Compute Engines share one block of L2 Cache. Around them are four Memory Controllers. To the top and bottom of all these are eight blocks of Infinity Fabric Links. Two Video Core Next blocks sit in the top corners. At the very bottom spans a colored section reading Infinity Fabric.

Fig. 11 Block Diagram of a CDNA2 Graphics Compute Die.#