Idle Cycle Limit – The BIOS Optimization Guide

Idle Cycle Limit - The BIOS Optimization GuideIdle Cycle Limit - The BIOS Optimization Guide

Idle Cycle Limit

Common Options : 0T, 16T, 32T, 64T, 96T, Infinite, Auto

 

Quick Review of Idle Cycle Limit

The Idle Cycle Limit BIOS feature sets the number of idle cycles that is allowed before the memory controller forces open pages to close and precharge. It is based on the concept of temporal locality.

According to this concept, the longer the open page is left idle, the less likely it will be accessed again before it needs to be closed and the bank precharged. Therefore, it would be better to prematurely close the page and precharge the bank so that the next page can be opened quickly when a data request comes along.

The Idle Cycle Limit BIOS option can be set to a variety of clock cycles from 0T to 96T. This determines the number of clock cycles open pages are allowed to idle for before they are closed and the bank precharged.

If you select Infinite, the memory controller will never precharge the open pages prematurely. The open pages will be left activated until they need to be closed for a bank precharge.

If you select Auto, the memory controller will use the manufacturer’s preset default setting. Most manufacturers use a default value of 16T, which forces the memory controller to close the open pages once sixteen idle cycles have passed.

For general desktop use, it is recommended that you set this feature to 8T. It is important to keep the pages open for some time, to improve the chance of page hits. Yet, they should not be kept open too long as temporal locality dictates that the longer a page is kept idle, the less likely the next data request will require data from it.

For applications (i.e. servers) that perform a lot of random accesses, it is advisable that you select 0T as subsequent data requests would most likely be fulfilled by pages other than the ones currently open. Closing those open pages will force the bank to precharge earlier, allowing faster accesses to the other pages for the next data request. There’s also the added benefit of increased data integrity due to more frequent refreshes.

 

Details of Idle Cycle Limit

DRAM chips are internally divided into memory banks, with each bank made up of an array of memory bits arranged in rows and columns. You can think of the array as an Excel page, with many cells arranged in rows and columns, each capable of storing a single bit of data.

When the memory controller wants to access data within the DRAM chip, it first activates the relevant bank and row. All memory bits within the activated row, also known as a page, are loaded into a buffer. The page that is loaded into the buffer is known as an open page. Data can then be read from the open page by activating the relevant columns.

The open page can be kept in the buffer for a certain amount of time before it has to be closed for the bank to be precharged. While it is opened, any subsequent data requests to the open page can be performed without delay. Such data accesses are known as page hits. Needless to say, page hits are desirable because they allow data to be accessed quickly.

However, keeping the page open is a double-edged sword. A page conflict can occur if there is a request for data on an inactive row. As there is already an open page, that page must first be closed and only then can the correct page be opened. This is worse than a page miss, which occurs when there is a request for data on an inactive row and the bank does not have any open page. The correct row can immediately be activated because there is no open page to close.

Therefore, the key to maximizing performance lies in achieving as many page hits as possible with the least number of page conflicts and page misses. One way of doing so is by implementing a counter to keep track of the number of idle cycles and closing open pages after a predetermined number of idle cycles.

This is where the Idle Cycle Limit BIOS feature comes in. It sets the number of idle cycles that is allowed before the memory controller forces open pages to close and precharge. It is based on the concept of temporal locality.

According to this concept, the longer the open page is left idle, the less likely it will be accessed again before it needs to be closed and the bank precharged. Therefore, it would be better to prematurely close the page and precharge the bank so that the next page can be opened quickly when a data request comes along.

The Idle Cycle Limit BIOS option can be set to a variety of clock cycles from 0T to 96T. This determines the number of clock cycles open pages are allowed to idle for before they are closed and the bank precharged. The default value is 16T which forces the memory controller to close the open pages once sixteen idle cycles have passed.

Increasing this BIOS feature to more than the default of 16T forces the memory controller to keep the activated pages opened longer during times of no activity. This allows for quicker data access if the next data request can be satisfied by the open pages.

However, this is limited by the refresh cycle already set by the BIOS. This means the open pages will automatically close when the memory bank needs to be recharged, even if the number of idle cycles have not reached the Idle Cycle Limit. So, this BIOS option can only be used to force the precharging of the memory bank before the set refresh cycle but not to actually delay the refresh cycle.

Reducing the number of cycles from the default of 16T to 0T forces the memory controller to close all open pages once there are no data requests. In short, the open pages are refreshed as soon as there are no further data requests. This may increase the efficiency of the memory subsystem by masking the bank precharge during idle cycles. However, prematurely closing the open pages may convert what could have been a page hit (and satisfied immediately) into a page miss which will have to wait for the bank to precharge and the same page reopened.

Because refreshes do not occur that often (usually only about once every 64 msec), the impact of refreshes on memory performance is really quite minimal. The apparent benefits of masking the refreshes during idle cycles will not be noticeable, especially since memory systems these days already use bank interleaving to mask refreshes.

With a 0T setting, data requests are also likely to get stalled because even a single idle cycle will cause the memory controller to close all open pages! In desktop applications, most memory reads follow the spatial locality concept where if one data bit is read, chances are high that the next data bit will also need to be read. That’s why closing open pages prematurely using DRAM Idle Timer will most likely cause reduced performance in desktop applications.

On the other hand, using a 0 or 16 idle cycles limit will ensure that the memory cells will be refreshed more often, thereby preventing the loss of data due to insufficiently refreshed memory cells. Forcing the memory controller to close open pages more often will also ensure that in the event of a very long read, the pages can be opened long enough to fulfil the data request.

If you select Infinite, the memory controller will never precharge the open pages prematurely. The open pages will be left activated until they need to be closed for a bank precharge.

If you select Auto, the memory controller will use the manufacturer’s preset default setting. Most manufacturers use a default value of 16T, which forces the memory controller to close the open pages once sixteen idle cycles have passed.

For general desktop use, it is recommended that you set this feature to 16T. It is important to keep the pages open for some time, to improve the chance of page hits. Yet, they should not be kept open too long as temporal locality dictates that the longer a page is kept idle, the less likely the next data request will require data from it.

Alternatively, you can greatly increase the value of the Refresh Interval or Refresh Mode Select feature to boost bandwidth and use this BIOS feature to maintain the data integrity of the memory cells. As ultra-long refresh intervals (i.e. 64 or 128 µsec) can cause memory cells to lose their contents, setting a low Idle Cycle Limit like 0T or 16T allows the memory cells to be refreshed more often, with a high chance of those refreshes being done during idle cycles.

This appears to combine the best of both worlds – a long bank active period when the memory controller is being stressed and more refreshes when the memory controller is idle. However, this is not a reliable way of ensuring sufficient refresh cycles since it depends on the vagaries of memory usage to provide sufficient idle cycles to trigger the refreshes.

If your memory subsystem is under extended load, there may not be any idle cycle to trigger an early refresh. This may cause the memory cells to lose their contents. Therefore, it is still recommended that you maintain a proper refresh interval and set this feature to 16T for desktops.

For applications (i.e. servers) that perform a lot of random accesses, it is advisable that you select 0T as subsequent data requests would most likely be fulfilled by pages other than the ones currently open. Closing those open pages will force the bank to precharge earlier, allowing faster accesses to the other pages for the next data request. There’s also the added benefit of increased data integrity due to more frequent refreshes.

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