Yesterday we mentioned how caches work, what the distinction is between L1 and L2, and the varied design parts that decide how briskly (and the way efficient) a CPU’s cache is. Right now, we’re going to take one step additional and discover the distinction between L2 and L3 caches.

At its easiest degree, an L3 cache is only a bigger, slower model of the L2 cache. Again when most chips had been single-core processors, this was usually true. The primary L3 caches had been really constructed on the motherboard itself, related to the CPU by way of the bottom bus. When AMD launched its K6-III processor household, many present K6/Ok-2 motherboards may settle for a K6-III as nicely. Sometimes these boards had 512Ok-2MB of L2 cache — when a K6-III, with its built-in L2 cache was inserted, these slower, motherboard-based caches turned L3 as an alternative.

By the flip of the century, slapping an extra L3 cache on a chip had develop into a straightforward approach to enhance efficiency — Intel’s first consumer-oriented Pentium four “Excessive Version” was a repurposed Gallatin Xeon with a 2MB L3 on-die. Including that cache was adequate to purchase the Pentium four EE a 10-20 % efficiency increase over the usual Northwood line.

Cache and the multi-core curveball

As multicore processors turned extra frequent, L3 cache began showing extra regularly on client . These chips, like Intel’s Nehalem and AMD’s K10 (Barcelona) used L3 as greater than only a bigger, slower backstop for L2. Along with this operate, the L3 cache is usually shared between the entire processors on a single piece of silicon. That’s in distinction to the L1 and L2 caches, each of which are usually non-public and devoted to the wants of every explicit core. (AMD’s Bulldozer design is an exception to this — Bulldozer, Piledriver, and Steamroller all share a typical L1 instruction cache between the 2 cores in every module).

Intel’s Haswell-E, for instance, has eight separate cores that every one again as much as a typical L3 cache.


Personal L1/L2 caches and a shared L3 is hardly the one method to design a cache hierarchy, nevertheless it’s a typical method that a number of distributors have adopted. Giving every particular person core a devoted L1 and L2 cuts entry latencies and reduces the possibility of cache competition — that means two totally different cores received’t overwrite important information that the opposite put in a location in favor of their very own workload. The frequent L3 cache is slower however a lot bigger, which suggests it will probably retailer information for all of the cores directly. Subtle algorithms are used to make sure that Core zero tends to retailer data closest to itself, whereas Core 7 throughout the die additionally places vital information nearer to itself.

In contrast to the L1 and L2, that are practically at all times CPU-focused and personal, the L3 may also be shared with different gadgets or capabilities. Intel’s Sandy Bridge CPUs shared an 8MB L3 cache with the on-die graphics core (Ivy Bridge gave the GPU its personal devoted slice of L3 cache in lieu of sharing all the 8MB).

In distinction to the L1 and L2 caches, each of that are usually mounted and fluctuate solely very barely (and largely for funds components) each AMD and Intel provide totally different chips with considerably totally different quantities of L3. Intel usually sells at the least just a few Xeons with decrease core counts, greater frequencies, and a better L3 cache-per-CPU ratio. Intel’s Core i7 processors have maintained an 8MB L3 because the debut of Nehalem in 2008 (roughly 2MB of L3 for each CPU core) however the highest-end components are usually pegged at 2.5MB of cache per CPU core.

Right now, the L3 is characterised as a pool of quick reminiscence frequent to all of the CPUs on an SoC. It’s typically gated independently from the remainder of the CPU core and might be dynamically partitioned to stability entry pace, energy consumption, and storage capability. Whereas not practically as quick as L1 or L2, it’s typically extra versatile and performs an important function in managing inter-core communication. With Intel having already added L4 to its Skylake chips, it’s attainable we’ll see the L3 take a extra simplified function — with a few of its capabilities and capabilities shifting over to the newer, bigger pool of cache.