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AMD's Quad-Core Barcelona Bug Revealed

Two developments surrounding the bug in the Barcelona quad-core server processor indicate that AMD is headed toward a rapid resolution of the problem, with volume shipments ramping up in 1Q of 2008. First, we have the full technical details on the glitch. Second, AMD is working on a silicon fix, and samples will be available in January.
Two developments surrounding the bug in the Barcelona quad-core server processor indicate that AMD is headed toward a rapid resolution of the problem, with volume shipments ramping up in 1Q of 2008. First, we have the full technical details on the glitch. Second, AMD is working on a silicon fix, and samples will be available in January.Let's take these things in order, with the bug first. In the credit-where-credit-is-due department, we should point to The Tech Report, as the site which first broke the news that there was a problem. Subsequently, I examined AMD's documentation and offered some speculation as to just which bug was at fault.

Turns out the bug, which affects the translation-lookaside buffer (TLD) is not in AMD's existing technical documents. However, AMD fellow Elsie Wahlig posted a description of the problem, known as erratum 298, to the AMD64 mailing list. Here's her description:

"AMD Family 10h revision B2 processors suffer from an issue in the processor TLB known as erratum 298. Erratum 298 is documented in a forthcoming update to the Revision Guide for AMD Family 10h Processors (PID 41322). The workaround in the Revision Guide document is intended to be applied by BIOS. The BIOS workaround has performance implications which can be avoided by having the OS directly workaround the issue. A Linux 64-bit patch was developed for 2.6.23.8 by AMD's OSRC team and will be posted to this list by Joerg Roedel. The patch is for demonstration purposes and is NOT being recommended to be applied upstream.

Erratum 298 will be described as follows: 'The processor operation to change the accessed or dirty bits of a page translation table entry in the L2 from 0b to 1b may not be atomic. A small window of time exists where other cached operations may cause the stale page translation table entry to be installed in the L3 before the modified copy is returned to the L2. In addition, if a probe for this cache line occurs during this window of time, the processor may not set the accessed or dirty bit and may corrupt data for an unrelated cached operation. The system may experience a machine check event reporting an L3 protocol error has occurred. In this case, the MC4 status register (MSR 0000_0410) will be equal to B2000000_000B0C0F or BA000000_000B0C0F. The MC4 address register (MSR 0000_0412) will be equal to 26h.'

The L2 Eviction Linux kernel performance patch re-enables the registers set for the BIOS workaround described in the Revision Guide document. It then prevents the processor from performing the operation that can trigger erratum 298. The patch works by emulating the Accessed and Dirty bits.

The basis for the kernel patch solution depends on the root cause of the L2 eviction problem. The only exposure for the problem is when the TLB needs to set an A or D bit in a page table entry. If the TLB never needs to set an A or D bit, the bug cannot occur. By emulating the A and D bits with the help of the Present and Writable bits, the patch will ensure the real A and D bits are always preset. It works by forcing a page fault when the first access is made to a page with the emulated A bit not set, and when the first write access is made to a writable page with the emulated D bit not set. Emulated A and D bits are stored in bits generally available to the OS in the page table entry."

The second leg of today's post comes via a ChannelWeb interview with Mario Rivas, head of AMD's computing products group. Rivas confirms that AMD had stopped shipment of quad-core Opterons (aka Barcelona) "to all but a few customers." He adds that "samples of the design-corrected Opterons will be available in January."

This dovetails with what AMD has told me, which is that the company is on track for general availability of Barcelona in 1Q of 2008.