# Branch prediction: yet another example

2017/10/04Tomas Lycken linked a very nice discussion on StackOverflow about branch prediction as a comment on the previous post. It has an intuitive explanation (read it if you like good metaphors) and some Java benchmarks. I was curious about how it looks in Julia.

The exercise is to sum elements in a vector *only if* they are greater than or equal to 128.

```
function sumabove_if(x)
s = zero(eltype(x))
for elt in x
if elt ≥ 128
s += elt
end
end
s
end
```

This calculation naturally has a branch in it, while the branchless version, using `ifelse`

, does not:

```
function sumabove_ifelse(x)
s = zero(eltype(x))
for elt in x
s += ifelse(elt ≥ 128, elt, zero(eltype(x)))
end
s
end
```

The actual example has something different: using tricky bit-twiddling to calculate the same value. I generally like to leave this sort of thing up to the compiler, because it is much, much better at it than I am, and I make mistakes all the time; worse, I don't know what I actually did when I reread the code 6 months later. But I included it here for comparison:

```
function sumabove_tricky(x::Vector{Int64})
s = Int64(0)
for elt in x
s += ~((elt - 128) >> 63) & elt
end
s
end
```

Following the original example on StackOverflow, we sum `2^15`

random integers in `1:256`

. For this, we don't need to worry about overflow. We also sum the *sorted* vector: this will facilitate branch predicion, since the various branches will be contiguous.

I also benchmark a simple version using generators:

`sumabove_generator(x) = sum(y for y in x if y ≥ 128)`

random | sorted | |
---|---|---|

`if` |
139 | 28 |

`ifelse` |
21 | 21 |

`if` & `sort` |
96 | n/a |

tricky | 27 | 27 |

generator | 219 | 168 |

Benchmarks are in the table above. Note that

for the version with

`if`

, working on sorted vectors is dramatically faster (about 5x).the non-branching

`ifelse`

version beats them hands down, and naturally it does not care about sorting.if you have to use

`if`

, then you are better off sorting,*even if you take the time of that into account*.generators are susprisingly bad.

the tricky bit-twiddling version is actually worse than

`ifelse`

(which reinforces my aversion to it).

Self-contained code for everything is available below.

download code as code.jl