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Scratchpad memory (SPM), also known as scratchpad, scratchpad RAM or local store in computer terminology, is an internal memory, usually high-speed, used for temporary storage of calculations, data, and other work in progress. In reference to a microprocessor (or CPU), scratchpad refers to a special high-speed memory used to hold small items of data for rapid retrieval. It is similar to the usage and size of a scratchpad in life: a pad of paper for preliminary notes or sketches or writings, etc. When the scratchpad is a hidden portion of the main memory then it is sometimes referred to as bump storage.

In some systems[a] it can be considered similar to the L1 cache in that it is the next closest memory to the ALU after the processor registers, with explicit instructions to move data to and from main memory, often using DMA-based data transfer.[1] In contrast to a system that uses caches, a system with scratchpads is a system with non-uniform memory access (NUMA) latencies, because the memory access latencies to the different scratchpads and the main memory vary. Another difference from a system that employs caches is that a scratchpad commonly does not contain a copy of data that is also stored in the main memory.

Scratchpads are employed for simplification of caching logic, and to guarantee a unit can work without main memory contention in a system employing multiple processors, especially in multiprocessor system-on-chip for embedded systems. They are mostly suited for storing temporary results (as it would be found in the CPU stack) that typically wouldn't need to always be committing to the main memory; however when fed by DMA, they can also be used in place of a cache for mirroring the state of slower main memory. The same issues of locality of reference apply in relation to efficiency of use; although some systems allow strided DMA to access rectangular data sets. Another difference is that scratchpads are explicitly manipulated by applications. They may be useful for realtime applications, where predictable timing is hindered by cache behavior.

Scratchpads are not used in mainstream desktop processors where generality is required for legacy software to run from generation to generation, in which the available on-chip memory size may change. They are better implemented in embedded systems, special-purpose processors and game consoles, where chips are often manufactured as MPSoC, and where software is often tuned to one hardware configuration.

Examples of use


Cache control vs scratchpads

Some architectures such as PowerPC attempt to avoid the need for cacheline locking or scratchpads through the use of cache control instructions. Marking an area of memory with "Data Cache Block: Zero" (allocating a line but setting its contents to zero instead of loading from main memory) and discarding it after use ('Data Cache Block: Invalidate', signaling that main memory didn't receive any updated data) the cache is made to behave as a scratchpad. Generality is maintained in that these are hints and the underlying hardware will function correctly regardless of actual cache size.

Shared L2 vs Cell local stores

Regarding interprocessor communication in a multicore setup, there are similarities between the Cell's inter-localstore DMA and a shared L2 cache setup as in the Intel Core 2 Duo or the Xbox 360's custom powerPC: the L2 cache allows processors to share results without those results having to be committed to main memory. This can be an advantage where the working set for an algorithm encompasses the entirety of the L2 cache. However, when a program is written to take advantage of inter-localstore DMA, the Cell has the benefit of each-other-Local-Store serving the purpose of BOTH the private workspace for a single processor AND the point of sharing between processors; i.e., the other Local Stores are on a similar footing viewed from one processor as the shared L2 cache in a conventional chip. The tradeoff is that of memory wasted in buffering and programming complexity for synchronization, though this would be similar to precached pages in a conventional chip. Domains where using this capability is effective include:

It would be possible for a conventional processor to gain similar advantages with cache-control instructions, for example, allowing the prefetching to the L1 bypassing the L2, or an eviction hint that signaled a transfer from L1 to L2 but not committing to main memory; however, at present no systems offer this capability in a usable form and such instructions in effect should mirror explicit transfer of data among cache areas used by each core.

See also


  1. ^ Some older systems used a hidden part of main storage, referred to as bump storage, as scratchpad. In other systems, e.g., UNIVAC 1107, all addressable registers were held in scratchpad.


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  2. ^ "The TI-99/4A internal architecture". Retrieved 2023-03-08.
  3. ^ J. Lu, K. Bai, A. Shrivastava, "SSDM: Smart Stack Data Management for Software Managed Multicores (SMMs)", Design Automation Conference (DAC), June 2–6, 2013
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  7. ^ Jia, Zhe; Tillman, Blake; Maggioni, Marco; Scarpazza, Daniele P. (December 7, 2019). Dissecting the Graphcore IPU Architecture via Microbenchmarking (PDF) (Technical report). Citadel Enterprise Americas, LLC. arXiv:1912.03413.