Semi-automatic validation of cycle-accurate simulation infrastructures: The case for gem5-x86
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Since the early 70s, simulation infrastructures have been a keystone in computer architecture research, providing a fast and reliable way to prototype and evaluate ideas for future computing systems. There are different types of simulators, from most detailed (cycle-accurate) to time-based/functional and analytical modeling. Increasing accuracy translates into several orders of magnitude in terms of simulation speed. Yet, a question remains open: are the results derived from the simulation infrastructure representative of a real machine? Validation of these infrastructures is complex and costly, usually performed upon release. However, most simulators do not provide the appropriate means to verify or validate new architectural models. In this paper, we introduce a semi-automatic validation framework based on real-hardware performance counter information. The framework provides two levels of abstraction: (a) a high level definition of the processor behavior (Top-Down model) and (b) detailed per-structure and per-pipeline-stage usage breakdown to pinpoint simulator issues. We used this framework to validate the latest available gem5-x86 simulation environment, and found several sources of error that alter the expected behavior of the simulated processor, which we were later to document and correct.
CitationCebrián, J.M. [et al.]. Semi-automatic validation of cycle-accurate simulation infrastructures: The case for gem5-x86. "Future generation computer systems", Novembre 2020, vol. 112, p. 832-847.