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Measuring Arithmetic Intensity

Arithmetic intensity is a measure of floating-point operations (FLOPs) performed by a given code (or code section) relative to the amount of memory accesses (Bytes) that are required to support those operations. It is most often defined as a FLOP per Byte ratio (F/B). This application note provides a methodology for determining arithmetic intensity using Intel's Software Development Emulator Toolkit (SDE) and VTune Amplifier (VTune) tools. A NERSC tutorial on using VTune can be found on our VTune page. This method can also be used to determine arithmetic intensity for use in the Roofline Performance Model.

Historically, processor manufacturers have provided counters for FLOPs and/or Bytes and profiling tools to support the F/B calculation. Some modern processors such as Intel's Haswell (used in Cori) do not provide counters for FLOPs. However, Intel's SDE can be used to count floating-point instructions in addition to core-level memory accesses, and VTune can be used to count data accesses to the uncore (off-chip DRAM DIMMs).

The SDE dynamic instruction tracing capability, and in particular the mix histogram tool, captures dynamic instructions executed, instruction length, instruction category and ISA extension grouping. Intel has developed a methodology for calculating FLOPs with SDE. In general the following uses the method "Instructions to Count Unmasked FLOP" from Intel.

This application note provides additional instruction on how to only capture traces around certain key segments of a code. This is critical for real applications as both SDE and VTune collect traces that can use large amounts of disk space if tracing is enabled for more than a few minutes. And maybe more importantly, post-processing the traces can take an intractable amount of time.

An example command line for SDE is:

srun -n 4 -c 6 sde -ivb -d -iform 1 -omix my_mix.out -i -global_region -start_ssc_mark 111:repeat -stop_ssc_mark 222:repeat -- foo.exe


  • for Cori use -hsw for Haswell or -knl for KNL processors
  • -d specifies to only collect dynamic profile information
  • -iform 1 turns on compute ISA iform mix
  • -omix specifies the output file (and turns on -mix)
  • -i specifies that each process will have a unique file name based on process ID (needed for MPI)
  • -global_region will include any threads spawned by a process (needed for OpenMP)

An example command line for VTune is:

srun -n 4 amplxe-cl -start-paused -r my_vtune -collect memory-access -finalization-mode=none -trace-mpi -- foo.exe

SDE allows tracing to only occur around specified sections of code using __SSC_MARK macros. The -start_ssc_mark and -stop_ssc_mark flags tell SDE to only trace sections of code between these marks. In addition, VTune has calls to start and stop tracing. This is illustrated below for an example kernel from the STREAM benchmark. Note that both use a double underscore prefix which may not be obvious when viewed in the web browser.

// Code must be built with appropriate paths for VTune include file
// (ittnotify.h) and library (-littnotify)

#include <ittnotify.h>

__SSC_MARK(0x111); // start SDE tracing, note it uses 2 underscores
__itt_resume(); // start VTune, again use 2 underscores

for (k=0; k<NTIMES; k++) {
 #pragma omp parallel for
 for (j=0; j<STREAM_ARRAY_SIZE; j++)
 a[j] = b[j]+scalar*c[j];

__itt_pause(); // stop VTune
__SSC_MARK(0x222); // stop SDE tracing

In addition to limiting the collection of traces to certain code segments or kernels, it is also desirable to use start and stop markers to limit the amount of data collected as SDE and VTune tracing analysis can generate a large volume of data if the total execution time is excessive. This may require trial and error to determine where in the code to enable tracing, and to limit the amount of time tracing is enabled. It's desirable that tracing is enabled for only a few minutes or less. To use VTune markers in Fortran codes, see this Intel article.

SDE will create a file for every process that is created by the application. For example, in an MPI code SDE will create a file for each MPI process (one per rank) and if the application contains threads (e.g. OpenMP) those will be encapsulated into the same file (-global_region enables this).


All of the above is best illustrated with example code. This example uses a modified version of the STREAM benchmark (it also contains a directory with an example Jacobi Method code utilizing Fortran bindings). The example can be accessed using git, e.g.:

$ git clone
$ cd stream-ai-example
$ module load sde
$ module load vtune
$ make

You may have to modify the Makefile to suit your needs. Once you've successfully built the executable, stream.exe, (an MPI+OpenMP code) you can use the example batch script (which may need to be modified to suit your target and submit a job which executes stream.exe in three modes: without instrumentation that can be used for accurate timing estimates, then under the control of SDE, and finally under the control of VTune.

$ sbatch
< wait for job to finish, this may take a few to several minutes depending on demand>

When the job completes, SDE will have created several files, one for each rank, starting with sde_. VTune will have created one or more directories (one for each node used) starting with vtbw_.

SDE provides a wealth of information in each of its respective output files. For arithmetic intensity the floating-point instruction and data access instructions are of primary interest. You can use the links to the Intel documentation provided above to better understand these details, or you can use the script provided in the example to parse the output files. The script prints the instruction counts followed by a summary of total floating-point operations and total bytes.

Parsing SDE output

You want to pass the script all files generated by SDE (one per rank) on the command line. E.g.:

$ ./ sde_2p16t*
elements_fp_single_1 = 0
elements_fp_single_2 = 0
elements_fp_single_4 = 0
elements_fp_single_8 = 0
elements_fp_single_16 = 0
elements_fp_double_1 = 2960
elements_fp_double_2 = 0
elements_fp_double_4 = 999999360
elements_fp_double_8 = 0
--->Total single-precision FLOPs = 0
--->Total double-precision FLOPs = 4000000400
--->Total FLOPs = 4000000400
mem-read-1 = 8618384
mem-read-2 = 1232
mem-read-4 = 137276433
mem-read-8 = 149329207
mem-read-16 = 1999998720
mem-read-32 = 0
mem-read-64 = 0
mem-write-1 = 264992
mem-write-2 = 560
mem-write-4 = 285974
mem-write-8 = 14508338
mem-write-16 = 0
mem-write-32 = 499999680
mem-write-64 = 0
--->Total Bytes read = 33752339756
--->Total Bytes written = 16117466472
--->Total Bytes = 49869806228

amplxe-cl stores its trace data in directories (one per node). The example script includes -finalization-mode=none as the finalize step is I/O intensive and can take a long time. It is best done on an external login node. (Please see the VTune page for more information about using VTune effectively. The following amplxe-cl command creates a summary report which is then redirected to another file. The script is provided to extract the uncore counter data for all nodes and then print a summary of the total data traffic to the DDR memory. Note that each uncore count is a 64 byte cache line, which is reflected in the total bytes reports. Also note that you will need to run a summary report for each directory (one per node) created during data collection. In this example, only a single directory was created. Even though there is only a single summary file for this example, in the 2nd step of executing a wildcard is used to illustrate that all summary files need to be specified on the command line for a multi-node result.

$ amplxe-cl -report hw-events -group-by=package -r vtbw_2p16t_13568698.nid00619 -column=UNC_M_CAS_COUNT -format=csv -csv-delimiter=comma > vtbw_2p16t_13568698.summary
--> lots of VTune output ....
--> Repeat for each directory created during data collection, one per node
$ ./ vtbw_2p16t*.summary
Search stanza is "Uncore"
UNC_M_CAS_COUNT.RD[UNIT2] = 127252047
UNC_M_CAS_COUNT.RD[UNIT3] = 126829175
UNC_M_CAS_COUNT.RD[UNIT6] = 126861782
UNC_M_CAS_COUNT.RD[UNIT7] = 127247700
UNC_M_CAS_COUNT.WR[UNIT2] = 62611982
UNC_M_CAS_COUNT.WR[UNIT3] = 62274525
UNC_M_CAS_COUNT.WR[UNIT6] = 62389886
UNC_M_CAS_COUNT.WR[UNIT7] = 62519044
--->Total Bytes read = 32524205056
--->Total Bytes written = 15986907968
--->Total Bytes = 48511113024

Arithmetic intensity (AI) can now be calculated. Nominally, it's the ratio of "Total FLOPs" as reported by SDE to "Total Bytes" as reported by VTune.

AI (DRAM) = 4000000400 / 48511113024 = 0.0825

Alternatively, it can be calculated using the "Total Bytes" as seen by the core L1 caches and reported by SDE.

AI (L1) = 4000000400 / 49869806228 = 0.0802

Since STREAM has very little reuse of data, the AI of the two is approximately the same. For real codes, the AI (L1) will most likely be significantly lower. AI (L1) divided by AI (DRAM) can be used as a "bandwidth bound" figure of merit, the closer to 1.0 the more bandwidth bound the application.

Change Log

  • June 9, 2018
    • Brought up to date to reflect the latest system software installed at NERSC. In particular the example script is now compatible with the latest configuration of Slurm and the amplxe-cl arguments are compatible with VTune Amplifier 2018. In addition, the STREAM example and all associated scripts to automate the method is now available via git on BitBucket.
  • May 18, 2016
    • Updated the example with a new file which supports parsing for the Knights Landing MCDRAM counter output of VTune. You need to use at least VTune version 2016 Update 3 to collect MCDRAM counters.
  • March 23, 2016
    • Added link to Fortran bindings for SSC_MARK
    • Fixed bug in which gave incorrect total FLOP count when using single_precision
  • March 15, 2016
    • Example download now supports Slurm
    • Example download now supports Haswell's (Cori) fused multiply-add, multiply-subtract instructions
    • Updated for use with VTune Amplifier XE 2016
    • Example download is now a single MPI+OpenMP code and supports multi-node execution with SDE and VTune
  • March 6, 2016
    • Updated SDE parse script in the example download to handle fused multiply-add and multiply-subtract instructions