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A tool for running small microbenchmarks on recent Intel and AMD x86 CPUs.
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nanoBench is a Linux-based tool for running small microbenchmarks on recent Intel and AMD x86 CPUs. The microbenchmarks are evaluated using hardware performance counters. The reading of the performance counters is implemented in a way that incurs only minimal overhead.

There are two variants of the tool: A user-space implementation and a kernel module. The kernel module makes it possible to benchmark privileged instructions, and it can allow for more accurate measurement results as it disables interrupts and preemptions during measurements. The disadvantage of the kernel module compared to the user-space variant is that it is quite risky to allow arbitrary code to be executed in kernel space. Therefore, the kernel module should not be used on a production system.

nanoBench is used for running the microbenchmarks for obtaining the latency, throughput, and port usage data that is available on


User-space Version

sudo apt install msr-tools
git clone
cd nanoBench
make user

nanoBench might not work if Secure Boot is enabled. Click here for instructions on how to disable Secure Boot.

Kernel Module

Note: The following is not necessary if you would just like to use the user-space version.

git clone
cd nanoBench
make kernel

To load the kernel module, run:

sudo insmod kernel/nb.ko # this is necessary after every reboot

Usage Examples

The recommended way for using nanoBench is with the wrapper scripts (for the user-space variant) and (for the kernel module). The following examples work with both of these scripts.

For obtaining repeatable results, it can help to disable hyper-threading. This can be done with the script.

Example 1: The ADD Instruction

The following command will benchmark the assembler code sequence "ADD RAX, RBX; ADD RBX, RAX" on a Skylake-based system.

sudo ./ -asm "ADD RAX, RBX; add RBX, RAX" -config configs/cfg_Skylake_common.txt

It will produce an output similar to the following.

Instructions retired: 2.00
Core cycles: 2.00
Reference cycles: 1.85

The tool will unroll the assembler code multiple times, i.e., it will create multiple copies of it. The results are averages per copy of the assembler code for multiple runs of the entire generated code sequence.

The config file contains the required information for configuring the programmable performance counters with the desired events. We provide example configuration files for recent Intel and AMD microarchitectures in the config folder. When using the kernel-module, the config file must not be larger than 4 kB.

The assembler code sequence may use and modify any general-purpose or vector registers, including the stack pointer. There is no need to restore the registers to their original values at the end (unless the -loop or -no_mem options are used).

R14, RDI, RSI, RSP, and RBP are initialized with addresses in a dedicated memory area (of about 2 MB), that can be freely modified by the assembler code. The addresses in R14, RDI, RSI, RSP, and RBP are at least 4 kB apart from each other.

All other registers have initially undefined values. They can, however, be initialized as shown in the following example.

Example 2: Load Latency

sudo ./ -asm_init "mov RAX, R14; sub RAX, 8; mov [RAX], RAX" -asm "mov RAX, [RAX]" -config configs/cfg_Skylake_common.txt

The asm-init code is executed once in the beginning. It first sets RAX to R14-8 (thus, RAX now contains a valid memory address), and then sets the memory at address RAX to its own address. Then, the asm code is executed repeatedly. This code loads the value at the address in RAX into RAX. Thus, the execution time of this instruction corresponds to the L1 data cache latency.

We will get an output similar to the following.

Instructions retired: 1.00
Core cycles: 4.00
Reference cycles: 3.52

Generated Code

We will now take a look behind the scenes at the code that nanoBench generates for evaluating a microbenchmark.

int run(code, code_init, local_unroll_count):
    int measurements[n_measurements]
    for i=-warm_up_count to n_measurements
        m1 = read_perf_ctrs // stores results in memory, does not modify registers
        for j=0 to loop_count // this line is omitted if loop_count=0
            code // (copy #1)
            code // (copy #2)
            code // (copy #local_unroll_count)
        m2 = read_perf_ctrs
        if i >= 0: // ignore warm-up runs
            measurements[i] = m2 - m1
    return agg(measurements) // apply selected aggregate function

run(...) is executed twice: The first time with local_unroll_count = unroll_count, and the second time with local_unroll_count = 2 * unroll_count. If the -basic_mode options is used, the first execution is with no instructions between m1 = read_perf_ctrs and m2 = read_perf_ctrs, and the second with local_unroll_count = unroll_count.

The result that is finally reported by nanoBench is the difference between these two executions divided by max(loop_count * unroll_count, unroll_count).

Before the first execution of run(...), the performance counters are configured according to the event specifications in the -config file. If this file contains more events than there are programmable performance counters available, run(...) is executed multiple times with different performance counter configurations.

Command-line Options

Both and support the following command-line parameters. All parameters are optional. Parameter names may be abbreviated if the abbreviation is unique (e.g., -l may be used instead of -loop_count).

Option Description
-asm <code> Assembler code sequence (in Intel syntax) containing the code to be benchmarked.
-asm_init <code> Assembler code sequence (in Intel syntax) that is executed once before executing the benchmark code.
-code <filename> A binary file containing the code to be benchmarked as raw x86 machine code. This option cannot be used together with -asm.
-code_init <filename> A binary file containing code to be executed once before executing the benchmark code. This option cannot be used together with -asm_init.
-config <file> File with performance counter event specifications. Details are described below.
-n_measurements <n> Number of times the measurements are repeated. [Default: n=10]
-unroll_count <n> Number of copies of the benchmark code inside the inner loop. [Default: n=1000]
-loop_count <n> Number of iterations of the inner loop. If n>0, the code to be benchmarked must not modify R15, as this register contains the loop counter. If n=0, the instructions for the loop are omitted; the loop body is then executed once. [Default: n=0]
-warm_up_count <n> Number of runs of the generated benchmark code sequence (in each invocation of run(...)) before the first measurement result gets recorded . This can, for example, be useful for excluding outliers due to cold caches. [Default: n=5]
-initial_warm_up_count <n> Number of runs of the benchmark code sequence before the first invocation of run(...). This can be useful for benchmarking instructions that require a warm-up period before they can execute at full speed, like AVX2 instructions on some microarchitectures. [Default: n=0]
-avg Selects the arithmetic mean (excluding the top and bottom 20% of the values) as the aggregate function. [This is the default]
-median Selects the median as the aggregate function.
-min Selects the minimum as the aggregate function.
-basic_mode The effect of this option is described in the Generated Code section.
-no_mem If this option is enabled, the code for read_perf_ctrs does not make any memory accesses and stores all performance counter values in registers. This can, for example, be useful for benchmarks that require that the state of the data caches does not change after the execution of code_init. If this option is used, the code to be benchmarked must not modify registers R8-R11 (Intel) and R8-R13 (AMD). Furthermore, read_perf_ctrs will modify RAX, RCX, and RDX.
-cpu <n> Pins the measurement thread to CPU n. [Default: Pin the thread to the CPU it is currently running on.]
-verbose Outputs the results of all performance counter readings. In the user-space version, the results are printed to stdout. The output of the kernel module can be accessed using dmesg.

The following parameters are only supported by

Option Description
-usr <n> If n=1, performance events are counted when the processor is operating at a privilege level greater than 0. [Default: n=1]
-os <n> If n=1, performance events are counted when the processor is operating at privilege level 0. [Default: n=0]
-debug Enables the debug mode (see below).

Performance Counter Config Files

We provide provide performance counter configuration files for most recent Intel and AMD CPUs in the configs folder. These files can be adapted/reduced to the events you are interested in.

The format of the entries in the configuration files is

EvtSel.UMASK(.CMSK=...)(.AnyT)(.EDG)(.INV)(.CTR=...)(.MSR_3F6H=...)(.MSR_PF=...)(.MSR_RSP0=...)(.MSR_RSP1=...) Name

You can find details on the meanings of the different parts of the entries in chapters 18 and 19 of Intel's System Programming Guide.

Debug Mode

If the debug mode is enabled, the generated code contains a breakpoint right before the line m2 = read_perf_ctrs, and nanoBench is run using gdb. This makes it possible to analyze the effect of the code to be benchmarked on registers and on the memory. The command info all-registers can, for example, be used to display the current values of all registers.

Supported Platforms

nanoBench should work with all Intel processors supporting architectural performance monitoring version ≥ 3, as well as with AMD Family 17h processors.

The code was developed and tested using Ubuntu 18.04.

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