AN 763: Intel® Arria® 10 SoC Device Design Guidelines

ID 683192
Date 5/17/2022
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2.2.2. Maintaining Cache Coherency

Cache coherency is a fundamental topic to understand any time data must be shared amongst multiple masters in a system. In the context of a SoC device these masters can be the MPU, DMA, peripherals with master interfaces, and masters in the FPGA connected to the HPS. Since the MPU contains level 1 and level 2 cache controllers it can hold more up-to-date contents than main memory in the system. The HPS supports two mechanisms to make sure masters in the system observe a coherent view of memory: ensuring main memory contains the latest value, or have masters access the ACP slave of the HPS.

The MPU can allocate buffers to be non-cacheable which ensures data is never cached by the L1 and L2 caches. The MPU can also access cacheable data and either flush it to main memory or copy it to a non-cacheable buffer before other masters attempt to access the data. Operating systems typically provide mechanisms for maintaining cache coherency both ways described above.

Masters in the system access coherent data by either relying on the MPU to place data into main memory instead of having it cached, or by having the master in the system perform a cacheable access via the ACP slave. Which mechanism you use typically depends on the size of the buffer of memory the master is accessing.

GUIDELINE: Ensure that data accessed through the ACP slave fits in the 512 KB L2 cache to avoid thrashing overhead.

Since the L2 cache size is 512 KB, if a master in the system frequently accesses buffers whose total size exceeds 512 KB, thrashing results.

Cache thrashing is a situation where the size of the data exceeds the size of the cache, causing the cache to perform frequent evictions and prefetches to main memory. Thrashing negates the performance benefits of caching the data.

In potential thrashing situation, it makes more sense to have the masters access non-cache coherent data and allow software executing on the MPU maintain the data coherency throughout the system.

GUIDELINE: For small buffers of data shared between the MPU and system masters, consider having the system master perform cacheable accesses to avoid overhead caused by cache flushing operations.

If a master in the system requires access to smaller coherent blocks of data then you should consider having the MPU access the buffer as cacheable memory and the master in the system perform cacheable accesses to the data. Cacheable accesses are automatically routed to the MPU ACP slave ensuring that the master and MPU access the same copy of the data. By having the MPU use cacheable buffers and the system master performing cacheable accesses, software does not have to maintain system wide coherency ensuring both the MPU and system master observe the same copy of data.

Guideline: Avoid needing to coherently access back the HPS through ACP from the fabric in order to complete an access coming from HPS, as this may result in a deadlock situation.

Certain coherent access scenarios can create deadlock through the ACP and the CPU. However, you can avoid this type of deadlock with a simple access strategy.

In the following example, the CPU creates deadlock by initiating an access to the HPS through the FPGA fabric:
  1. The CPU initiates a device memory access to the FPGA fabric. The CPU pipeline must stall until this type of access is complete.
  2. Before the FPGA fabric state machine can respond to the device memory access, it must access the HPS coherently. It initiates a coherent access, which requires the ACP.
  3. The ACP must perform a cache maintenance operation before it can complete the access. However, the CPU’s pipeline stall prevents it from performing the cache maintenance operation. The system deadlocks.

You can implement the desired access without deadlock, by breaking it into smaller pieces. For example, you can initiate the operation with one access, then determine the operation status with a second access.