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Intelís Hyper-Threading technology promises free extra performance by offering some of the benefits of a Dual CPU system but with only one processor. Is it destined to be a must-have technology? A separate article will give you the benchmarks of Hyper-Threading on a 3.06GHz Pentium4 so you can see what difference Hyper-Threading will make in a variety of scenarios. In this article we will try to explain as much as we can about the technology without sending our readers to sleep. A follow-up article will go into much more detail about exactly how Hyper-Threading works to explain why some applications benefit more than others, but it will be heavy going and readers would do well to have strong coffee within easy reach. This article by comparison will start generally easy and get moderately complicated but will furnish readers with everything they need to know to make the most of Hyper-Threading from the userís point of view.



What is Hyper-Threading?

Hyper-Threading is a microprocessor simultaneous multithreading technology (SMT) that supports the concurrent execution of multiple separate instruction streams, referred to as threads of execution, on a single physical processor. When Hyper-Threading is used with the Intel processors that support it, there are two threads of execution per physical processor.


What does it do?

You can see from the above that Intel expects immediate results with existing applications by separating threads, with the promise of even better performance in future applications that are Hyper-Threading optimized (by avoiding competing for resources between concurrent threads). This is in contrast to optimizations such as MMX and SSE1/2, which needed optimizations to see any improvements. How this is done is explained further in the article and in greater detail in a follow-up article.


What do you need for Hyper-Threading to work?

  • Hyper-Threading Technology Platform Requirements

  • Intel Pentium4 Processor 3.06GHz or greater

  • Hyper-Threading Technology enabled Intel chipset

  • Motherboard and system meet Pentium4 processor 3.06GHz power and thermal specifications

  • Updated system BIOS and drivers

  • Operating System optimized for Hyper-Threading Technology

These requirements are fairly straightforward. Obviously a compatible CPU is required and that really means a Pentium4 3.06GHz and above (weíll ignore Xeon CPUs for the purposes of this article as itís aimed at the home user). You will need a Hyper-Threading enabled Intel chipset so check with your motherboard manufacturer, they should have a list of Hyper-Threading compatible boards on their web sites. The power and thermal requirements should not pose any problems as long as a decent P4 PSU is used. If youíre not going to use the stock heat sink (OEM chip or a desire to use alternate cooling methods) make sure whatever you use is at least as effective as the retail cooler. The system Intel sent us used a large all-copper heat sink and an 80mm fan so donít take this too lightly.

What changes were made to the CPU?


Above is highlighted the extra hardware that was added to make the Pentium4 Hyper-Threading enabled. This has actually been present on previous Northwood processors but was disabled until now. Extra real-estate adds about 5% to the size of the chip but it should be noted that many resources are shared otherwise virtually everything would have had to be duplicated, essentially resulting in two CPU cores on one chip with the associated cost increase.


How are Operating Systems supporting Hyper-Threading?

The Hyper-Threading in the processor makes two architectural states available on the same physical processor. Each architectural state can execute an instruction stream, which means that two concurrent threads of execution can occur on a single physical processor. Each thread of execution can be independently halted or interrupted. These architectural states are referred to as logical processors.

The main difference between the execution environment provided by the Hyper-Threading processor, compared with that provided by two traditional single-threaded processors, is that Hyper-Threading shares certain processor resources: there is only one execution engine, one on-board cache set, and one system bus interface. This means that the logical processors on a Hyper-Threading processor must compete for use of these shared resources. As a result, a Hyper-Threading processor will not provide the same performance capability as two similarly equipped single-threaded processors.

It is important to note that the two logical processors on a Hyper-Threading processor are treated equally with respect to access to the shared resources. This article refers to the logical processors on a Hyper-Threading processor, in order of use, as the first and second logical processors.

Windows XP and Windows .NET Server include generic identification and support for IA-32 processors that implement Hyper-Threading using the Intel-defined CPUID instruction identification mechanism. However, support is not guaranteed for processors that have not been tested with these operating systems.

SMT processors may support more than two logical processors in the future. However, the discussions and examples here assume the use of two logical processors, as used in the Pentium4 3.06GHz and above family of processors.

Windows software should run unmodified, and without error, on Hyper-Threading-enabled systems. In general, multithreaded Windows applications perform better when running unmodified on a Hyper-Threading processor than they do on a similarly equipped single-threaded processor. The performance gain varies depending on the application. The best performance gain is typically achieved by applications whose threads compete the least for shared resources on the processor.

Window 2000 does not and never will support Hyper-Threading


What about BIOS support for Hyper-Threading?

The system BIOS provides two important Hyper-Threading features:

  • Logical processor startup sequence

  • Hyper-Threading enable/disable

The sequence in which logical processors are started can be very important, especially when running software that is not Hyper-Threading-aware on a Hyper-Threading-enabled system.

The BIOS is responsible for starting up the logical processors. A list of all of the logical processors that have been started is created by the BIOS and provided to the operating system in the Multiple APIC Description Table (MADT). This table is defined in the Advanced Configuration and Power Interface (ACPI) V2.0 specification. The BIOS passes the MADT to the operating system as part of the ACPI data. Windows will attempt to utilize the logical processors in the same sequence as the BIOS listed them in the MADT.

Intel's recommendation is to list the first logical processor on each of the physical Hyper-Threading processors before listing any of the second logical processors. This strategy ensures that the operating system attempts to utilize the logical processors in that order. Listing the first logical processor on each of the physical Hyper-Threading processors should help to ensure that the optimal performance is achieved on software that is not Hyper-Threading-aware. Performance on non-Hyper-Threading-aware versions of the Windows operating system, such as Windows 2000, may not be optimal if this direction is not followed in the BIOS.

To facilitate performance verification efforts and to support configurations using more than 16 physical Hyper-Threading processors, Intel has recommended that BIOS vendors include an option in their BIOS menus to disable Hyper-Threading. Selecting the Disable Hyper-Threading option will cause the BIOS to start up only the first logical processor on each Hyper-Threading processor and to disable the second logical processor. If Hyper-Threading is disabled, the MADT provides information to the operating system only about the first logical processors; none of the second logical processors are utilized.

It is critical that the BIOS list the logical processors in the recommended sequence for systems that run Windows 2000. If the logical processors are not listed by the BIOS in the recommended sequence, system performance may be degraded.


Are there any licensing issues?

Each logical processor that is contained within a Hyper-Threading processor appears to the operating system as an individual processor. This means that tools or services within Windows that display information about processors, such as the Windows Task Manager or Windows Performance Monitor, will display processor information for every logical processor that Windows is utilizing.

Intelís processor identification methodology has been updated to support the software identification of Hyper-Threading using the CPUID instruction. Operating system and application software can use this identification mechanism to detect the presence of Hyper-Threading processors and to provide support for features such as Hyper-Threading-aware product licensing. Windows .NET Server supports an API that provides the logical to physical mapping for the processors in the system. The current Windows operating system licensing model for Hyper-Threading-enabled systems is to require a processor license for each physical processor. However, it is important to note that any software product that was released before the introduction of Hyper-Threading will not support Hyper-Threading detection and will treat each logical processor as if it were an individual physical processor.

This licensing model applies to all 32-bit versions of Windows XP and Windows .NET Server. This model delivers the performance benefit of utilizing both logical processors for each processor that the Windows license supports. The processor limits which result from this licensing model for 32-bit versions of Windows .NET Server and Windows XP are shown below.

Windows Version

Maximum Physical Processor Limit

Maximum Logical Processor Limit

Windows XP Home Edition



Windows XP Professional



Windows .NET Standard Server



Windows .NET Enterprise Server



Windows .NET Datacenter Server



If seventeen Hyper-Threading processors are listed by the BIOS, Windows .NET Datacenter Server will exhaust the 32-processor limit using both logical processors on the first 16 physical processors listed. The operating system will not use either logical processor on the seventeenth physical processor. As described earlier, utilizing a single logical processor on an idle physical Hyper-Threading processor provides better performance than utilizing the second logical processor on a physical processor that already has an active logical processor.

As a result, Microsoftís recommendation for systems that contain more than 16 physical Hyper-Threading processors is to disable Hyper-Threading at the BIOS before installing or booting Windows. Because the performance benefit provided by the second logical processors in a Hyper-Threading system decreases as the number of physical processors in the system increases, it is not anticipated that the lack of Hyper-Threading support on systems with more than 16 physical Hyper-Threading processors will have a significant impact on the performance of the system.


How do applications deal with Hyper-Threading?

Windows application software should run unmodified, and without error, on Hyper-Threading-enabled systems. In general, multithreaded Windows applications perform better when running unmodified on a Hyper-Threading processor than they do on a similarly equipped single-threaded processor. The performance gain varies depending on the application.

To take advantage of Hyper-Threading, software designers may want to modify their applications to support features such as:

  • Identifying the presence of Hyper-Threading for licensing purposes

  • Improving application performance on Hyper-Threading

Applications must identify the presence of Hyper-Threading to perform Hyper-Threading-aware enforcement of per-processor licensing rules or to create a Hyper-Threading-aware execution environment for the application processes and threads. To perform these types of functions, applications use the system processor affinity mask.

On Hyper-Threading-enabled systems, each logical processor is treated as an individual processor by the operating system and is represented by a bit in the system affinity mask. This is true for both Hyper-Threading-aware and non-Hyper-Threading-aware releases of the Windows operating system.

The detection process requires the application to loop through each logical processor that is represented in the system processor affinity mask and to set affinity to that processor. Information that is made available by the CPUID instruction may then be used to identify the physical processor on which the logical processor executing the code resides. This algorithm allows the application to create a list that relates the bits in the Windows processor affinity mask to the logical and physical processors in the system.


How can applications make better use of Hyper-Threading?

In general, multithreaded Windows applications perform better when running unmodified on a Hyper-Threading processor than they do on a similarly equipped single-threaded processor. To optimize the application performance benefit on Hyper-Threading-enabled systems, the application should ensure that the threads executing on the two logical processors have minimal dependencies on the same shared resources on the physical processor. With an understanding of how the application threads and processes utilize the shared resources on a Hyper-Threading processor, setting processor affinity to minimize competition for these system resources can help application performance.

The following example scenarios describe good and bad ways to set thread affinities:

  • Good Hyper-Threading thread affinity example. Where an application has threads that produce data and threads that consume data, setting affinities so that consumer/producer thread pairs run on the logical processors of the same physical processor should improve performance. This configuration allows the threads to share cached data and to overlap operation. That is, the producer thread can produce future items while the consumer thread is consuming older items.

  • Bad Hyper-Threading thread affinity example. Threads that perform similar actions and stall for the same reasons should not be scheduled on the same physical processor. Setting the processor affinity of such threads to the same physical processor is likely to limit the application performance benefit offered by Hyper-Threading. The benefit of Hyper-Threading is that shared processor resources can be used by one logical processor while the other logical processor is stalled. This does not work when both logical processors are stalled for the same reason.

An application feature that could increase performance is the utilization of a YIELD instruction in any code that spins tightly in a loop, particularly if the code is waiting for access to shared data.

Care should be taken with any code that plans capacity based on the number of processors in the system. As discussed earlier, two logical processors on the same physical processor appear to applications as two processors, but typically provide around 10% to 30% more performance than a similarly equipped non-Hyper-Threading-enabled processor. Any code that calculates capacity and creates load based on the number of processors should check for Hyper-Threading-enabled processors and plan accordingly



Intel ís Hyper-Threading Technology brings the concept of simultaneous multi-threading to the Intel Architecture. This is a significant new technology direction for Intel s future processors. It will become increasingly important going forward as it adds a new technique for obtaining additional performance for lower transistor and power costs.

In this implementation there are two logical processors on each physical processor. The logical processors have their own independent architecture state, but they share nearly all the physical execution and hardware resources of the processor. The goal was to implement the technology at minimum cost while ensuring forward progress on logical processors, even if the other is stalled, and to deliver full performance even when there is only one active logical processor. These goals were achieved through efficient logical processor selection algorithms and the creative partitioning and recombining algorithms of many key resources. Measured performance with Hyper-Threading Technology shows performance gains of up to 30% on common server application benchmarks for this technology. The potential for Hyper-Threading Technology is tremendous; the current implementation has only just begun to tap into this potential. Hyper-Threading Technology is expected to be viable from mobile processors to servers and shows there are other innovations to increase performance than the race for ever-faster clock speeds.


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