L2 vs. L3 cache: What’s the Distinction?

Yesterday we mentioned how caches work, what the distinction is between L1 and L2, and the varied design components that decide how briskly (and the way efficient) a CPU’s cache is. At present, we’re going to take one step additional and discover the distinction between L2 and L3 caches.

At its easiest stage, an L3 cache is only a bigger, slower model of the L2 cache. Again when most chips had been single-core processors, this was usually true. The primary L3 caches had been truly constructed on the motherboard itself, linked to the CPU through the bottom bus. When AMD launched its K6-III processor household, many current K6/Okay-2 motherboards might settle for a K6-III as effectively. Usually these boards had 512Okay-2MB of L2 cache — when a K6-III, with its built-in L2 cache was inserted, these slower, motherboard-based caches turned L3 as a substitute.

By the flip of the century, slapping a further L3 cache on a chip had turn into a straightforward method to enhance efficiency — Intel’s first consumer-oriented Pentium four “Excessive Version” was a repurposed Gallatin Xeon with a 2MB L3 on-die. Including that cache was enough to purchase the Pentium four EE a 10-20 p.c efficiency increase over the usual Northwood line.

Cache and the multi-core curveball

As multicore processors turned extra widespread, L3 cache began showing extra often on client . These chips, like Intel’s Nehalem and AMD’s K10 (Barcelona) used L3 as greater than only a bigger, slower backstop for L2. Along with this operate, the L3 cache is commonly shared between all the processors on a single piece of silicon. That’s in distinction to the L1 and L2 caches, each of which are usually non-public and devoted to the wants of every specific core. (AMD’s Bulldozer design is an exception to this — Bulldozer, Piledriver, and Steamroller all share a standard L1 instruction cache between the 2 cores in every module).

Intel’s Haswell-E, for instance, has eight separate cores that each one again as much as a standard L3 cache.


Personal L1/L2 caches and a shared L3 is hardly the one option to design a cache hierarchy, nevertheless it’s a standard strategy that a number of distributors have adopted. Giving every particular person core a devoted L1 and L2 cuts entry latencies and reduces the prospect of cache rivalry — that means two completely different cores received’t overwrite important information that the opposite put in a location in favor of their very own workload. The widespread L3 cache is slower however a lot bigger, which implies it could retailer information for all of the cores directly. Subtle algorithms are used to make sure that Core zero tends to retailer info closest to itself, whereas Core 7 throughout the die additionally places obligatory information nearer to itself.

Not like the L1 and L2, that are almost all the time CPU-focused and personal, the L3 may also be shared with different units or capabilities. Intel’s Sandy Bridge CPUs shared an 8MB L3 cache with the on-die graphics core (Ivy Bridge gave the GPU its personal devoted slice of L3 cache in lieu of sharing the complete 8MB).

In distinction to the L1 and L2 caches, each of that are sometimes mounted and range solely very barely (and principally for price range components) each AMD and Intel provide completely different chips with considerably completely different quantities of L3. Intel sometimes sells not less than just a few Xeons with decrease core counts, greater frequencies, and a better L3 cache-per-CPU ratio. Intel’s Core i7 processors have maintained an 8MB L3 because the debut of Nehalem in 2008 (roughly 2MB of L3 for each CPU core) however the highest-end components are sometimes pegged at 2.5MB of cache per CPU core.

At present, the L3 is characterised as a pool of quick reminiscence widespread to all of the CPUs on an SoC. It’s typically gated independently from the remainder of the CPU core and might be dynamically partitioned to steadiness entry velocity, energy consumption, and storage capability. Whereas not almost as quick as L1 or L2, it’s typically extra versatile and performs an important function in managing inter-core communication. With Intel having already added L4 to its Skylake chips, it’s doable we’ll see the L3 take a extra simplified function — with a few of its capabilities and capabilities shifting over to the newer, bigger pool of cache.