Static Timing

The features discussed below have been available since Calyx version 0.2.1.

By default, Calyx programs use a latency-insensitive, or dynamic, model of computation. This means that the compiler does not know, track, or guarantee the number of cycles it takes to perform a computation or run a control operator. This is in contrast to a latency-sensitive, or static, model of computation, where the number of cycles a component needs is known to, and honored by, the compiler.

In general, latency-insensitivity makes it easier to compose programs. It grants the compiler freedom to schedule operators however it wants, as long as the schedule meets the program's dataflow constraints. It also prevents code from implicitly depending on the state of other code running in parallel.

However, there are two drawbacks to this approach. First, the generated hardware may not be efficient: if the compiler does not know how long computations take, it must schedule them conservatively. Second, it is impossible for latency-insensitive programs to interact with latency-sensitive hardware implemented in RTL; this means that the use of black-box hardware designs requires costly handshaking logic at the interface.

To address these issues, Calyx provides a static qualifier that modifies components and groups, along with static variants of other control operators.

Broadly, the static qualifier is a promise to the compiler that the specifed component or group will take exactly the specified number of cycles to execute. The compiler is free to take advantage of this promise to generate more efficient hardware. In return, the compiler must access out-ports of static components only after the specified number of cycles have passed, or risk receiving incorrect results.

Static Constructs in the Calyx IL

We will now discuss the static constructs available in the Calyx IL, along with the guarantees they come with.

Static Components

Briefly consider a divider component, std_div, which divides the value left by the value right and puts the result in out. This component is dynamic; its latency is unknown.

primitive std_div[W](go: 1, left: W, right: W) -> (out: W, done: 1);

A client of the divider must pass two inputs left and right, raise the go signal, and wait for the component itself to raise its done signal. The client can then read the result from the out port. That is, it obeys the go-done interface.

Compare this to a multiplier component, std_mult, which has a similar signature but whose latency is known to be three cycles. We declare it as follows:

static<3> primitive std_mult[W](go: 1, left: W, right: W) -> (out: W);

The key differences are:

  • The static qualifier is used to declare the component as static and to specify its latency (3 cycles).
  • The done port is absent.

A client of the multiplier must pass two inputs and raise the go signal as before. However, the client need not then wait for the component to indicate completion. It can simply and safely assume that the result will be available after 3 cycles. This is a guarantee that the author of the component has made to the client, and the compiler is free to take advantage of it.

Static Groups and Relative Timing Guards

Much like components, groups can be declared as static. Since groups are just unordered sets of assignments, it pays to have a little more control over the scheduling of the assignments within a group. To this end, static groups have a unique feature that ordinary dynamic groups do not: relative timing guards.

Consider this group, which multiplies 6 and 7 and stores the result in ans.

static<4> group mult_and_store {
  mult.left = %[0:3] ? 6;
  mult.right = %[0:3] ? 7;
  mult.go = %[0:3] ? 1; = %3 ? mult.out;
  ans.write_en = %3 ? 1;

The static<4> qualifier specifies that the group should take 4 cycles to execute.

The first three assignments are guarded (using the standard ? separator) by the relative timing guard %[0:3]. In general, a relative timing guard %[i:j] is true in the half-open interval from cycle i to cycle j of the group’s execution and false otherwise.

In our case, the first three assignments execute only in the first three cycles of the group's execution. The guard %3, which we see immediately afterwards, is syntactic sugar for %[3:4]. We have used it in this case to ensure that the last two assignments execute only in the last cycle of the group's execution.

Static Control Operators

Calyx provides static variants of each of its control operators. While dynamic commands may contain both static and dynamic children, static commands must only have static children. In the examples below, assume that A5, B6, C7, and D8 are static groups with latencies 5, 6, 7, and 8, respectively.

static seq, a static version of seq

If we have static seq { A5; B6; C7; D8; }, we can guarantee that the latency of the entire operation is the sum of the latencies of its children: 5 + 6 + 7 + 8 = 26 cycles in this case. We can also guarantee that each child will begin executing exactly one cycle after the previous child has finished. In our case, for example, B6 will begin executing exactly one cycle after A5 has finished.

static par, a static version of par

If we have static par { A5; B6; C7; D8; }, we can guarantee that the latency of the entire operation is the maximum of the latencies of its children: 8 cycles in this case. Further, all the children of a static par are guaranteed to begin executing at the same time. The children can rely on this "lockstep" behavior and can communicate with each other. Inter-thread communication of this sort is undefined behavior in a standard, dynamic, par.

As a corollary, consider this useful trick in the case when we need A5 and D8 to run in parallel, but we do not want them to start at the same time. Instead, in order to support some inter-thread communication, we want A5 to start three cycles after D8.

static<3> group dummy_group { }

static par {
  static seq { dummy_group; A5; }

We have not elided the body of dummy_group; it can literally be left blank. During compilation, no hardware will be generated for dummy_group. It is simply a placeholder to delay the start of A5 by three cycles.

static if, a static version of if

If we have static if { A5; B6; }, we can guarantee that the latency of the entire operation is the maximum of the latencies of its children: 6 cycles in this case.

static repeat, a static version of repeat

If we have static repeat 7 { B6; }, we can guarantee that the latency of the entire operation is the product of the number of iterations and the latency of its child: 7 × 6 = 42 cycles in this case. The body of a static repeat is guaranteed to begin executing exactly one cycle after the previous iteration has finished.

Calyx's while loop is unbouded and so it does not have a static variant.

static invoke, a static version of invoke

Its latency is the latency of the invoked cell.