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So maybe it's about time we explained VTLB

Zerofrog documented the concepts of Virtual Memory a few years back. So now I figure it's VTLB's turn, since it's the new exclusive memory model used in current AVNs and any future releases.

So what is VTLB? VTLB stands for Virtual Translation Look-aside Buffer, which for most of us is a lot of common everyday words that, when put together like that, don't mean much at all. Wink

Firstly, the memory model names VM and VTLB refer to the systems in place inside PCSX2 for emulating the Playstation2's memory, and don't actually refer to what's being emulated. In fact, neither VM or VTLB builds emulate the PS2's own TLB memory model, which can be misleading since VTLB contains the letters "TLB." The VM build was incapable of emulating the PS2's TLB without significant speed penalties and complications. VTLB on the other hand has the potential to emulate the PS2 TLB, but we haven't added functionality for it since it also depends on some other not-yet-complete areas of emulation (namely MIPS TLBMiss exceptions). As Zerofrog explained in an earlier blog, very few games utilize the TLB features of the PS2 anyway, so it's pretty much at the bottom of our wishlist at this time.

Conceptually, VTLB is surprisingly simple. It works by building a look-up of the PS2's physical memory on a per-page basis, and then defining actions or "handlers" for some pages, and defining other pages as "direct access" (fast mode). A page of memory is 4096 bytes long, so the PS2's 32Meg physical address space translates into 8192 total pages of memory, which ends up being a pretty small and efficient size as far as lookup tables are concerned. By comparison the current EErec uses a lookup table with 8 million entries!

So when a PS2 instruction performs a memory operation (usually referred to as a memOp), the VTLB grabs the lookup address. If the address has the "special handler" bit set, it routes to that handler. If the handler bit is not set, the address is treated like a normal pointer to physical memory. As an optimization, VTLB uses the sign bit of the 32 bit address for the purpose of differentiating handled memory pages from direct memory pages.

The pseudo-code looks like this, as performed for a write memOp:

uint page = ps2_addr/4096;
uptr pc_addr = vtlb_lookup[page];

if( pc_addr & 0x80000000 )    // sign bit check
    *pc_addr = data;
    handler[page]( ps2_addr, data );

By default, Pcsx2 utilizes the VTLB's handlers for several areas of Ps2 memory that hold hardware registers. Hardware registers are memory addresses that control the whats, whens, and hows of the Ps2 -- write to a specific memory address and the PS2 starts a DMA transfer, or changes the video mode, or plays a new audio sample. These writes have to be intercepted and handled by the emulator. The VTLB allows us to do that very efficiently.

The reason why VTLB is able to emulate the PS2's own TLB is thanks to the handlers, which can remap memory anywhere at any time, with any set of permissions. If a game decided to remap some pages of memory to a different virtual address, those pages would have the "handler bit" set TRUE, and then the handler for those pages would be instructed to remap the memOp to the appropriate physical address. Smile

Thus, the flow would be as such:

Ps2_Virtual_Address -> VTLB_Lookup -> Handler -> Ps2_Physical_Address

The benefits of this model are three-fold: efficiency, extensibility, and ease of debugging. If a game doesn't use the Ps2's TLB, then the VTLB will simply use direct memOps (fast!). If a game does happen to use the TLB, then VTLB can remap the memory as needed, allowing that game to emulate correctly also without having to needlessly burden other games with the overhead of virtual memory remapping logic. And to top it all off, handler mappings can be traced and dumped quickly and easily at any stage of emulation. Smile

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