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One thing is for sure: The new 0.9.7 betas will use a lot more threads than the current 0.9.6 releases. Now this doesn't necessarily mean the emulator will take advantage of quad core CPUs better than 0.9.6, least not in a gameplay sense. As I explained in my previous blog, threading is as much a function of improving responsiveness and recoverability as it is about sharing a workload across multi-core cpus, and so far most of the threading implemented into 0.9.7 is the scalable/responsive sort.

One of the major changes in 0.9.7 will be the removal of what I call an "aggressive spinwait" in the EmotionEngine (EEcore) emulation unit. A spinwait is a simple loop that waits on a variable to change, like so:

volatile bool IsRunning = true;
while( IsRunning );
// When the above while() exits, the ThreadedAction is done.

This is a very simple threading design, but it's mostly drawbacks and not many advantages. We've continued to use it up to now in PCSX2's EEcore because there wasn't much reason to do away with it; and with the EEcore being the main orchestrator of everything in PCSX2 (gui included!), having the high-resolution responsiveness of a spinwait made some sense.

On the current design in 0.9.6, the EEcore and the GUI share time on the same thread, and when the GS thread is busy, the EEcore will split time between waiting on the GS (via the spinwait) and processing GUI messages. This transition from EEcore emulation to GUI message processing was typically costly, but was necessary to handle input from the user. In the new 0.9.7 design, the EEcore has its own thread separate from the GUI. This allows us to remove the overhead of having to switch to/from GUI processing code, but it came with a somewhat unexpected drawback: the EEcore's aggressive spinwait is now suddenly very aggressive when a game becomes GS-limited. In 0.9.6 the spinwait breaks from time to time to splice in some gui messages and make time for the GS to do its thing too. This kept everything pretty happy. But with the splicing gone, the EEcore is allowed to run free, soaking up tons of resources simply re-testing the same variable over and over.

The full impact became obvious when we realized that setting 2 software threads in GSdx caused PCSX2 to slow to a crawl (sub 1fps!) on dual core systems. That's what happens when you have three threads using spinwaits on a dual core system -- they completely starved out everything else, and to some extent each other as well. (yes, GSdx software uses spinwaits also!)

The primary solution is to get rid of the spinwait in the EEcore. In its wake we'll put the EEcore to sleep and have it wake up only once the MTGS ringbuffer has emptied to a satisfactory percentage. With the EEcore asleep, the GSdx thread(s) will have full reign over all the resources of the cpu; which will allow it to play "catch up" more efficiently than it can even in 0.9.6. This model will be an obvious win for both software rendering, and possibly DX11's multithreaded pipeline in the future.

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