The CS 6120 Course Blog

Register Allocation for Bril

by Hongbo Zhang, Sachille Atapattu, Wen-Ding Li

Strength Reduction for Multiplication


The strength reduction method is to replace expensive operations with cheaper but equivalent ones, so we can obtain a faster program. For this project, we will focus on the weak form of strength reduction. Specifically, we focus on how to replace constant multiplications with cheaper operations.

Most modern processors have different latencies and throughputs for different kinds of instructions. It is sometimes possible to find instructions that are mathematically equivalent but faster in practice. For example, on most processors, multiplication may run slower than a bitwise shift. Therefore, it is possible to replace a multiplication x * 2 with bitwise left a shift operation x << 1 for better performance.

Alternatives for Multiplication with Constants

The strength reduction for multiplication with a constant of powers of $2$ is obvious. However, even when the constant is not a power of $2$, reducing multiplications to bitwise shifts is still possible.

Since constants can be represented as sum of powers of $2$, we can use sum of bitwise shifts to replace multiplication operations. For example, x * 7 can be represented as (x << 2) + (x << 1) + x.

$7$ can be also represented as $8-1$, a power of $2$ subtracts a constant. In fact, $7$ is "closer" to the next number. If we reduce x * 7 to x * (8 - 1) = x * 8 - x * 1 = (x << 3) - x, it requires fewer bitwise shifts and add/subtract operations.

Therefore, we have three choices for multiplying a constant:

  1. multiply the constant directly
  2. binary decompose the constant, and sum up the results of bitwise shifts
  3. represent the constant as $2^k-c$, left shift $x$ by $k$ bits, and binary decompose $c$ then subtracts those bitwise shifts

In order to determine with methods we want to use for a multiplication reduction, we need a cost function to compare the cost of those instructions.

Based on a different architecture, we can assign a cost to each of

  1. bitwise shift operation
  2. add/subtract operation
  3. multiplication

The function calculates the total costs of these three approaches and determines which one has the lowest cost.


In order to get an estimation of how much cost can be saved by multiplication strength reduction, we have run the cost analysis that reports the average cost reduction of multiplying each integer constant less than a given upper bound $n$.

In this analysis, we scaled the cost of add/subtract operations and bitwise operations to $1$ unit. According to Agner Fog's benchmarks on different AMD processors, multiplication operations could cost $2-16$ times more clock cycles compared to add/subtract operations. In the following table, we show the expected proportion of clock cycles it can save by multiplication strength reduction on the different cost of multiplication operations and range of the constant factor.


From the table, we can find that the larger the performance gap between ADD/SUB and MUL is, and the smaller the constant is, then more clock cycles we can save on multiplication strength reduction.

In order to show how much cost it can reduce on a set of benchmark programs, PARSEC, we implement an LLVM pass to insert two instruction counters: one is to count the cost of the original instruction and the other is to count the cost of optimized instruction. For each multiplication instruction, we instrument instructions to update the costs.


PARSEC is the Princeton Application Repository for Shared-Memory Computers, a benchmark suite consisted of 13 real-world applications. It is widely used in many literatures. However, it only supports gcc and icc and porting to Clang is not trivial. Furthermore, it seems to have problems on its own, and it is also not well-maintained anymore. For example, on the official website, it provides two mailing list. The first one does not exist anymore, and the questions in the second one are also unmoderated by origin teams. As a result, we use an unofficial repository, which several problems have been fixed, as a starting point. We manage to port several programs in PARSEC to use Clang by manually fixing a lot of compile errors arising during Clang compilation.

The following table shows our evaluation results. For each pair (a,b), a represents the cost for unoptimized multiplication cost and b is the multiplication cost after strength reduction. We can see that for application with a lot of integer multiplication, the difference is significant. Our LLVM pass code can be found here at noauto branch.

The cost is calculated by instrumenting the counter increment instructions to the place where multiplications occur. Our custom LLVM pass will first insert code at the beginning of the application to initialize an global counter and then instrument the multiplications code. As a result, we can count the number of multiplications dynamically. Finally, we also insert an printf function at the end of the main function to report back the value store in the counter. (Interestingly, modifying our C compiler to insert a printf to print something to stdout every time will also break the compiling process for one of the application in the PARSEC, because that one uses C program to print out the code and then compile that code. Thus, we need to be careful.)

cost(MUL)=2(14,10)(8046 , 4003)(389600456 , 195013270)(512 , 256)(12 , 8)(14400 , 5419)
cost(MUL)=4(28,12)(16092, 4005)(779200912 , 195013270)(1024 , 256)(24 , 10)(28800 , 5419)
cost(MUL)=8(56,12)(32184, 4006)(1558401824 , 195013270)(2048 , 256)(48 , 10)(57600 , 5419)
cost(MUL)=16(112,12)(64368, 4006)(3116803648 , 195013270)(4096 , 256)(96 , 10)(115200 , 5419)

Our Thoughts

On most of the modern processors, the performance difference between add/subtract/shift operations and multiplication operations are not that huge. In a non-scientific computation workload, the optimization strength reduction for multiplication is negligible.

We also found that the strength reduction could be very useful on hardware design languages, such as Verilog for FPGA design. Since the multiplication circuit has a longer path than add/subtract/shift operations, strength reduction may be used to reduce the length of critical path and the total number of gates of a circuit.