Streaming SIMD Extensions - Registers


SSE originally added eight new 128-bit registers known as XMM0 through XMM7. The AMD64 extensions from AMD (originally called x86-64) added a further eight registers XMM8 through XMM15, and this extension is duplicated in the Intel 64 architecture. There is also a new 32-bit control/status register, MXCSR. The registers XMM8 through XMM15 are accessible only in 64-bit operating mode.

SSE used only a single data type for XMM registers:

  • four 32-bit single-precision floating point numbers

SSE2 would later expand the usage of the XMM registers to include:

  • two 64-bit double-precision floating point numbers or
  • two 64-bit integers or
  • four 32-bit integers or
  • eight 16-bit short integers or
  • sixteen 8-bit bytes or characters.

Because these 128-bit registers are additional program states that the operating system must preserve across task switches, they are disabled by default until the operating system explicitly enables them. This means that the OS must know how to use the FXSAVE and FXRSTOR instructions, which is the extended pair of instructions which can save all x86 and SSE register states all at once. This support was quickly added to all major IA-32 operating systems.

The first CPU to support SSE, the Pentium III, shared execution resources between SSE and the FPU. While a compiled application can interleave FPU and SSE instructions side-by-side, the Pentium III will not issue an FPU and an SSE instruction in the same clock cycle. This limitation reduces the effectiveness of pipelining, but the separate XMM registers do allow SIMD and scalar floating point operations to be mixed without the performance hit from explicit MMX/floating point mode switching.

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