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Performance tuning

For-loop decorators#

In Taichi kernels, for-loop in the outermost scope is automatically parallelized. Our compiler automatically tunes the parameters to best explore the target architecture. Nevertheless, for Ninjas who strive for the last few % of performance, we also provide some APIs to allow developers fine-tune their applications. For example, specifying a suitable ti.block_dim could yield an almost 3x performance boost in examples/


For performance profiling utilities, please see Profiler section of the Contribution Guide.

Background: Thread hierarchy of GPUs#

To better understand how the mentioned for-loop is parallelized, we briefly introduce the thread hierarchy on modern GPU architectures.

From a fine-grained to a coarse-grained level, the computation units can be defined as: iteration \< thread \< block \< grid.

  • iteration: An iteration is the body of a for-loop. Each iteration corresponding to a specific i value in for-loop.
  • thread: Iterations are grouped into threads. A thread is the minimal unit that is parallelized. All iterations within a thread are executed in serial. We usually use 1 iteration per thread for maximizing parallel performance.
  • block: Threads are grouped into blocks. All threads within a block are executed in parallel. Threads within the same block can share their block local storage.
  • grid: Blocks are grouped into grids. Grid is the minimal unit that being launched from host. All blocks within a grid are executed in parallel. In Taichi, each parallelized for-loop is a grid.

For more details, please see the CUDA C programming guide. Note that we employ the CUDA terminology here, other backends such as OpenGL and Metal follow a similar thread hierarchy.

Example: Tuning the block-level parallelism of a for-loop#

Programmers may prepend some decorator(s) to tweak the property of a for-loop, e.g.:

@ti.kerneldef func():    for i in range(8192):  # no decorator, use default settings        ...
    ti.block_dim(128)      # change the property of next for-loop:    for i in range(8192):  # will be parallelized with block_dim=128        ...
    for i in range(8192):  # no decorator, use default settings        ...

Data layouts#

You might have been familiar with Fields in Taichi. Since Taichi decouples data structure from computation, developers have the flexibility to play with different data layouts. Like in other programming languages, selecting an efficient layout can drastically improve performance. For more information on advanced data layouts in Taichi, please see the Fields (advanced) section.

Local Storage Optimizations#

Taichi comes with a few optimizations that leverage the fast memory (e.g. CUDA shared memory, L1 cache) for performance optimization. The idea is straightforward: Wherever possible, Taichi substitutes the access to the global memroy (slow) with that to the local one (fast), and writes the data in the local memory (e.g., CUDA shared memory) back to the global memory in the end. Such transformations preserve the semantics of the original program (will be explained later).

Thread Local Storage (TLS)#

TLS is mostly designed to optimize parallel reduction. When Taichi identifies a global reduction pattern in a @ti.kernel, it automatically applies the TLS optimizations during code generation, similar to those found in common GPU reduction implementations.

We will walk through an example using CUDA's terminology.

x = ti.field(ti.f32, shape=1000000)s = ti.field(ti.f32, shape=())
@ti.kerneldef sum():  for i in x:    s[None] += x[i]

Internally, Taichi's parallel loop is implemented using Grid-Stride Loops. What this means is that each physical CUDA thread could handle more than one item in x. That is, the number of threads launched for sum can be fewer than the shape of x.

One optimization enabled by this strategy is to substitute the global memory access with a thread-local one. Concretely, instead of directly and atomically adding x[i] into the destination s[None], which resides in the global memory, Taichi preallocates a thread-local buffer upon entering the thread, accumulates (non-atomically) the value of x into this buffer, then adds the result of the buffer back to s[None] atomically before exiting the thread. Assuming each thread handles N items in x, the number of atomic adds is reduced to one-N-th its original size.

Additionally, the last atomic add to the global memory s[None] is optimized using CUDA's warp-level intrinsics, further reducing the number of required atomic adds.

Currently, Taichi supports TLS optimization for these reduction operators: add, sub, min and max. Here is a benchmark comparison when running a global max reduction on a 1-D Taichi field of 8M floats on an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3090 card:

  • TLS disabled: 5.2 x 1e3 us
  • TLS enabled: 5.7 x 1e1 us

TLS has led to an approximately 100x speedup.

Block Local Storage (BLS)#

Context: For a sparse field whose last layer is a dense SNode (i.e., its layer hierarchy matches ti.root.(sparse SNode)+.dense), Taichi will assign one CUDA thread block to each dense container (or dense block). BLS optimization works specifically for such kinds of fields.

BLS aims to accelerate the stencil computation patterns by leveraging the CUDA shared memory. This optimization starts with the users annotating the set of fields they would like to cache via ti.block_local. Taichi then attempts to figure out the accessing range w.r.t the dense block of these annotated fields at compile time. If succeeded, Taichi generates code that first fetches all the accessed data in range into a block local buffer (CUDA's shared memory), then substitutes all the accesses to the corresponding slots into this buffer.

Here is an example illustrating the usage of BLS. a is a sparse field with a block size of 4x4.

a = ti.field(ti.f32)b = ti.field(ti.f32)# `a` has a block size of 4x4ti.root.pointer(ti.ij, 32).dense(ti.ij, 4).place(a)
@ti.kerneldef foo():  # Taichi will cache `a` into the CUDA shared memory  ti.block_local(a)  for i, j in a:    print(a[i - 1, j], a[i, j + 2])

Each loop iteration accesses items with an offset [-1, 0] and [0, 2] to its coordinates, respectively. Therefore, for an entire block spanning from [M, N] (inclusive) to [M + 4, N + 4] (exclusive), the accessed range w.r.t this block is [M - 1, M + 4) x [N, N + 6) (derived from [M + (-1), M + 4) x [N, N + 4 + 2)). The mapping between the global coordinates i, j and the local indices into the buffer is shown below:

From a user's perspective, you do not need to worry about these underlying details. Taichi does all the inference and the global/block-local mapping automatically. That is, Taichi will preallocate a CUDA shared memory buffer of size 5x6, pre-load a's data into this buffer, and replace all the accesses to a (in the global memory) with the buffer in the loop body. While this simple example does not modify a, if a block-cached field does get written, Taichi would also generate code that writes the buffer back to the global memory.


BLS does not come for free. Remember that BLS is designed for the stencil computation, where there are a large amount of overlapped accesses to the global memory. If this is not the case, the pre-loading/post-storing could actually hurt the performance.

On top of that, recent generations of Nvidia's GPU cards have been closing the gap on the read-only access between the global memory and the shared memory. Currently, we found BLS to be more effective for caching the destinations of the atomic operations.

As a rule of thumb, run benchmarks to decide whether to enable BLS or not.