Tune the system for benchmarks

CPU pinning and CPU isolation

On Linux with a multicore CPU, isolating at least 1 core has a significant impact on the stability of benchmarks. The My journey to stable benchmark, part 1 (system) article explains how to tune Linux for this and shows the effect of CPU isolation and CPU pinning.

The perf Runner class automatically pin worker processes to isolated CPUs (when isolated CPUs are detected). CPU pinning can be checked in benchmark metadata: it is enabled if the cpu_affinity metadata is set.

On Python 3.3 and newer, os.sched_setaffinity() is used to pin processes. On Python 2.7, the Python module psutil is required for psutil.Process().cpu_affinity().

Even if no CPU is isolated, CPU pining makes benchmarks more stable: use the --affinity command line option.

Check the CPU topology for HyperThreading and NUMA for best performances.

See also:

Isolate CPUs on Linux

Enable isolcpus

Identify physical CPU cores (required for Intel Hyper-Threading CPUs):

$ lscpu --extended
0   0    0      0    0:0:0:0       oui    5900,0000 1600,0000
1   0    0      1    1:1:1:0       oui    5900,0000 1600,0000
2   0    0      2    2:2:2:0       oui    5900,0000 1600,0000
3   0    0      3    3:3:3:0       oui    5900,0000 1600,0000
4   0    0      0    0:0:0:0       oui    5900,0000 1600,0000
5   0    0      1    1:1:1:0       oui    5900,0000 1600,0000
6   0    0      2    2:2:2:0       oui    5900,0000 1600,0000
7   0    0      3    3:3:3:0       oui    5900,0000 1600,0000

I have a single CPU on a single socket. We will isolate physical cores 2 and 3, and logical CPUs 2, 3, 6 and 7. Be also careful of NUMA: here all physical cores are on the same NUMA node (0).

Reboot, enter GRUB and modify the Linux command line to add:


Check stability of a benchmark

Download the system_load.py: script to simulate busy system, run enough dummy workers until the system load is higher than the minimum specified on the command line.

  • Prefix benchmark command with taskset -c 2,3,6,7 to run the benchmark on isolated CPUs
  • Run the benchmark on an idle system
  • Run the benchmark with system_load.py 5 running in a different window

The two results must be close. Otherwise, CPU isolation doesn’t work.

You can also check the number of context switches by reading /proc/pid/status: read voluntary_ctxt_switches and nonvoluntary_ctxt_switches. It must be low on a CPU-bound benchmark.

On Linux, perf adds a runnable_threads metadata to runs: “number of currently runnable kernel scheduling entities (processes, threads)” (the value comes from the 4th field of /proc/loadavg).

See also the Visualize the system noise using perf and CPU isolation article (by Victor Stinner, June 2016).


In 2017, high performance Intel and AMD CPUs can have multiple nodes of CPU cores where each node is assigned to a memory region. The latency for a memory region depends on the CPU node. This configuration is called Non-uniform memory access: NUMA.

Use lscpu -a -e command to list CPUs and their affected NUMA node.

CPU pinning is very important on NUMA systems to get best performances.

See also the numactl command.

Features of Intel CPUs

Modern Intel CPUs has many dynamic features impacting performances:

  • HyperThreading: run two threads per CPU code, share L1 caches
  • Turbo Boost: CPU frequency is optimized for best performances depending on the number of “active” cores, CPU temperature, etc.
  • P-state and C-state: the frequency of a CPU core frequency changes depending of C-state and P-state which are tuned by the operating system (by the kernel).

Tools to measure CPU frequency, P-state and C-state:

On Fedora, type dnf install -y kernel-tools to install turbostat and cpupower.

See also:

If nohz_full kernel option is used, the CPU frequency must be fixed, otherwise the CPU frequency will be instable. See Bug 1378529: intel_pstate driver doesn’t support NOHZ_FULL.

Intel i7 cores:

  • Skylake: 6th generation
  • Broadwell: 5th generation
  • Haswell: 4th generation
  • Ivy Bridge: 3rd
  • Sandy Bridge: 2nd
  • Nehalem: 1st

Operations and checks of the perf system command


The perf system command implements the following operations:

  • “CPU scaling governor (intel_pstate driver)”: Get/Set the CPU scaling governor. tune sets the governor to performance, reset sets the governor to powersave.
  • “CPU Frequency”: Read/Write /sys/devices/system/cpu/cpuN/cpufreq/scaling_min_freq sysfs. tune sets scaling_min_freq to the maximum frequency, reset resets scaling_min_freq to the minimum frequency.
  • “IRQ affinity”: Handle the state of the irqbalance service: tune stops the service, reset starts the service. Read/Write the CPU affinity of interruptions: /proc/irq/default_smp_affinity and /proc/irq/N/smp_affinity of all IRQs
  • “Perf event”: Use /proc/sys/kernel/perf_event_max_sample_rate to set the maximum sample rate of perf event to 1 for tune, or 100,000 for reset.
  • “Power supply”: check that the power cable is plugged. If the power cable is unplugged (a laptop running only on a battery), the CPU speed can change when the battery level becomes too low.
  • “Turbo Boost (MSR)”: use /dev/cpu/N/msr to read/write the Turbo Boost mode of Intel CPUs
  • “Turbo Boost (intel_pstate driver)”: read from/write into /sys/devices/system/cpu/intel_pstate/no_turbo to control the Turbo Boost mode of the Intel CPU using the intel_pstate driver

“Turbo Boost (intel_pstate driver)” is used automatically if the CPU 0 uses the intel_pstate driver.


The perf system command implements the following checks:

  • “ASLR”: Check that Full randomization (2) is enabled in /proc/sys/kernel/randomize_va_space
  • “Check nohz_full”: Make sure that nohz_full kernel option is not used with the CPU driver intel_pstate. The intel_pstate drive is incompatible with nohz_full: see https://bugzilla.redhat.com/show_bug.cgi?id=1378529 bug report.
  • “Linux scheduler”: Check that CPUs are isolated using the isolcpus=<cpu list> parameter of the Linux kernel. Check that rcu_nocbs=<cpu list> paramater is used to no schedule RCU on isolated CPUs.

Linux documentation


Disable Turbo Boost of Intel CPUs:

More options

The following options were not tested by perf developers.

  • Disable HyperThreading in the BIOS
  • Disable Turbo Boost in the BIOS
  • writeback:
    • /sys/bus/workqueue/devices/writeback/cpumask
    • /sys/bus/workqueue/devices/writeback/numa
  • for i in $(pgrep rcu); do taskset -pc 0 $i ; done (is it useful if rcu_nocbs is already used?)
  • nohz_full=cpu_list: be careful of P-state/C-state bug (see below)
  • intel_pstate=disable: force the usage of the ACPI CPU driver
  • Non-maskable interrupts (NMI): add nmi_watchdog=0 nowatchdog nosoftlockup to the Linux kernel command line
  • processor.max_cstate=1 idle=poll https://access.redhat.com/articles/65410 “You can disable all c-states by booting with idle=poll or just the deep ones with “processor.max_cstate=1”
  • /dev/cpu_dma_latency can be used to prevent the CPU from entering deep C-states. Open the device, write a 32-bit 0 to it, then keep it open while your tests runs, close when you’re finished. See processor.max_cstate, intel_idle.max_cstate and /dev/cpu_dma_latency.

Misc (untested) Linux commands:

echo "Disable realtime bandwidth reservation"
echo -1 > /proc/sys/kernel/sched_rt_runtime_us

echo "Reduce hung_task_check_count"
echo 1 > /proc/sys/kernel/hung_task_check_count

echo "Disable software watchdog"
echo -1 > /proc/sys/kernel/softlockup_thresh

echo "Reduce vmstat polling"
echo 20 > /proc/sys/vm/stat_interval

If available on your kernel (CONFIG_NO_HZ=y and CONFIG_NO_HZ_FULL=y), you may also enable tickness kernel on these nodes. Add the following option to the command line:


Check that the Linux command line works:

$ cat /sys/devices/system/cpu/isolated
$ cat /sys/devices/system/cpu/nohz_full

Be careful of nohz_full using the intel_pstate CPU driver.


  • ASLR must not be disabled manually! (it’s enabled by default on Linux)