Firstly the current rasteriser implicitly maintains a per-primitive index of live pixels for the fragment processor. If I group them all together indexed (implicitly) by the column location then I have to somehow re-group the fragments afterwards so they can all be processed by the same inner loop to amortise the setup costs. After a couple of ideas I think this needs to be implemented by sorting the fragments by shader, then primitive, then X location. Because I want to leave as much processing time as possible for complex fragment shaders I was thinking of putting this onto the REZ cores; as they currently don't have a lot of work to do. This may be tunable depending on the shader vs geometry complexity.
Secondly if blending is not enabled/required then the primitives can be sorted by Z before they are sent to the epiphany; and this implicitly reduces most of the fragment processing to single pixels as well (depending on geometry) due to culling via the zbuffer test. i.e. all the work to split the fragment shaders from the rasterisers might not be much of a pay-off, particularly if it means losing 'free' alpha blending.
I did some testing using more stars (24x24x24) and found that proper z-order (front to back) makes a difference, but it's only something like 50%; but this is with a trivial fragment shader which isn't terribly representative.
Since time is not money here I'll give it a go anyway and see how it ends up. Now I write it down, restoring the primitive index by sorting would mean the same fragment processor could also support blending by just changing how and when the rasteriser outputs fragments; so I might be able to get the best of both.
I might also try changing the way the primitives are loaded in the mk i design: using (and/or dedicating) core 0,0 to load and distribute each band of primitives to the rendering engines to achieve (up to) a 16x bandwidth reduction of external reads should more than outweigh any wasted flops. I will also experiment with splitting the output into tiles instead of whole rows - the pathalogical case of a primitive taking up the whole row should be rare and if core 0,0 is handling the primitive index anyway i can add extra fidelity to the index without needing more memory to store it. I originally did rows because of the better/easier dma output and to reduce redundant setup costs and address calculations for the rasteriser, but its pretty much a wash on that front between the two approaches and 2D tiles might be a better fit.
Update: Had more of a poke today working on the setup and communications. I decided to go with tiles for the rendering off the bat because it allows more flexibility with memory: if i have a whole row in each core it forces a potentially excessively large fixed minimum size for various buffers throughout the pipeline - or an unreasonably narrow rendering resolution. But if I split it into tiles then the height can be adjusted if I need more memory. My first attempt is with tiles of 64x8 pixels which allows for a rendering width of 768 pixels if 12 cores are used for fragment shaders and only requires the same modest 8K for a 4-channel floating point colour buffer as the 512-pixel-width whole-row implementation.
I also decided to drop the fully deferred rendering idea for now - the cost of the sorting required in the rasteriser is putting me off. But It's something I can add later with most work required isolated in the rasteriser code.i
I'm still using the same topology as in the previous post with 3x rasterisers each feeding 4x fragment processors; the main driving factor for that split is the memory requirements of each stage and trying to have as many fragment processors in a round-number of cores as possible. The fact that it should route well though the mesh was mostly just a nice bonus. I'm just hoping at this point that this is also a reasonable work-balance fit as well. Because the rasteriser is going to be a fixed-function unit i'm trying to use as much of it's resources as possible, i'm sitting on around 27K of the RAM used total but I might be able to get that "a lot" higher with a bit of effort+luck.
So as of now I have a simple streaming protocol for the fragment shaders using an ezeport to arbitrate each individual fragment; this has a high(ish) overhead but it could be batched up by rows per processor. The primitive is fully rasterised across the 4 target tiles into a list of active fragments (x, y, w) - 8 bytes each. The w value of all are inverted together and then the fragments are streamed to the fragment processors with a bit of protocol compaction to reduce the transfer size and buffers required ('update y & prim id' message, 'render @ x' message). The work is streamed by row so interleaves across the 4x fragment processors - with enough buffer space (i.e. at least 64 fragments) should allow for some pipelining to hide latency across each 5-core rasteriser+fragment processor sub-system so long as the fragment shaders have enough work to perform.
Well that's where i'm at for the day. I haven't implemented the fragment shaders in the fragment processor or some of the global state broadcast from the controller. But having single messages to core 0,0 being exploded into a whole cascade of work across the mesh which is a pretty big step.
(It didn't quite go as smoothly as that suggests as I hit a bug in libezehost when dealing with heterogeneous workgroups which was a little frustrating till I worked out what was going on).
Update: Another day another bit of progress. Today I hooked up a fragment shader to the rasteriser and got it to render the single triangle test. At this point it's probably a bit slower than the previous code but there is more optimisation to be done.
I had to engineer a bit more of a streaming protocol between the rasteriser and the fragment shader; so I took the opportunity to batch up rows so they can be more efficiently written and read. I added some control codes in there as well for communicating other state and parameterising some of the processing.
I'm still not that happy with the way the rasteriser is forming the fragments: the actual rasterisation process is clean/simple but it has to output the fragments to a combined staging buffer across all tiles which must then be post-processed and broken into chunks for the 4x fragment processors. Having 4x tiles across makes the queue addressing calculation overly complex (in a loop of about 15 instructions almost anything is overly complex). As I am no longer doing deferred rendering without changing the current stream protocol it is possible to remove all the staging buffers from the rasteriser and just write directly to the stream buffers on the target cores; but I don't have a good solution yet (close though). Although i'm not sure what i'm going to do with the massive 16K x 3 this would free up!
Update: Oh damn. I tried rendering more than one triangle ... yeah its not good. Very slow proportional to the number of rendered (non-z-binned) fragments and at least for this workload the load balancing is also very bad - some cores render a ton of pixels and others render none due to the static scheduling. It looks like i miscalculated the rasteriser to fragment processor balance too; that 4x factor adds up very fast.
I went to my timing tester and did some off-core write tests: It seems i misunderstood the overhead of direct off-core writes from the EPUs - they seem to take a fixed (and unaccounted?) 9 cycles even if they "don't block". Yeah that's not going to cut it for this task. DMA seems to be able to get this down to about 1.7 cycles per float but the real benefit is that the epu runs independently and that easily outstrips the data generation rate. But it's going to need some bulky and hairy code to manage across multiple cores which is going to eat into any benefits. This definitely rules out a couple of ideas I had.
Hmm, maybe mk iii is closer than i thought. Perhaps just start with tiles so the output size is flexible and add some dynamic load balancing and a 2D primitive index. Perhaps group 2-4 cores together in terms of the front-end to try to deal with the primitive bandwidth issue; unless that upsets the balancing too much.