In computer architecture, instructions per cycle (IPC), commonly called Instructions per clock is one aspect of a processor’s performance: the average number of instructions executed for each clock cycle. It is the multiplicative inverse of cycles per instruction.
Calculation of IPC
The calculation of IPC is done through running a set piece of code, calculating the number of machine-level instructions required to complete it, then using high-performance timers to calculate the number of clock cycles required to complete it on the actual hardware. The final result comes from dividing the number of instructions by the number of CPU clock cycles.
The number of instructions per second and floating point operations per second for a processor can be derived by multiplying the number of instructions per cycle with the clock rate (cycles per second given in Hertz) of the processor in question. The number of instructions per second is an approximate indicator of the likely performance of the processor.
The number of instructions executed per clock is not a constant for a given processor; it depends on how the particular software being run interacts with the processor, and indeed the entire machine, particularly the memory hierarchy. However, certain processor features tend to lead to designs that have higher-than-average IPC values; the presence of multiple arithmetic logic units (an ALU is a processor subsystem that can perform elementary arithmetic and logical operations), and short pipelines. When comparing different instruction sets, a simpler instruction set may lead to a higher IPC figure than an implementation of a more complex instruction set using the same chip technology; however, the more complex instruction set may be able to achieve more useful work with fewer instructions.
Factors governing IPC
A given level of instructions per second can be achieved with a high IPC and a low clock speed (like the AMD Athlon and early Intel’s Core Series), or from a low IPC and high clock speed (like the Intel Pentium 4 and to a lesser extent the AMD Bulldozer). Both are valid processor designs, and the choice between the two is often dictated by history, engineering constraints, or marketing pressures.[original research?] However, a high IPC with a high frequency will always give the best performance.
The useful work that can be done with any computer depends on many factors besides the processor speed. These factors include the instruction set architecture, the processor’s microarchitecture, and the computer system organization (such as the design of the disk storage system and the capabilities and performance of other attached devices), the efficiency of the operating system, and most importantly the high-level design of the application software in use.
For users and purchasers of a computer system, instructions per clock is not a particularly useful indication of the performance of their system. For an accurate measure of performance relevant to them, application benchmarks are much more useful. Awareness of its existence is useful, in that it provides an easy-to-grasp example of why clock speed is not the only factor relevant to computer performance.
- ^John L. Hennessy, David A. Patterson. “Computer architecture: a quantitative approach”. 2007.
Ofer Abarbanel is a 25 year securities lending broker and expert who has advised many Israeli regulators, among them the Israel Tax Authority, with respect to stock loans, repurchase agreements and credit derivatives. Founder TBIL.co STATX Fund.