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SubjectRe: The Kommunity vs. Dick Johnson
   Date: 	Mon, 16 Nov 1998 08:17:25 -0500 (EST)
From: Isaac Connor <>

I am aware of many instances where gcc was able to produce better code
than some asm-advocates I know. It also seems to me, that you have to
look at register use, and how that affects code before and after the asm

This of course proves nothing. The real acid test is whether or not GCC
can produce better code than the what the *best* asm-advocates can
produce. For example, I've yet to see a version of gcc which can do a
good job of compiling the MD5 crypto checksum. The problem is that you
have to be really clever to keep all of the MD5 accumulators in
registers, and every gcc I've played with fails to do this, and ends up
placing at least one or more of the MD5 state variables on the stack.
Hence, in general gcc doesn't seem to handle algorithms which puts
pressure on the i386's absurdly small register file.

A programmer who knows what he or she is doing can usually do better
register placement than GCC, simply because the i386's register file is
so small and with many specialized uses of individual registers. This
makes register placement critical, and in general, when I've had to look
at the GCC-generated assembler, I haven't been impressed with the job
that it's done. The MD5 algorithm is just one example which is
proof-positive that gcc can't find a register allocation scheme which
allows all of the MD5 variables to be left in registers, and a
human-coded MD5 algorithm handily proves that it can be found --- it's
just that GCC can't find it.

Also at last check, GCC doesn't know how to handle data-dependent
rotates. i.e,

extern inline __u32 rotate_left(int i, __u32 word)
return (word << i) | (word >> (32 - i));


should compile to this:

extern inline __u32 rotate_left(int i, __u32 word)
__asm__("roll %%cl,%0"
:"=r" (word)
:"0" (word),"c" (i));
return word;

.... but GCC doesn't know how to handle this sort of thing. (Which is
why the /dev/random driver has an explicit inline __asm__ to take
advantage of this very handy i386 instruction.)

The bottom-line is that the i386, being a CISC architecture, is such
that it will be very hard for gcc to really take full advantage of the
i386 instruction set. Thus, it's likely that hand-assemblers will have
a much easier producing better code than gcc.

People who say that compilers can "obviously" always produce better code
than hand-assemblers are usually parrotting the usual dogma heard in
compiler classes. While it's usually true, there are notable
exceptions, and it shouldn't be all that surprising that kernel
programmers (and crypto programmers) have an easier time finding the
sticky cases which gcc doesn't handle well at all.

- Ted

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