Formal Verification of Instruction Dependencies in Microprocessors
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In microprocessors, achieving an efficient utilization of the execution units is a key factor in improving performance. However, maintaining an uninterrupted flow of instructions is a challenge due to the data and control dependencies between instructions of a program. Modern microprocessors employ aggressive optimizations trying to keep their execution units busy without violating inter-instruction dependencies. Such complex optimizations may cause subtle implementation flaws that can be hard to detect using conventional simulation-based verification techniques. Formal verification is known for its ability to discover design flaws that may go undetected using conventional verification techniques. However, with formal verification come two major challenges. First, the correctness of the implementation needs to be defined formally. Second, formal verification is often hard to apply at the scale of realistic implementations. In this thesis, we present a formal verification strategy to guarantee that a microprocessor implementation preserves both data and control dependencies among instructions. Throughout our strategy, we address the two major challenges associated with formal verification: correctness and scalability. We address the correctness challenge by specifying our correctness in the context of generic pipelines. Unlike conventional pipeline hazard rules, we make no distinction between the data and control aspects. Instead, we describe the relationship between a producer instruction and a consumer instruction in a way such that both instructions can speculatively read their source operands, speculatively write their results, and go out of their program order during execution. In addition to supporting branch and value prediction, our correctness criteria allow the implementation to discard (squash) or replay instructions while being executed. We address the scalability challenge in three ways: abstraction, decomposition, and induction. First, we state our inter-instruction dependency correctness criteria in terms of read and write operations without making reference to data values. Consequently, our correctness criteria can be verified for implementations with abstract datapaths. Second, we decompose our correctness criteria into a set of smaller obligations that are easier to verify. All these obligations can be expressed as properties within the Syntactically-Safe fragment of Linear Temporal Logic (SSLTL). Third, we introduce a technique to verify SSLTL properties by induction, and prove its soundness and completeness. To demonstrate our overall strategy, we verified a term-level model of an out-of-order speculative processor. The processor model implements register renaming using a P6-style reorder buffer and branch prediction with a hybrid (discard-replay) recovery mechanism. The verification obligations (expressed in SSLTL) are checked using a tool implementing our inductive technique. Our tool, named Tahrir, is built on top of a generic interface to SMT solvers and can be generally used for verifying SSLTL properties about infinite-state systems.
Cite this work
Hazem Shehata (2011). Formal Verification of Instruction Dependencies in Microprocessors. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/6102