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I am doing some numerical optimization on a scientific application. One thing I noticed is that GCC will optimize the call pow(a,2) by compiling it into a*a, but the call pow(a,6) is not optimized and will actually call the library function pow, which greatly slows down the performance. (In contrast, Intel C++ Compiler, executable icc, will eliminate the library call for pow(a,6).)

What I am curious about is that when I replaced pow(a,6) with a*a*a*a*a*a using GCC 4.5.1 and options "-O3 -lm -funroll-loops -msse4", it uses 5 mulsd instructions:

movapd  %xmm14, %xmm13
mulsd   %xmm14, %xmm13
mulsd   %xmm14, %xmm13
mulsd   %xmm14, %xmm13
mulsd   %xmm14, %xmm13
mulsd   %xmm14, %xmm13

while if I write (a*a*a)*(a*a*a), it will produce

movapd  %xmm14, %xmm13
mulsd   %xmm14, %xmm13
mulsd   %xmm14, %xmm13
mulsd   %xmm13, %xmm13

which reduces the number of multiply instructions to 3. icc has similar behavior.

Why do compilers not recognize this optimization trick?

Because Floating Point Math is not Associative. The way you group the operands in floating point multiplication has an effect on the numerical accuracy of the answer.

As a result, most compilers are very conservative about reordering floating point calculations unless they can be sure that the answer will stay the same, or unless you tell them you don't care about numerical accuracy. For example: the -fassociative-math optionof gcc which allows gcc to reassociate floating point operations, or even the -ffast-math option which allows even more aggressive tradeoffs of accuracy against speed.

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