Baseline and comparison framework


Despite being based on the Neoverse N1 configured as found in the N1SDP, performance results gathered on Morello are not directly comparable. Most importantly, cache sizes and other aspects of the memory subsystem differ between the designs. Instead, direct comparisons must be performed between multiple software configurations on Morello.

In addition, measurements in this report are made on an FPGA-adapted implementation of Morello, with three variants used:

  • Baseline Morello design modeled on the shipped Morello SoC.
  • Modified Morello design with data-dependent exception fix correcting a microarchitectural issue with exception delivery (see below for details).
  • Modified Morello design with data-dependent exception fix and increased store queue size expanding the store queue sizes to address increased queue pressure due to the presence of capability stores, on top of the above modified design.

In general, third parties will only have access to unmodified Morello SoCs. However, they should see similar results to those we describe for the baseline Morello design on FPGA.

All Morello configurations operated at a fixed frequency during benchmarks1, with execution time measured in clock cycles for the purposes of calculating overheads.


In general, comparisons in this report seek to contrast the dynamic behavior of memory-unsafe code with memory-safe code on Morello. To understand the essential pointer-size costs of CHERI, we also introduce a fourth form of code, P128, with two variations. This will allow us to model ‘optimal’ performance with the current microarchitecture. Our experiments set up comparisons between five forms of code:

  • Hybrid (aarch64) code, which employs capabilities only where explicitly annotated in C and C++.
  • Purecap ABI (aarch64c) code, which employs capabilities ubiquitously in the implementation of CHERI C and C++, including both sub-language pointers (e.g., stack pointers, GOT pointers, and return addresses) and language-level pointers (e.g., pointer variables pointing at heap allocations, stack allocations, or functions).
  • Benchmark ABI (aarch64c) code, which has modified code generation to work around a lack of capability-awareness in the shipped Morello branch predictor (described below). This code retains an identical memory footprint and near-identical code generation to pure-capability aarch64c C/C++ code, but has reduced protection behavior. See below for more information on this ABI.
  • P128 code, which is a modified form of aarch64 code in which pointer footprints are widened to 128 bits from 64 bits, while still implemented as 64-bit integers rather than capabilities. See below for more information on this compilation mode.
  • P128 Forced-GOT code, which, unlike P128, which allows access to global variables via PC-derived pointers, forces the indirection of all global access via a Global Offset Table (GOT) to emulate the potential worst-case addition of capability indirection that could be experienced with pure-capability code. See below for more information on this compilation mode.

We recommend that code be compiled with optimization for performance enabled, which we believe currently achieves the best comparison; it is especially important that code compiled with -O0 not be compared between ABIs, due to current inefficiency in unoptimized CHERI code generation, eliminated with even basic optimization. With respect to -O1 and above, we are still coming to understand how some optimization passes should interact with capabilities (e.g., SROA, global merging, GVN, and others), and some optimisations are therefore presently inhibited.

One implication of using the hybrid ABI rather than baseline aarch64 is that library implementations of memory-copying routines that have been updated for capability tag propagation, such as memcpy(), will be capability-aware and use capability-based portions of the instruction set. This maximizes comparability in an area where there has not yet been substantial dynamic performance analysis and optimization, but with the limitation that hybrid code might be able to achieve better performance if it used highly optimized copying routines not yet available for CHERI-generated code. Another consideration is that the baseline Armv8.2-a architecture underlying Morello predates dedicated memory-copy instructions2. If these new instructions were suitably adapted to handle CHERI alignment, tag propagation, and bounds enforcement, they would enable comparable hardware-based optimization for capability-enabled memory copying.

For the purposes of these measurements, which focus on userlevel performance, we have used the CheriBSD 22.12 hybrid kernel. Debugging features such as kernel invariants checking (INVARIANTS) and dynamic kernel lock order verification (WITNESS) are left enabled, and should not contribute significantly for these workloads. Userlevel malloc debugging is disabled. CheriBSD is compiled with -O2, including its system libraries.

The SPECint benchmark suite is compiled with -O3. SPEC is statically linked in all presented results.

By default, CheriBSD 22.12 ships with unoptimized third-party libraries (compiled with -O0), to improve debugging in the initial release, and those would not be suitable for benchmarking; we intend to provide packages built with optimizations enabled in the future. SPECint does not have external software dependencies beyond those in the CheriBSD base system (e.g., libc, libunwind, libcxxrt, libm, and libgcc_s), and so our work is not affected. If we were dependent on third-party packages, as might be true of other benchmark suites, we would need to investigate optimization settings for those packages.


The FPGA setup used in these measurements does not implement thermal throttling.