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The design challenge for large-scale multiprocessors is (1) to minimize communication overhead, (2) allow communication to overlap computation, and (3) coordinate the two without sacrificing processor cost/performance. We show that existing message passing multiprocessors have unnecessarily high communication costs. Research prototypes of message driven machines demonstrate low communication overhead, but poor processor cost/performance. We introduce a simple communication mechanism, Active Messages, show that it is intrinsic to both architectures, allows cost effective use of the hardware, and offers tremendous flexibility. Implementations on nCUBE/2 and CM-5 are described and evaluated using a split-phase shared-memory extension to C, Split-C. We further show that active messages are sufficient to implement the dynamically scheduled languages for which message driven machines were designed. With this mechanism, latency tolerance becomes a programming/compiling concern. Hardware support for active messages is desirable and we outline a range of enhancements to mainstream processors.

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