17. Design Rationale

This chapter discusses the rationale for the various design decisions in the micro-architecture of the core.

17.1. Floating Point Unit(HardFloat)

17.1.1. Necessary Background information

Even though RISCV has support for multiple precisions of floating points(from half to quad). For the sake of this discussion, we restrict ourselves to single and double precision floating point operations. The same arguments and solutions can be extended to support other precisions if necessary. RISCV

  • NaN boxing - The same register file is used for all the floating point operations regardless

of the precision. There exists a possibility that a register storing a single precision number is used as a source operand for a double precision operation. This causes problems particularly in loads and stores, where the software might have no knowledge of the precision of the value stored in the register file(especially while performing context saving and restore). To mitigate this, whenever a n-bit type value is present in a register and n<flen, the value is placed in the lower significant n bits while the upper flen-n bits are filled with 1’s. This is called NaN boxing and results in a valid nan-boxed n bit value to appear as a negative qNaN when interpreted as a m bit(m>n) value. In case the value is not correctly NaN boxed, the input to the operation is the Canonical NaN.

  • NaN Propagation - In RISCV, the memory ops, sign injection and move ops do not canonicalise the

NaN values in the registers, i.e the NaN value in the input is propagated to the output. All other operations produce the canonical NaN as the result whenever a NaN output is necessary. Recoded Format

Recoded format is a format which is used internally by the [HardFloat](http://www.jhauser.us/arithmetic/HardFloat-1/doc/HardFloat-Verilog.html) library from Berkeley. In this format, the exponent width is increased by 1 to enable treating the subnormal numbers as regular floating point numbers. This causes the number of bits required to increase by 1(i.e 33 bits for single precision).

17.1.2. Using Recoded format as primary storage representation

All the HardFloat modules convert inputs into the recoded format before performing any operation on them. Storing them as Recoded format internally helps cut down on area and reduce the critical path of the FPU. But this comes with multiple caveats. The values have to be converted into recoded format on a load from memory or to the standard format for a store to memory. Since the latency of this conversion module is high, an additional latency of 1 cycle will be incurred for the floating point loads. The latency for the store can be subsumed in the execute stage as the values are readily available(obtained from the decode stage) and independent. This raises the load to use latency for the floating point operation to 3 instead of 2, as is for the integer operations.

For a double precision(dp) implementation the width of the registers will be 65 bits. While storing a single precision(sp) value in the register will be performed according to the RISCV scheme. Note that this does not cause problems while interpreting the values in the recoded format as it still appears as a negative qNaN. However the problem arises when performing a context save-restore sequence. Let the register fx1 contain a sp floating point number. The software performs fsd operations to store the contents of the register into the memory(at time x) oblivious to whether a single or double precision value is present. When we convert the value in fx1 from recoded to standard, the lower most 33 bits will contain the recoded representation of the 32 bit sp value. However in an implementation which stores in the IEEE format(and according to the RISCV spec), the lower 32 bits will be accurate. This will not cause any problems for the operations which use this value in the program order after restoring context, due to the NaN propagation in the fld instruction(say at a later time y). The anomaly is in the value stored in the memory and will cause problems if the software switches to using a softfloat implementation afterwards and uses that value for performing operations. The following snippet shows the difference in values for a sp representation of 51.43.

Table 17.1 Table showing 51.43 in different representations


Hex value

SP representation


Recoded representation


Value in register fx1 (at t<x)


Value stored into mem[a] (at t=x)


Value loaded into fx1 from mem[a] (at x<t=y)


Actual value to be written to mem[a]

0xffffffff424db851 Solution

In RISCV, whenever the output of an operation is NaN, it is the Canonical Nan, except for a few conversion instructions which propagate NaN values. To address the problem explained above, while loading values from memory, if the loaded value is a QNaN, the lower 32 bits are recoded independently and placed in the lower 33 bits of the recoded dp value. The reverse is done while converting from recoded to IEEE format i.e if the dp store/mv is a QNaN, the lower 33 bits are independently converted into sp IEEE and then placed in the lower 32 bits of the IEEE dp value. This however introduces a 1 bit error in certain cases as explained below.

17.1.3. NaN boxed Recoded Values

In case of a QNaN in a higher precision format, there is a possiblity that the lower bits might hold a valid floating number at a lower precision. For the purpose of this discussion we shall consider double precision(64) as the highest supported width and single precision(32) as the lowest supported width. This section can easily be extended to other formats via induction.

While recoding a ieee dp number, one can easily detect if its a QNaN and recode the lower 32 bits independently as a sp number before replacing the lower 33 bits of the recoded dp number. While converting back to ieee the same process can be employed, but bit at index 32 actually encodes the sign of the sp number. This causes an error of 1 bit(bit at index 32). This is because each recoding needs 1 extra bit to store all the information. In this case we perform 2 recodings and store the result into a 65 bit field. Hence the information about bit 32 is lost. This does not affect any arithmetic operations in any way, but the NaN payloads are not preserved. To prevent this, while recoding incase a number is interpreted as a QNaN, the dont care bits in the exp(bit at index 59) are reused to store bit 32. The same bit is placed into its original position while converting back to ieee. Similarly to speedup computations and reduce logic overheads, bit 60 in a recoded NaN indicates whether the number is a QNaN and bit 58 indicates whether the number is a valid NaN boxed value. In RISC-V, a NaN which is non-canonical can come into the system only as a result of a SP op or FMV/FL* operations. In all of these cases, the recoding functions takes care to encode the correct values into the respective bit positions and any instructions which operate on these values either preseve NaN payloads or canonicalise the values, thereby ensuring that the encodings are correct always. Fig. 8.10 explains the process of conversion from IEEE to recoded.