|This article relies largely or entirely upon a single source. (May 2013)|
In computer architecture, a processor register is a small amount of storage available as part of a CPU or other digital processor. Such registers are (typically) addressed by mechanisms other than main memory and can be accessed more quickly. Almost all computers, load-store architecture or not, load data from a larger memory into registers where it is used for arithmetic, manipulated, or tested, by some machine instruction. Manipulated data is then often stored back in main memory, either by the same instruction or a subsequent one. Modern processors use either static or dynamic RAM as main memory, the latter often being implicitly accessed via one or more cache levels. A common property of computer programs is locality of reference: the same values are often accessed repeatedly and frequently used values held in registers improves performance. This is what makes fast registers (and caches) meaningful.
Processor registers are normally at the top of the memory hierarchy, and provide the fastest way to access data. The term normally refers only to the group of registers that are directly encoded as part of an instruction, as defined by the instruction set. However, modern high performance CPUs often have duplicates of these "architectural registers" in order to improve performance via register renaming, allowing parallel and speculative execution. Modern x86 is perhaps the most well known example of this technique.
Allocating frequently used variables to registers can be critical to a program's performance. This register allocation is either performed by a compiler, in the code generation phase, or manually, by an assembly language programmer.
Categories of registers
Registers are normally measured by the number of bits they can hold, for example, an "8-bit register" or a "32-bit register". A processor often contains several kinds of registers, that can be classified accordingly to their content or instructions that operate on them:
- User-accessible registers – instructions that can be read or written by machine instructions. The most common division of user-accessible registers is into data registers and address registers.
- Data registers can hold numeric values such as integer and, in some architectures, floating-point values, as well as characters, small bit arrays and other data. In some older and low end CPUs, a special data register, known as the accumulator, is used implicitly for many operations.
- Address registers hold addresses and are used by instructions that indirectly access primary memory.
- Some processors contain registers that may only be used to hold an address or only to hold numeric values (in some cases used as an index register whose value is added as an offset from some address); others allow registers to hold either kind of quantity. A wide variety of possible addressing modes, used to specify the effective address of an operand, exist.
- The stack pointer is used to manage the run-time stack. Rarely, other data stacks are addressed by dedicated address registers, see stack machine.
- General purpose registers (GPRs) can store both data and addresses, i.e., they are combined Data/Address registers and rarely the register file is unified to include floating point as well.
- Conditional registers hold truth values often used to determine whether some instruction should or should not be executed.
- Floating point registers (FPRs) store floating point numbers in many architectures.
- Constant registers hold read-only values such as zero, one, or pi.
- Vector registers hold data for vector processing done by SIMD instructions (Single Instruction, Multiple Data).
- Special purpose registers (SPRs) hold program state; they usually include the program counter, also called the instruction pointer, and the status register; the program counter and status register might be combined in a program status word (PSW) register. The aforementioned stack pointer is sometimes also included in this group. Embedded microprocessors can also have registers corresponding to specialized hardware elements.
- In some architectures, model-specific registers (also called machine-specific registers) store data and settings related to the processor itself. Because their meanings are attached to the design of a specific processor, they cannot be expected to remain standard between processor generations.
- Memory Type Range Registers (MTRR)
- Internal registers – registers not accessible by instructions, used internally for processor operations.
Hardware registers are similar, but occur outside CPUs.
The table shows the number of registers of several mainstream architectures. Note that in x86-compatible processors the stack pointer (ESP) is counted as an integer register, even though there are a limited number of instructions that may be used to operate on its contents. Similar caveats apply to most architectures.
x86 FPUs have 8 80-bit stack levels in legacy mode, and at least 8 128-bit XMM registers in SSE modes.
|x86-16||8||8 (if FP present)||8086/8088, 80186/80188, 80286, with 8087, 80187 or 80287 for floating-point; without 8087/80187/80287, no floating-point registers|
|x86-32||8||8 (if FP present)||80386 required 80387 for floating-point; later processors had built-in floating point (hence always had 8 FP registers)|
|Motorola 68k||8 data, 8 address||0|
|Emotion Engine||4||1||Vector processing units are not included as it is off core.|
|IBM/360||16||4 (if FP present)||This applies to S/360's successors, System/370 through System/390; FP was optional in System/360, and always present in S/370 and later|
|z/Architecture||16||16||64-bit version of S/360 and successors|
|Itanium||128||128||And 64 1-bit predicate registers and 8 branch registers. The FP registers are 82 bit.|
|SPARC||31||32||Global register 0 is hardwired to 0. Uses register windows.|
|IBM POWER||32||32||And 1 link and 1 count register.|
|Power Architecture||32||32||And 32 128-bit vector registers, 1 link and 1 count register.|
|IBM Cell SPE||0||1||Each SPE contains a 128-bit, 128-entry unified register file.|
|6502||1||0||6502 only content A (Accumulator) register for main purpose registry store and X,Y and SP register are specific purpose for index only.|
|W65C816S||1||0||65C816 is the 16 bit successor of the 6502. X,Y, D(Direct Page register) and SP register are specific purpose for index only. main accumulator extended to 16 bit (B) while keep 8bit (A) for compatibility and number did not chnage.|
|ARM 32-bit||15||varies (up to 32)||r15 is the program counter, and not usable as a GPR; r13 is the stack pointer; r8-r14 can be switched out for others (banked) on a processor mode switch.|
|ARM 64-bit||31||32||In addition, register r31 is the stack pointer or hardwired to 0.|
|MIPS||31||32||Register 0 is hardwired to 0.|
|Epiphany||64 (per core)||Each instruction controls whether registers are interpreted as integers or single precision floating point. 16 or 64 cores.|
The number of registers available on a processor and the operations that can be performed using those registers has a significant impact on the efficiency of code generated by optimizing compilers. The Strahler number of an expression tree gives the minimum number of registers required to evaluate that expression tree.
- Since around 1995 and the Pentium Pro, Cyrix 6x86, Nx586, and AMD K5.
- "Procedure Call Standard for the ARM Architecture". ARM Holdings. 30 November 2013. Retrieved 27 May 2013.
- "Procedure Call Standard for the ARM 64-bit Architecture". ARM Holdings. 22 May 2013. Retrieved 27 May 2013.