The Whetstone benchmark is a synthetic benchmark for evaluating the performance of computers. It was first written in Algol 60 in 1972 at the Technical Support Unit of the Department of Trade and Industry (later part of the Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency) in the United Kingdom. It was derived from statistics on program behaviour gathered on the KDF9 computer at NPL National Physical Laboratory, using a modified version of its Whetstone ALGOL 60 compiler. The workload on the machine was represented as a set of frequencies of execution of the 124 instructions of the Whetstone Code. The Whetstone Compiler was built at the Atomic Power Division of the English Electric Company in Whetstone, Leicestershire, England, hence its name. Dr. B.A. Wichman at NPL produced a set of 42 simple ALGOL 60 statements, which in a suitable combination matched the execution statistics.
By strict definition, the term whetstone refers to a sharpening stone utilized to hone a sharp edge on a steel utensil such as a knife; the obvious reference here is to improve the quality or performance of code by honing its characteristics against the benchmark.
To make a more practical benchmark Harold Curnow of TSU wrote a program incorporating the 42 statements. This program worked in its ALGOL 60 version, but when translated into FORTRAN it was not executed correctly by the IBM optimizing compiler. Calculations whose results were not output were omitted. He then produced a set of program fragments which were more like real code and which collectively matched the original 124 Whetstone instructions. Timing this program gave a measure of the machine’s speed in thousands of Whetstone instructions per second (kWIPS). The Fortran version became the first general purpose benchmark that set industry standards of computer system performance. Further development was carried out by Roy Longbottom, also of TSU/CCTA, who became the official design authority. The Algol 60 program ran under the Whetstone compiler in July 2010, for the first time since the last KDF9 was shut down in 1980, but now executed by a KDF9 emulator. Following increased computer speeds, performance measurement was changed to Millions of Whetstone Instructions Per Second (MWIPS).
- Curnow, H J; Wichmann, B A (1976). "A synthetic benchmark" (PDF). Computer Journal. 19 (1): 43–49.
- Brian Randell; Lawford John Russell (1964). Algol 60 Implementation (PDF). Academic Press. ISBN 0-12-578150-4.
- "The English Electric KDF9 Computer". Retrieved 28 April 2020.
- Roy Longbottom (February 2017). "Whetstone Benchmark Detailed Results On PCs". Retrieved 28 April 2020.
- Roy Longbottom (October 2014). "Whetstone Benchmark History and Results". Retrieved 28 April 2020.
- Benchmark Programs and Reports (see also Netlib)
- Whetstone Algol Revisited, or Confessions of a compiler writer PDF file (B. Randell, 1964)