Following a link from @Bortzmeyer, I was leafing through Felix von Leitner’s “Source Code Optimization” – a presentation demonstrating how unreadable code is rarely worth the hassle considering how good at optimizing compilers have become nowadays. I have never written a single line of C or Assembler in my whole life – but I like to keep an understanding of what is going on at low level so I sometimes indulge in code tourism.

I got the author’s point, though I must admit that the details of his demonstration flew over my head. But I found the memory access timings table particularly evocative :

Access Cost
Page Fault, file on IDE disk cycles
Page Fault, file in buffer cache 10.000 cycles
Page Fault, file on ram disk 5.000 cycles
Page Fault, zero page 3.000 cycles
Main memory access 200 cycles (Intel says 159)
L3 cache hit 52 cycles (Intel says 36)
L1 cache hit 2 cycles

Of course you know that swapping causes a huge performance hit and you have seen the benchmarks where throughput is reduced to a trickle as soon as the disk is involved. But still I find that quantifying the number of cycles wasted illustrates the point even better. Now you know why programmers insist on keeping memory usage tight.