Benchmarketing Racket parallelism

The Computer Language Shootout is a popular if not-so-informative way to compare the speed of various language implementations.  Racket does pretty well on their benchmarks, thanks to a lot of effort from various people, especially Eli. They run benchmarks on both 1 core and 4 core machines, so languages with support for parallelism can take advantage in many cases.  However, up until this past week, there were no parallel versions of the Racket programs, and therefore Racket didn’t even show up on the 4-core benchmarks. I set out to fix this, in order to advertise Racket’s up-and-coming parallelism constructs.

There are now two new Racket versions of the benchmarks, one each using futures and places. The mandelbrot benchmark uses futures, getting a speedup of approximately 3.2x on 4 cores, and the binary-trees benchmark uses places, with a speedup of almost exactly 2x.

I learned a few things writing these programs:

  1. Racket’s parallelism constructs, though new, are quite performant, at least on microbenchmarks.  With only two parallel programs, Racket is right now competitive with Erlang on 4 cores.
  2. Futures are really easy to use; places take a little more getting used to. Both are quite simple once you get the hang of it, especially if you’ve written concurrent Racket programs before using Racket’s threads.
  3. It can be very surprising which languages are easiest to translate to Racket.  F# and OCaml were the easiest, with Scala similar.  Programs written in Common Lisp, though fast, were much harder to convert to Racket.
  4. My quick rule of thumb for whether to choose places or futures: if you program does much allocation in parallel, or it needs to synchronize, then use places.  Otherwise, futures are probably easier.  I think this is roughly in line with the original design, and there are more applications where synchronization is unnecessary than you would think.

There are a bunch more programs that could have parallel implementations; feel free to hack on them, or to improve mine.

  1. This is awesome, thanks! I’m curious, though, what about Common Lisp was hard to translate to Racket? I’m signed up for Stanford’s ai-class 100000+ experiment, and I plan to do most of the assignments in Racket, and maybe some other languages too.

  2. I’ve been playing with futures in the past week or two. On my own (image processing) problems, I have yet to get real-time < cpu-time, on a machine with 4 cores. On the futures examples from the Racket Guide "Parallelism with Futures" chapter, I've got real-time < cpu-time, but I have yet to get real-time for a program using futures smaller than real-time for the corresponding sequential program.

    • By image processing, do you mean images from the 2htdp/image library? If so, they’re almost certainly not going to parallelize well with futures. The sweet spot for futures currently is programs like the mandelbrot benchmark: almost no communication, and all parallel operations are very simply (numeric computation, vector manipulation, etc).

      Also, have you looked at the messages the futures library gives about what it’s blocking on?

  3. how is the performance in a quad core machine ?

  4. Correction: on the “any-double?” examples from “Parallelism with Futures”, I DO have real-time smaller using futures than sequentially. On the mandelbrot examples, I’ve got real-time < cpu-time, but (even on the version with all fl operations) real-time is greater for the parallelized version than for the sequential version.

    On the "image-processing" problems… I'm starting with 2htdp/image images, but rendering them to bitmaps before even trying to parallelize anything. Then I have one future working on (say) the top 25 pixel rows, another on the next 25 pixel rows, and so on. All the computations are completely independent; they are reported using bytes-set!, with no two futures affecting the same offset.

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