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.NET Performance

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.NET has been getting some interesting press recently. Even to the point where an article in Game Developer Magazine was published advocating the usage of managed code for rapid development of components. However, I did raise some issues with the author in regards to the performance metric he used. Thus it is that I have decided to cover some issue with .NET performance, future benefits, and hopefully even a few solutions to some of the problems I'll be posing.

Ultimately the performance of your application will be determined by the algorithms and data-structures you use . No amount of micro-optimization can hope to account for the huge performance differences that can crop up between different choices of algorithms. Thus the most important tool you can have in your arsenal is a decent profiler. Thankfully there are many good profilers available for the .NET platform. Some of the profiling tools are specific to certain areas of managed coding, such as the CLR Profiler, which is useful for profiling the allocation patterns of your managed application. Others, like DevPartner, allow you to profile the entire application, identifying performance bottlenecks in both managed and unmanaged code. Finally there are the low level profiling tools, such as the SOS Debugging Tools, these tools give you extremely detailed information about the performance of your systems but are hard to use.

Applications designed and built towards a managed platform tend to have different design decisions behind them than unmanaged applications. Even such fundamental things as memory allocation patterns are usually quite a bit different. With object lifetimes being non-deterministic, one has to apply different patterns to ensure the timely release of resources. Allocation patterns are also different, partly due to the inability to allocate objects on the stack, but also due to the ease of allocation on the managed heap. Allocating on an unmanaged heap typically requires a heap walk to find a block of free space that is at least the size of the block requested. The managed allocator typically allocates at the end of the heap, resulting in significantly faster allocation times (constant time, for the most part). These changes to the underlying assumptions that drive the system typically have large sweeping changes on the overall design of the systems.

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I really like the Cowboy Programming blog. I was surprised to see your comments on one of the posts, actually.

I haven't looked too much into .NET performance, since most of my work with .NET involves making sure applications are portable and setting up a proper toolchain to port Tao applications to Mac OS X. I'd like to see some performance comparisons between Mono (with or without the new GC), Rotor and the Windows .NET runtime sometime, as well.

The really nice thing about JIT is that with new versions of the runtime engine, old applications can run faster -- very rarely do you see new versions of C++ compilers making performance differences in already-compiled code. [grin]

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