I recently attended GopherCon Singapore 2019, and one of the talks was about optimising Go code, by Daniel Martí. I managed to find a set of his slides from a previous conference that he gave the same talk at:

Optimizing Go code without a blindfold
Daniel Martí at dotGo 2019

My main takeaway from his talk the usage of benchstat for computing statistics from multiple runs of go test -bench, which helps to remove noise and identify statistically significant results:

Command benchstat
Benchstat computes and compares statistics about benchmarks.

This weekend, I had the chance to try it out while working on my own Chip-8 emulator implementation in Go, which I was inspired to attempt after seeing my colleague's implementation in Haskell.

The code

The code I was trying to benchmark was an implementation of the ADD Vx, Vy instruction, which also sets a register if the addition produced a carry out. My original implementation simply did a comparison to determine if the carry bit should be set:

// 8xy4 - ADD Vx, Vy
// Set Vx = Vx + Vy, set VF = carry.
// The values of Vx and Vy are added together. If the result is greater than 8 bits (i.e., > 255,) VF is set to 1,
// otherwise 0. Only the lowest 8 bits of the result are kept, and stored in Vx.
func ADD_8xy4(ip *Interpreter, instr instruction) {
	x := instr.x()
	sum := uint16(ip.registers[x]) + uint16(ip.registers[instr.y()])
	ip.registers[x] = uint8(sum)
	if sum > 255 {
		ip.registers[VF] = 1
	} else {
		ip.registers[VF] = 0

Some time later, I discovered the existence of the math/bits package with optimised functions for bit manipulation, released in Go 1.9. It includes an addition function which returns the carry out:

func Add(x, y, carry uint) (sum, carryOut uint)

I then rewrote my ADD Vx, Vy implementation using this instead:

func ADD_8xy4(ip *Interpreter, instr instruction) {
	x := instr.x()
	sum, carry := bits.Add(uint(ip.registers[x]), uint(ip.registers[instr.y()]), 0)
	ip.registers[x] = uint8(sum)
	ip.registers[VF] = uint8(carry)

But in order to determine if the new implementation was actually faster, we need to benchmark!

The benchmark

I wrote the following benchmark to exercise adding all possible combinations of values for registers Vx and Vy:

func BenchmarkADD_8xy4(b *testing.B) {
	ip := new(Interpreter)
	instr := instruction{0x01, 0x10}
	for i := 0; i < b.N; i++ {
		for x := uint8(0); x < 0xFF; x++ {
			for y := uint8(0); y < 0xFF; y++ {
				ip.registers[0] = x
				ip.registers[1] = y
				ADD_8xy4(ip, instr)


When I started, benchstat wasn't installed, so I cded to my home directory to go get it globally in order to not add it to my project's go.mod:

$ benchstat
-bash: benchstat: No such file or directory
$ cd
$ go get golang.org/x/perf/cmd/benchstat

Following that, I closed my CPU-hungry web browser, then ran go test -bench for the old code 20 times:

$ for i in {1..20}; do go test -bench=^BenchmarkADD_8xy4$ >> old.txt; done

And then another 20 times for the new code:

$ for i in {1..20}; do go test -bench=^BenchmarkADD_8xy4$ >> new.txt; done

(The first time I did this, I forgot to change the output filename, and ended up overwriting my results from benchmarking the original code, and had to run it again 🤦)

The results

Finally, we can run benchstat on the concatenated go test -bench outputs:

$ benchstat new.txt old.txt 
name         old time/op  new time/op  delta
ADD_8xy4-12  96.0µs ± 2%  82.6µs ± 2%  -13.95%  (p=0.000 n=40+41)

Nice! So using the Add function from the math/bits package provided a 14% speedup, with a p-value of 0!

Further work

Besides benchmarking, I also learnt about using compiler flags to show information such as whether variables are allocated on the stack or the heap, whether bounds checks are elided or whether functions are inlined at GopherCon Singapore 2019.

I'm looking forward to trying these out as well, but maybe I should get something working before diving into optimisation 😅