Chapter 13. Optimize Memory Management

Efficiency is doing better what is already being done.

Peter F. Drucker (1909–2005), American management consultant

The memory manager is the set of functions and data structures of the C++ runtime system that oversees allocation of memory to dynamic variables. The memory manager must meet many demands. Meeting these demands efficiently is an open research challenge. In many C++ programs, the memory manager’s functions are quite hot. If its performance could be improved, it would have a global effect on the program. For all these reasons, the memory manager is a natural target for optimization efforts.

In my opinion, there are other places to look for performance improvement first, that are more likely to be fruitful than fiddling with the memory manager. Memory managers, being very hot code, are usually well wrung out right out of the box. Memory management is at best an aspect of an aspect of overall program run time. Amdahl’s Law limits how much overall improvement the developer can obtain, even if the cost of memory management could be driven to zero. In large programs in one study, performance improvement from optimizing memory management ranged from negligible to about 30%.

The C++ memory manager is highly customizable, with a substantial API. Although many programmers never have to use this API, it provides many ways to optimize performance. Several high-performance memory managers exist that can be plugged into C++ by replacing ...

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