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Garbage Collection is Fast, But a Stack is Faster

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Abstract

Prompted by claims that garbage collection can outperform stack allocation when sufficient physical memory is available, we present a careful analysis and set of cross-architecture measurements comparing these two approaches for the implementation of continuation (procedure call) frames. When the frames are allocated on a heap they require additional space, increase the amount of data transferred between memory and registers, and, on current architectures, require more instructions. We find that stack allocation of continuation frames outperforms heap allocation in some cases by almost a factor of three. Thus, stacks remain an important implementation technique for procedure calls, even in the presence of an efficient, compacting garbage collector and large amounts of memory.

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