31 мая 1996

Part 7 - Faster than basic.

<b>Part 7</b> - Faster than basic.


By Ian Cull Bsc

Part 1. Introduction.

The Sinclair ZX Spectrum computer is, like
almost   all  computers,  built  around  a
Central   Processing   Unit   -   the  Z80
microprocessor  chip.  This chip is a very
small  piece  of  silicon  packaged into a
case  about 3 inches by 1, and can execute
carry  out  up  to four million operations
EVERY second! The ZX Spectrum does not run
the   Z80   at   full   speed,   but   can
nevertheless   carry   out   hundreds   of
thousands  of  operations every second. So
why does your Basic program run so slowly?

The  answer  is that the Z80 chip can only
understand  very simple instructions, that
mean nothing to you or I. For example, the
following instructions add 2 and 7 :-
and  the  ZX  Spectrum  can  do this about
250000  times every second! Unfortunately,
when you write the following Basic program
     10 LET A=2+7
the ZX Spectrum can only manage to perform
the  sum  about 385 times each second. The
problem  is  that  the Basic, which we can
immediately  understand,  means nothing to
the   Z80.  Special  programs  in  the  ZX
Spectrum    convert    our    Basic   into
instructions  that the Z80 can understand,
and that is how our program is run.
Of  course,  the  converting  takes a VERY
long  time for the Z80 to do, since it can
only  do  very  simple things. This is why
the  Basic program takes 500 or 1000 times
longer   to  give  results  than  the  Z80
There  are, however, a number of ways that
we  can  get  our  programs  to  work more
quickly,  and  this  series  will  look at
doing things 'faster than (ZX) Basic'.

ZX Basic is a very 'user-friendly' Basic -
anyone  who  has  used  any  non- Sinclair
computer   will  confirm  this.  ZX  Basic
checks each line of program as you type it
in.  You can also stop a program, alter it
and   then   continue   running  it  (most
versions  of  Basic lose all the variables
whenever     you     change    something).
Unfortunately, ZX Basic is also VERY slow.
Most identically written programs will run
quite a lot slower on the ZX Spectrum than
on   many  other  computers.  The  reasons
behind this are complex, but are caused by
the  way  that  ZX  Basic  was written (by
bolting extras on to the early ZX80 & ZX81
versions, mainly).
If you know the ways of ZX Basic, however,
you  can change your programs so that they
run  more quickly. Here are three examples
a)  Define  variables  that are used a lot
first.  When  the program references them,
ZX Basic will find them first.
b) Put often-used subroutines and loops at
the start of your program (and use a GO TO
around  them)  -  ZX Basic always searches
for  subroutines from the beginning of the
c)   Avoid   'difficult'  instructions  if
simple   ones   will   do.  For  instance,
multiplying  by two is much slower for the
Z80 to do than adding something to itself.

These  and  other  'tweaks' can be used in
any  program,  and  will have more or less
effect  depending  on  what the program is
doing  (a very short program won't be sped
up much by b), for example).

Alternative Languages.
Basic,   Beginners   All-purpose  Symbolic
Instruction Code, was originally developed
to  teach  Fortran  and was designed to be
easy  to  learn,  rather than efficient to
use.  Basic is very good at some tasks (in
particular,  string  handling)  but is not
good  at  many  things (try to handle more
data  than  can  be  held  in  memory, for
There  are  many  other computer languages
designed  for  many different reasons, and
you  will find that writing a program in a
language  other than Basic will often give
much  faster  results.  Of  course, it may
take  much  longer  to write - this is why
Basic  is  still  popular  as a 'quick and
dirty'  solution  to  many  tasks;  if the
computer  takes  a  long  time  to run the
program  that  took much less time for you
to write, then it must be time for another
coffee!  In this series we will be looking
at  other  languages  available for the ZX
Spectrum,  in  particular  how much faster
they are than Basic compared with how much
more difficult they are to write.

Machine Code.
The way to get your programs to run REALLY
fast  is  to  actually  write  them in the
language  that  the Z80 understands - this
language  is  called  Machine Code, and is
really  difficult  to learn and write. The
example  I  gave earlier is an extreme way
of  writing  machine  code  -  the  actual
Binary      representations     of     the
Although  those 1s and 0s are all that the
Z80  understands,  the task is made easier
for  us if we use an Assembler - this is a
program  that  carries  out  a one-for-one
conversion from Assembler programs that we
write,  into  machine  code.  The  earlier
program in assembler looks like :-
     LD A,2
     ADD A,7
obviously   this   is  easier  for  us  to
understand  than  the actual machine code,
but  it doesn't solve the problem that the
Z80 can only do very simple things we have
to break down our program into hundreds of
very simple instructions.

Here,   in   theory,   is  the  answer  to
everyones  dreams (and what this series is
truly  about). A Compiler is a little like
an  Assembler  in  that it takes a program
and  produces machine code. The difference
is  that  the  program can be written in a
language  that  you  already know - Basic,
for  example! Compilers are very simple or
very  complicated,  depending  on how many
tricks  are  programmed  into them. At the
simplest  level,  each line of the program
is  converted  into  an exactly equivalent
set  of  machine  code  instructions - the
increase  in  speed  is  due purely to the
translation  from  program to machine code
being done by the compiler, rather than as
the  program is run. At the other extreme,
Compilers  can  spend ages hunting through
your  program,  deleting unnecessary code,
re-arranging  bits and generally producing
machine  code  which  can  run  almost  as
quickly  as if you had written the program
yourself in assembler.
In   order   to  get  some  idea  of  what
improvements  can be expected when using a
different  language, or a compiler, we use
'benchmarks'.  These  are  simple programs
which  can  be  written  in  any  computer
language  and  times  when  run - the time
gives  an  idea of how useful the language
or  compiler  would be for real tasks. The
problem  with benchmarks is that they only
test what they are written to test - which
is  NOT  a  real  task. Some compilers can
even  spot common benchmark test programs,
and   'cheat'   by   rewriting  the  test.
Nevertheless,  I  am  going  to  use  some
'really  useful' benchmarks in these tests
-  the  programs  will calculate the first
one  hundred  Prime Numbers (numbers which
are  only divided exactly by themselves or
one   -  really  useful!)  There  are  two
programs,  which  do the same thing in two
completely    different    ways.   PRIMES1
calculates  each prime by checking all the
divisions (this is a very slow & difficult
task  for the Z80). PRIMES2 uses a 'sieve'
which  is  like  crossing  off  a list all
multiples  of each number; any numbers not
crossed  off  must be prime (try it if you
are not sure).
This  month,  we finish by presenting both
listings  in  ZX  Basic.  Try them on your
computer  (and  on  other computers if you
can)  and try tweaking them - see how fast
you   can  get  them  to  run.  Note  that
deleting  the  PRINT line (160 in PRIMES1,
130  in  PRIMES2)  is a fairer comparison,
since   it   then   does   not   time  the
displaying,  only  the calculating (The ZX
Spectrum   is   VERY  slow  at  displaying
As  a  taster  to  keep  you interested, a
later   presentation   will   run  PRIMES2
(without  PRINTing) in about half a second
-  that  is about one hundred times Faster
Than Basic ...

10 REM PRIMES1 in Basic. Ian Cull Bsc. 18/
20 DIM P(1000)
30 LET P(1)=2: LET PTOP=1
50 LET P=3
100 IF PPS

100 THEN GOTO 200 110 IF P(PTOP)<>0 THEN LET PTOP=PTOP+1: GO TO 100 120 LET P=PTOP: LET X=P 130 PRINT PCNT,P: INPUT; :REM Remove this for speed 140 LET PCNT=PCNT+1 150 LET P(X)=1: LET X=X+P 160 IF X<=1000 THEN GOTO 150 170 GOTO 100 200 PRINT"Prime 100 is ";P: STOP Join us next month for Part 2 of the tutorial. ==========================================

Другие статьи номера:

Intro - Contents.

Part 1 - Editorial.

Part 2 - Playing tips.

Part 3 - Snapshot Pack VI.

Part 4 - The ritman interview.

Part 5 - The spectrum database.

Part 6 - Emulator reviews.

Part 7 - Faster than basic.

Part 8 - 16/48 Index (Part 1).

Part 9 - A-Z Of Spectrum games reviews (part 6).

Part 10 - Spectrum on the Net.

Part 11 - Adventures.

Part 12 - Past, present and future.

Темы: Игры, Программное обеспечение, Пресса, Аппаратное обеспечение, Сеть, Демосцена, Люди, Программирование

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