In May 2007 I ran some benchmarks of Dragonfly 1.8 to evaluate
progress of its SMP implementation, which was the original focus of
the project when it launched in 2003 and is still widely believed to
be an area in which they had made concrete progress. This was part of
a larger cross-OS multiprocessor performance evaluation comparing
improvements in FreeBSD to Linux, NetBSD and other operating systems.
The 2007 results  showed essentially no performance increase from
multiple processors on dragonfly 1.8, in contrast to the performance
of FreeBSD 7.0 which scaled to 8 CPUs on the benchmark.
Recently Dragonfly 1.12 was released, and the question was raised on
the dragonfly-users list  of how well the OS performs after a
further year of development. I performed several benchmarks to study
This is a good general test of kernel performance and parallelism, as
well as performance of the thread library. MySQL performance
(together with PostgreSQL performance) has been a driving force in
FreeBSD, Linux and NetBSD SMP development over the past year, see
In this round of testing I compared Dragonfly 1.12-RELEASE, FreeBSD
4.11-STABLE and FreeBSD 7.0-RELEASE, running on the same 8-core Xeon
hardware. On Dragonfly and FreeBSD 4.11 the GENERIC kernel
configuration was used except for enabling SMP and APIC_IO (for the
SMP tests), and removing I486_CPU. Under FreeBSD 7.0 the GENERIC
kernel was used except for enabling the SCHED_ULE scheduler, removing
I486_CPU and enabling SMP when appropriate. The test applications
were compiled from ports/pkgsrc and the same versions and
configuration options used for each OS.
Other configuration is the same as in my previous test and is also
Here are the results:
Dragonfly 1.12 achieves peak SMP performance of only 15% better than
UP performance, and drops to about 50% below UP performance at higher
loads. Enabling SMP has a 20% performance overhead on this benchmark.
UP mode is faster than 4.11 when using the libthread_xu library. With
libc_r (not graphed) performance is identical to 4.11 in both UP and
SMP mode, so the UP performance increase is most likely due to the
Note: I am using mysql 5.0.51 in the current tests, which has
different performance characteristics than the older 5.0.37 tested
last year, so the current data cannot directly be compared to the
previous dragonfly 1.8 graphs to evaluate whether a small amount of
progress was made since 1.8. However, there does not appear to be any
significant performance improvement from dragonfly 1.8 to 1.12.
FreeBSD 7.0 scales to 8 CPUs on this benchmark. Peak performance is
6.5 times higher than peak dragonfly performance, and 9.0 times higher
than FreeBSD 4.11 performance. UP performance is consistent with SMP
performance with a single thread. 7.0 UP is 45% faster than 4.11 UP
and 10% faster than dragonfly UP.
Note that while these benchmarks are on a test system with 8 CPU
cores, the results also provide information about performance on
systems with fewer than 8 cores, such as dual core systems. If the
system does not show appreciable performance gain when 2 threads are
running and most CPUs are idle, it is unlikely to perform much better
when the system only has 2 CPUs. I could not test this directly
because I don't know how to disable CPUs at boot time/run time in
For example, this graph shows FreeBSD 7.0 running postgresql on the
same system with 1, 2, 4 or 8 CPU cores active, as well as comparing
the UP and SMP kernel running with 1 CPU active
The performance seen with 8 CPUs also scales down to 1, 2 and 4 CPUs.
This also shows that there is negligible overhead from running the
FreeBSD 7.0 SMP kernel on a UP system on this workload.
Currently the major focus of the dragonfly project is the development
of a new filesystem, so it's interesting to see how well the dragonfly
filesystem layer performs. I created a 500MB memory filesystem (MFS)
and used sysbench to perform multi-threaded random write I/O. It
seems that MFS cannot create file systems larger than 500MB, which was
a limiting factor on dragonfly and 4.11.
Dragonfly 1.12 UP performance is about 30% lower than FreeBSD 4.11 UP
performance. Enabling SMP does not impose an overhead on this test,
but there is no performance benefit seen from multiple threads, and
instead performance drops as low as FreeBSD 4.11 SMP performance at
FreeBSD 7.0 does not support the MFS file system; the nearest
alternative is the tmpfs filesystem which was used for this test.
The sysbench file I/O benchmark apparently has a race condition that
cause it to abort under high I/O load (enabling debugging shows that
sysbench is sometimes generating I/O requests that are out of range of
the specified test parameters such as file size and number of files,
so this appears to be a sysbench bug). This was only a factor on 7.0
but the benchmarks were averaged over 5 trials to reduce error.
FreeBSD 7 scales to 3 simultaneous writers and peak SMP performance is
a factor of 4 times higher than dragonfly peak performance and 2.6
times higher than freebsd 4 performance. FreeBSD 7 peak performance
may be limited by memory bandwidth rather than kernel scaling
limitations, although those come into play at higher loads.
FreeBSD 7.0 has a 20% overhead from SMP on this test compared to UP,
which may be because the lockmgr primitive has not yet been optimized
for SMP mode (this work is in progress). However, SMP performance
exceeds UP with a second writer, and SMP remains 17% faster than UP at
UP performance on FreeBSD 7 is 2.6 times higher than dragonfly UP
performance and 1.8 times higher than freebsd 4 UP performance. It is
unknown how much of this difference is due to the different design of
the tmpfs filesystem.
Networking is the major subsystem that has received SMP development
work in dragonfly, although it was never completed and still does not
allow concurrency in network processing (FreeBSD has a parallelized
network stack, and further performance work is ongoing in FreeBSD
I did not directly test network performance as e.g. a DNS or web
server. I can do this if someone is interested.
NFS performance on this hardware was anomalously low in both 4.11 and
dragonfly, averaging only about 300KB/sec on an intel gigabit ethernet
NIC. This did not impact the other benchmarks because they were not
performing NFS I/O.
The assertion is often made by dragonfly project supporters that
dragonfly has "much better" stability than FreeBSD. It is not clear
by what metric this is being objectively evaluated (if at all). A
direct measurement of stability is desirable.
One measure of system stability is the ability to function correctly
under extreme overload conditions. This tends to provoke race
conditions and other exceptions at a higher frequency than at the
light loads encountered on desktop systems.
To simulate system overload I ran the stress2 benchmark suite on the
8-core xeon. This is a suite of test applications that impose massive
overload on the system under various concurrent workloads. FreeBSD is
able to run this test suite indefinitely without errors.
The first problem was encountered while trying to unpack the stress2
archive to NFS:
# tar xvf stress2.tgz
tar: Error opening archive: Failed to open 'stress2.tgz': No such file
# ls -l
ls: stress2.tgz: No such file or directory
This looks like it might be a bug with the dragonfly name cache.
After starting the stress suit, the system panicked in under 4
minutes. Unfortunately I was unable to obtain details of the panic
because the serial console was not working.
Obviously one panic does not demonstrate wide-ranging system
instability, but it does point to a possible selection bias amongst
the project supporters, who may not be looking hard enough for the
stability problems that exist.
As with the dragonfly 1.8 kernel, the dragonfly 1.12 kernel does not
scale to a second CPU on the benchmarks performed, and the limited SMP
implementation can cause a large performance loss at higher loads.
There is sometimes a large performance overhead from enabling SMP
compared to UP, and performance was sometimes worse than that of 4.11.
In all cases measured, FreeBSD 7.0 performs significantly better than
both FreeBSD 4.11 and dragonfly 1.12 in both SMP and UP