Quantifying sources of error in McPAT and potential impacts on architectural studies
Architectural power modeling tools are widely used by the computer architecture community for rapid evaluations of high-level design choices and design space explorations. Currently, McPAT  is the de facto power model, but the literature does not yet contain a careful examination of its modeling accuracy. In addition, the issue of how greatly power modeling error can affect architectural-level studies has not been quantified before. In this work, we present the first rigorous assessment of McPAT's core power and area models with a detailed, validated power modeling toolchain used in current industrial practice. We find that McPAT's predictions can have significant error because some of the models are either incomplete, too high-level, or assume implementations of structures that differ from that of the core at hand. We demonstrate that large errors are possible when using McPAT's dynamic power estimates in the context of voltage noise and thermal hotspots, but for steady-state properties, accurately modeling leakage power is more important. Based on our analysis, we are able to provide guidelines for creating accurate McPAT models, even without access to detailed industrial power modeling tools. We conclude that in spite of its accuracy gaps, McPAT is still a very useful tool for many architectural studies, and its limitations can often be adequately addressed for a given research study of interest.