While several hardware mechanisms have been proposed to control the interaction between hardware threads in an SMT processor, few have addressed the issue of software-controllable SMT performance. The IBM POWER5 and POWER6 are the first high-performance processors implementing a software-controllable hardware-thread prioritization mechanism that controls the rate at which each hardware-thread decodes instructions. This paper shows the potential of this basic mechanism to improve several target metrics for various applications on POWER5 and POWER6 processors. Our results show that although the software interface is exactly the same, the software-controlled priority mechanism has a different effect on POWER5 and POWER6. For instance, hardware threads in POWER6 are less sensitive to priorities than in POWER5 due to the in order design. We study the SMT thread malleability to enable user-level optimizations that leverage software-controlled thread priorities. We also show how to achieve various system objectives such as parallel application load balancing, in order to reduce execution time. Finally, we characterize user-level transparent execution on POWER5 and POWER6, and identify the workload mix that best benefits from it. © 1968-2012 IEEE.