This is an old, simple, but powerful idea"SIMD", which stands for Single Instruction Multiple Data:
You can do lots of interesting SIMD work without using any special instructionsplain old C will do, if you treat an "int" as 32 completely independent bits, because any normal "int" instructions will operate on all the bits at once. This use of bitwise operations is often called "SIMD within a register (SWAR)" or "wordSIMD"; see Sean Anderson's "Bit Twiddling Hacks" for a variety of amazing examples.
Back in the 1980's, "vector" machines were quite popular in supercomputing centers. For example, the 1988 Cray YMP was a typical vector machine. When I was an undergraduate, ARSC still had a YMP vector machine. The YMP had eight "vector" registers, each of which held 64 doubles (that's a total of 4KB of registers!). A single YMP machine language instruction could add all 64 corresponding numbers in two vector registers, which enabled the YMP to achieve the (then) mindblowing speed of *millions* floatingpoint operations per second. Vector machines have now almost completely died out; the NEC SV1 and the Japanese "Earth Simulator" are the last of this breed. Vector machines are classic SIMD, because one instruction can modify 64 doubles.
But the most common form of SIMD today are the "multimedia" instruction set extensions in normal CPUs. The usual arrangment for multimedia instructions is for single instructions to operate on four 32bit floats. These fourfloat instructions exist almost everywhere nowdays:
We'll look at the x86 version below.
Instead of "ss" using "ps" makes each operation work on four floats at once!
movaps xmm0,[a]
addps xmm0,xmm0 ; add each float to itself
movaps [out],xmm0 ; copy floats out to memory
push rax; align stack
extern farray_print ; prototype
mov rdi, out ; print the floats in memory
mov rsi,4 ; count of floats: four to print
call farray_print
pop rax ; clean up stack
ret
section .data align=16
a: dd 3.141592,1.0,10.0,100.0
out: dd 0,0,0,0
All the SSE instructions (listed below) scale out to parallel execution, SIMD style. So "addss" adds one float, "addps" adds four floats, SIMD style.
single/ serial 
packed/ parallel 

singleprecision "float"  ss  ps (4 floats) 
doubleprecision "double"  sd  pd (2 doubles) 
Here's some silly floatingpoint code. It takes 2.7ns/float.
enum {n=1024};
float a[n];
for (int i=0;i<n;i++) a[i]=3.4;
for (int i=0;i<n;i++) a[i]+=1.2;
return a[0];
Staring at the assembly language, there are a number of "cvtss2sd" and back again, due to the doubleprecision constants and singleprecision data. So we can get a good speedup to 1.4ns/float, just by making the constants floating point.
enum {n=1024};
float a[n];
for (int i=0;i<n;i++) a[i]=3.4f;
for (int i=0;i<n;i++) a[i]+=1.2f;
return a[0];
We can run a *lot* faster by using SSE parallel instructions. I'm going to do this the "hard way," making separate functions to do the assembly computation. Essentially, we're converting the loops to run across four iterations at once, so they can operate on blocks of floats.
Here's the C++ conversion to call assembly language functions on the array.
extern "C" void init_array(float *arr,int n);
extern "C" void add_array(float *arr,int n);
int foo(void) {
enum {n=1024};
float a[n];
init_array(a,n);
add_array(a,n);
return a[0]*1000;
}
Here are the two assembly language functions called above. Together, we're down to under 0.5ns/float!
; extern "C" void init_array(float *arr,int n);
;for (int i=0;i<n;i+=4) {
; a[i]=3.4f;
; a[i+1]=3.4f;
; a[i+2]=3.4f;
; a[i+3]=3.4f;
;}
global init_array
init_array:
; rdi points to arr
; rsi is n, the array length
mov rcx,0 ; i
movaps xmm1,[constant3_4]
jmp loopcompare
loopstart:
movaps [rdi+4*rcx],xmm1 ; init array with xmm1
add rcx,4
loopcompare:
cmp rcx,rsi
jl loopstart
ret
section .data align=16
constant3_4:
dd 3.4,3.4,3.4,3.4 ; movaps!
section .text
; extern "C" void add_array(float *arr,int n);
;for (int i=0;i<n;i++) a[i]+=1.2f;
global add_array
add_array:
; rdi points to arr
; rsi is n, the array length
mov rcx,0 ; i
movaps xmm1,[constant1_2]
jmp loopcompare2
loopstart2:
movaps xmm0,[rdi+4*rcx] ; loads arr[i] through arr[i+3]
addps xmm0,xmm1
movaps [rdi+4*rcx],xmm0
add rcx,4
loopcompare2:
cmp rcx,rsi
jl loopstart2
ret
section .data align=16
constant1_2:
dd 1.2,1.2,1.2,1.2 ; movaps!
0.5ns/float is pretty impressive performance for this code, since:
Scalar Singleprecision (float) 
Scalar Doubleprecision (double) 
Packed Singleprecision (4 floats) 
Packed Doubleprecision (2 doubles) 
Example  Comments  
Arithmetic  addss  addsd  addps  addpd  addss xmm0,xmm1  sub, mul, div all work the same way 
Compare  minss  minsd  minps  minpd  minps xmm0,xmm1  max works the same way 
Sqrt  sqrtss  sqrtsd  sqrtps  sqrtpd  sqrtss xmm0,xmm1  Square root (sqrt), reciprocal (rcp), and reciprocalsquareroot (rsqrt) all work the same way 
Move  movss  movsd  movaps (aligned) movups (unaligned) 
movapd (aligned) movupd (unaligned) 
movss xmm0,xmm1  Aligned loads are up to 4x faster, but will crash if given an unaligned address! Stack is always 16byte aligned specifically for this instruction. Use "align 16" directive for static data. 
Convert  cvtss2sd cvtss2si cvttss2si 
cvtsd2ss cvtsd2si cvttsd2si 
cvtps2pd cvtps2dq cvttps2dq 
cvtpd2ps cvtpd2dq cvttpd2dq 
cvtsi2ss xmm0,eax  Convert to ("2", get it?) Single Integer (si, stored in register like eax) or four DWORDs (dq, stored in xmm register). "cvtt" versions do truncation (round down); "cvt" versions round to nearest. 
High Bits  n/a  n/a  movmskps  movmskpd  movmskps eax,xmm0  Extract the sign bits of an xmm register into an integer register. Often used to see if all the floats are "done" and you can exit. 
Compare to flags  ucomiss  ucomisd  n/a  n/a  ucomiss xmm0,xmm1 jbe dostuff 
Sets CPU flags like normal x86 "cmp" instruction, but from SSE registers. Use with "jb", "jbe", "je", "jae", or "ja" for normal comparisons. Sets "pf", the parity flag, if either input is a NaN. 
Compare to bitwise mask  cmpeqss  cmpeqsd  cmpeqps  cmpeqpd  cmpleps xmm0,xmm1  Compare for equality ("lt", "le", "neq", "nlt", "nle" versions work the same way). There's also a "cmpunordss" that marks NaN values. Sets all bits of float to zero if false (0.0), or all bits to ones if true (a NaN). Result is used as a bitmask for the bitwise AND and OR operations. 
Bitwise  n/a  n/a  andps andnps 
andpd andnpd 
andps xmm0,xmm1  Bitwise AND operation. "andn" versions are bitwise ANDNOT operations (A=(~A) & B). "or" version works the same way. This is for the "branchless ifthenelse" covered below: result = (maskV & thenV)  ((~maskV) & elseV); 
One big problem in SIMD is branching. If half the elements in a single SIMD register need one instruction, and half need a different instruction, you can't handle them both in a single instruction.
So the ANDOR trick is used to simulate branches. The situation where these are useful is when you're trying to convert a loop like this to SIMD:
for (int i=0;i<n;i++) {
if (vec[i]<7)
vec[i]=vec[i]*a+b;
else
vec[i]=c;
}
(Try this in NetRun now!)
You can implement this branch by setting a mask indicating where vals[i]<7, and then using the mask to pick the correct side of the branch to AND with zeros.
for (int i=0;i<n;i++) {
unsigned int mask=(vec[i]<7)?0xffFFffFF:0;
vec[i]=(mask&(vec[i]*a+b))  ((~mask)&c);
}
SSE totally wants you to write branches this waythe comparison instructions like cmpltps return each float filled with all one bits (0xffFFffFF, NaN in float) if the comparison came out true, and all zeros (0.0 in float) if the comparison came out false. These are useless by themselves, but then you can use the andps, andnps, and orps instructions to combine them to make a branch.
Yes, this is very weird!
CS 301 Lecture Note, 2014, Dr. Orion Lawlor, UAF Computer Science Department.