How swift is Swift compared to C++?

Merriam-Webster defines swift as “moving or capable of moving at great speed”. Apple also presented similar promises at their WWDC 2014 keynote presentation, where Swift was first released. In one of the slides there was a comparison for RC4 encryption that Swift did 220x faster than Python and almost 2x faster than Objective-C.

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What about the classical behemoth of performance C++? Which one of these two languages takes the cake when it comes to calculating the Collatz conjecture for numbers under 1 million? Let’s find out!

I made an effort to keep the solutions as similar as possible to have a fair comparison. First I will show you the full source code of both solutions and finally the results.

 C++ Solution

#include <iostream>
#include <sys/time.h>

int main(int argc, const char * argv[])
{
    // Take starting time for performance measurement
    struct timeval start, end;
    gettimeofday(&start, NULL);

    // Define the range for testing
    const int FROM = 2;
    const int UNTIL = 999999;

    // Save sequence lengths in array for performance gains
    const int ARRAY_SIZE = 1000000;
    int sequenceArray[ARRAY_SIZE];

    // Initialize all to -1
    for (int i = 0; i < ARRAY_SIZE; ++i)
    {
        sequenceArray[i] = -1;
    }
    sequenceArray[1] = 0;

    // Loop each number in the range
    for (int number = FROM; number < UNTIL; ++number)
    {
        long value = number;
        int sequence = 0;

        // If previously calculated, no need to recalculate
        bool notFound = sequenceArray[value] < 0;

        while (notFound)
        {
            // Actual calculation of the Collatz conjecture
            value = value % 2 == 0 ? value / 2 : value * 3 + 1;
            ++sequence;

            // Need to set true for those outside range to avoid runtime error
            notFound = (value < (ARRAY_SIZE - 1)) ? (sequenceArray[value] < 0) : true;
        }

        sequence += sequenceArray[value];
        sequenceArray[number] = sequence;
    }

    // Now find out which one had the longest sequence
    int valueWithLongestSequence = 0;
    int longestSequence = 0;

    for (int number = FROM; number < UNTIL; ++number)
    {
        if (sequenceArray[number] > longestSequence)
        {
            longestSequence = sequenceArray[number];
            valueWithLongestSequence = number;
        }
    }

    // Performance comparison code
    gettimeofday(&end, NULL);
    printf ("time = %d ms\n", (end.tv_usec - start.tv_usec) / 1000);

    // Output result
    std::cout << "DONE! Value " << valueWithLongestSequence << " has longest sequence " << longestSequence << ".\n";

    return 0;
}

 Swift Solution

See more information about the Swift solution here:
http://swift.svbtle.com/calculating-the-collatz-conjecture-with-swift

// Import Foundation for taking execution time with NSDate
import Foundation

// Take starting time for performance measurement
var start = NSDate()

// Define the range for testing
let FROM = 2
let UNTIL = 999_999

// Save sequence lengths in array for performance gains
let ARRAY_SIZE = 1_000_000
let stepsArray = Array(count: ARRAY_SIZE, repeatedValue: -1)
stepsArray[1] = 0

// Loop each number in the range
for number in FROM...UNTIL
{
    var value = number
    var steps = 0

    // If previously calculated, no need to recalculate
    var notFound = stepsArray[value] < 0

    while (notFound)
    {
        // Actual calculation of the Collatz conjecture
        value = value % 2 == 0 ? value / 2 : value * 3 + 1
        ++steps

        // Need to set true for those outside range to avoid runtime error
        notFound = value < (ARRAY_SIZE - 1) ? stepsArray[value] < 0 : true
    }

    steps += stepsArray[value]
    stepsArray[number] = steps
}

// Now find out which one had the longest sequence
var longestSequence : (Int, Int) = (0, 0)
for number in FROM...UNTIL
{
    if stepsArray[number] > longestSequence.1
    {
        // Set longest sequence tuple to hold the number and sequence length
        longestSequence = (number, stepsArray[number])
    }
}

// Performance comparison code
var end = NSDate()
var timeTaken = end.timeIntervalSinceDate(start) * 1000
println("Time taken: \(timeTaken) ms.")

// Output result
println("DONE! Value \(longestSequence.0) has longest sequence \(longestSequence.1)")

 Performance evaluation

As you notice the solution used is identical, the code even looks very similar. The performance was measured using an Early 2011 Macbook Pro with a 2,2 Ghz i7 processor. The operating system used was the beta OS X 10.10 Yosemite and both solutions were compiled with the XCode 6.0 beta. Compiler for C++ was Apple LLVM 6.0.

I first ran both applications directly from the XCode development view four times to gain confidence in the results.

Swift C++
Run 1 15165 ms 157 ms
Run 2 14942 ms 156 ms
Run 3 14863 ms 164 ms
Run 4 14679 ms 151 ms

The performance difference was in fact quite stunning. On average C++ was approximately 100x faster. Swift ran for approximately 15 seconds, while C++ only took approximately 150 milliseconds.

It’s of course good to remember here that C++ has been actively developed for around 31 years and as such has evolved into quite a performance beast, whereas Swift was only released 2 weeks ago.

But then I found some comments here indicating that the performance gap can be bridged by changing the compiler options of Swift: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/24101718/swift-performance-sorting-arrays

Let’s investigate!

I next compiled and ran the Swift application with the available compiler options. For C++ it seemed like there was no substantial difference between the different optimizations (O, O2, O3, Ofast) as long as they were enabled.

Language Swift Swift Swift C++ C++
Compiler Option None Fastest Fastest, Unchecked None Fastest
Run 1 16680 ms 983 ms 38 ms 164 ms 35 ms
Run 2 17057 ms 1030 ms 54 ms 180 ms 27 ms
Run 3 16971 ms 1004 ms 35 ms 172 ms 18 ms
Run 4 17035 ms 1036 ms 41 ms 206 ms 19 ms

Performance crown seems to stand firmly in the C++ corner as things are today. With no compiler optimization C++ beats Swift with a whopping 100x factor. When compiler optimizations are enabled C++ still takes only half the time of Swift in this particular test.

All this said, there are more things than performance to a language and so far Swift has certainly been a pleasure to learn and there many small things it does do smarter than C++.

EDIT: It was pointed out to me that C++ was using 32-bit integers, while Swift was using 64-bit. After changing the C++ implementation to match with regard to this I re-ran and found that the times increased to the range of 31-46ms with -O3 and 29-33ms with -Ofast. It seems that the margin is certainly small in this test and it’s possible that the small differences in code account for the rest of the difference. Fundamentally for this test, the solutions seem more or less equally fast.

 
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