How to measure execution time with CYCLECOUNTER

By, Hiroki Akaboshi, Field Application Engineer, IAR Systems
How to measure execution time with CYCLECOUNTER
IAR Embedded Workbench is an integrated development environment which supports a wide range of
microcontrollers. The C-SPY Debugger in IAR Embedded Workbench for ARM has functionality to
debug and test software. Cortex-M3/M4 has a DWT (Data Watch and Trace Unit) which includes a clock
cycle register (CYCCNT) and C-SPY implements a 64-bit cycle register accordingly, CYCLECOUNTER.
This register enables accurate and extended measure execution times and combined with C-SPY
macros becomes a very useful instrument in developers’ toolbox.
To show register window when using the C-SPY Debugger, select [View] => [Register].Select [CPU
Registers] from Register Filter to show “CYCLECOUNTER”. There are three registers which are related
with CYCLECOUNTER: CCTIMER1, CCTIMER2, and CCSTEP. When an instruction is stepped and the
execution is stop, the values of these four registers are updated. CCSTEP is interval clock cycles
between previous break and recent break. CYCLECOUNTER, CCTIMER1 and CCTIMER2 show
accumulated clock cycles. A difference between CYCLECOUNTER and CCTIMER1/CCTIMER2 is that
the value of CCTIMER1/CCTIMER2 can be modified by user, in contrary with the value of
CYCLECOUNTER and CCSTEP that cannot be changed by users. One of simplest ways to measure
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Execution time with register window
When you want to measure execution time from one point to another in the source code, you must
remember the previous value of CYCLECOUNTER and get the new value and calculate the execution
time by subtracting for the value of CYCLECOUNTER is accumulating.
Before program start, set one use breakpoint as start, and one user breakpoint as stop.
When program stops at the start breakpoint, the value of CCTIMER1 should be cleared to zero.
When program stops at the stop breakpoint, the value is the execution time. C-SPY has two cycle
counters CCTIMER1 and CCTIMER2 to measure execution cycles.
Execution Time
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Automatic measuring with C-SPY macros
C-SPY has a macro system that can be used to make the testing process more efficient. These macros
can automate execution time measurement with CYCLECOUNTER and CCTIMER.
As an example, we can implement two macro functions, “Clear_TIMER1” and “Dump”.
Clear_TIMER1( ) {
#CCTIMER1 = 0 ;
__message "reset CCTIMER1=", #CCTIMER1;
Dump( ) {
__message "CCTIMER1=", #CCTIMER1;
We save this text file as “cycle.mac” and browse to the file from [Project] => [Options…] => [Debugger]
=> [Setup].
After this, set two breakpoints where you want to measure execution cycles.
Select [View] => [Breakpoints] to open the [Breakpoint] window.
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In [Breakpoints] window, select the start breakpoint and right-click the breakpoint. Then select [Edit..],
and input “Clear_TIMER1( ) ” at the Expression field.
Select the stop breakpoint and right-click the breakpoint. Then select [Edit..], and input “Dump( )” at the
Expression field.
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Execution result
After these settings, we can start the execution. When we start execution, the messages are shown in
the [Debug log] window. The output messages can in addition be copied and pasted for further
There are multiple ways of measuring execution times on Cortex-M3/M4 processors. CYCLECOUNTER
which is supported by IAR Embedded Workbench for ARM enables us to measure high-precise and
long execution time. Furthermore, if we combine C-SPY macro and CYCLECOUNTER, this useful
measurement is automated. There are only two cycle counter register, CCTIMER1 and CCTIMER2, but
if we use C-SPY macros, we can increase the number of measurement points.