In a cpu, why are/were Index Registers needed? You can of course live without them, but why would you want them? Wikipedia says that they are used for vector/array operations, but I'm not really sure what that means. (I am deciding on the architecture of my home-brew cpu)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Downvoter care to explain? \$\endgroup\$ – akaltar May 31 '15 at 19:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ As with a lot of features, the are not needed, but experience has learend that the ability to index (add two registers or a register + an offset from the instruction to form a memory address) can increase the effectiveness of a CPU. \$\endgroup\$ – Wouter van Ooijen May 31 '15 at 20:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ They aren't needed: you can implement an entire processor with a single instruction. They're just a major use-case that's worth providing a processor idiom for. \$\endgroup\$ – user207421 May 31 '15 at 20:53
variable = array[index];

(where index is a variable who's value is unknown at compile time) is a common thing to do in C. You can do something similar in x86 assembly:

mov edx, [ebx + 4 * eax]

Here, eax holds the value of the index variable, and we call eax an index register in this instruction. If ebx holds the address of array, and array is of a type which has a size of 4 bytes, then eax = n will store array[n] into edx.

Without index variables, this would be cumbersome to do.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, that makes sense :) This sounds like it could be used in a register machine, but I have seen index registers in stack machines too. That does not make sense to me, because you can only acces the newest register i a stack, as far as I know..? \$\endgroup\$ – Christian Bertram May 31 '15 at 19:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Im not too sure, but i think that depends on the implementation. While most opcodes can be based on the stack, I think most (sufficiently advanced) stack machines have a way to access the memory as well, and this might be done with an index 'register' (by this i mean just a value that specifies which word in memory to load). \$\endgroup\$ – Ruben May 31 '15 at 19:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ ah, looking closer i think it switches between (mux) the stack pointer and a index register address \$\endgroup\$ – Christian Bertram May 31 '15 at 20:03


     LDX #0
     LDB #5
     LDA #0
loop STA buf,X
     BNZ loop

buf  RESB 5

This simple example clears out 5 bytes in a buffer. Without indexing the operation STA buf,X would require modifying the code itself, which as any seasoned programmer knows is evil, and isn't even possible on some platforms.

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