[alsa-devel] underruns and strange code in pcm_rate.c (and patch)

Takashi Iwai tiwai at suse.de
Tue Nov 6 12:29:52 CET 2007

At Mon, 05 Nov 2007 02:48:52 +0300,
Stas Sergeev wrote:
> Hi.
> I spent 4 week-ends debugging the
> constant underruns and lock-ups with
> the libao-based programs.
> Now I've finally tracked the problem
> to some strange code in pcm_rate.c,
> namely snd_pcm_rate_poll_descriptors().
> I am not sure what was the reason
> behind altering the "avail_min" every
> time. Looks like some heuristic was
> intended, say "see what amount of
> fragment part was written now, and
> make sure that amount of free space will
> be available next time, after poll".
> Whatever, this code gives underruns.
> It can increase avail_min by almost period_size.
> libao sets avail_min==period_size,
> so we can end up with avail_min==period_size*2.
> libao sets buffer_size==stop_threshold==period_size*2.

Depends on the configuration.  I thought it's not so as default.

> So we end up with avail_min~=stop_threshold,
> which gives underruns.
> Since I don't know how this code was
> indended to work, I just removed it,
> and everything works perfectly now
> (also had to patch libao to check
> the returned rate).
> The patch is attached, any comments?

In principle, using rate plugin with two periods doesn't work well in
case that the sample rates aren't aligned.  It's a design issue.  You
shouldn't use two periods except for hw.  Period.

... but with this attitute, there is no improvement.  Let's see more

The problem is that the hardware is woken up only at the period size
of the slave side.  Assume the slave (hardware playback) is running
48kHz and the client (input) is 44.1kHz.  When dmix is used, usually
the period size = 1024 in the h/w side.  Then the period size of the
client side is supposed to be 940.
Here, note that 940 != 1024 * 44.1 / 48.0 exactly.  This rounding
causes the drift of wake-up time at each period and the delay is

So, even applying your patch, the XRUN problem may occur at some time
as long as you use two periods.  It can't be fixed without the
fundamental change of the irq / poll handling routines in the ALSA

Now, back to the problematic code part in rate plugin.
Whether that hack really does any good thing is questionable, indeed.

First, it skips the avail_min adjustment if the app fills the period
size.  Thus only for apps that fills arbitrary amount of data via
snd_pcm_writei() triggers this hack.
Second, avail_min is checked usually in irq handler and thus its
resolution is also in period size.  It means avail_min + 1 is
equivalent with avail_min + period_size.

So what we can do better?  As a temporary solution, we can get rid of
the problematic part, or, at least, add the check whether avail_min
comes over stop_threshold.  I'm not sure whether any big impact by
removing the hack there.  Maybe not.  But, I feel it's a barren
discussion.  It's really a design problem.  Sigh.


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