# Are Mathematica 9 units really slow?

This generates 75 unitized pairs for a plot that displays physical units:

x = UnitConvert@Quantity["PlanckConstant" "SpeedOfLight" / "BoltzmannConstant"]
x1 = UnitConvert@Quantity[2,"PlanckConstant" ("SpeedOfLight")^2]
B[L_,T_]:= (L^-5) /(Exp[x/(L T)]-1)
p = Table[{Quantity[ll, "Micrometers"], UnitConvert[
x1 B[Quantity[ll, "Micrometers"], Quantity[1000, "Kelvins"]],
"Watts"/("Meters")^3]}, {ll, 0.1, 15, 0.2}]; //Timing


Then plot it

ListLinePlot[p, AxesLabel -> Automatic]


to get nice unitized labels.

However, this naive coding to generate "p" takes 27 seconds on my core-duo 2.4 GHz laptop under windows 7 32-bit, ridiculously slow for 75 pairs! Can anyone accelerate this, say tenfold? Not too tricky please because I need transparency for Mathematica beginners.

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Confirmed slow: 24 sec on Mac OS X v 10.7.5 on 2.8 GHz Intel Core i7 with 8 GB 1067 MHz DDR3 memory. –  David Carraher Dec 17 '12 at 2:54
@DavidCarraher Got about the same in timing on my MacBook. What makes it so slow is calling the function B with the units. Even listing the result p is rather slow. –  Matariki Dec 17 '12 at 3:05
@DavidCarraher Roughly the same here on a similar Mac. Good question (+1) - that looks really weird! –  Jens Dec 17 '12 at 3:06
The code runs without an internet connection, so connections to Wolfram Alpha are not to blame. –  David Carraher Dec 17 '12 at 3:17
My experience is that the problem lies in using the Quantity function. That is horribly slow. What I do is to create units that will Work in the pre-9 environment, i.e. Meter=Quantity["Meter"] etc. It takes 19 seconds to create the 19 SI-units this way (in a loop) on my computer with 2-Intel 7 (2.8 GHz) and 8GB memory. That is unacceptable. –  user6098 Feb 25 '13 at 18:15

Mathematica 10 got out just a couple of days ago and I have compared speed between v 9.0.0 and v 10.0.0 on the same computer (64-bit Win7) needed to generate p table:

Version 9: 17.5 s

Version 10: 5 s

Over 3 times faster, but still slow. Anyway - if you use units move to v 10 seems like a good idea.

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On my 64bit Windows 7 PC, using a slightly different calculation, Mathematica 10 is 30% slower with units than Mathematica 9. I moved back to Mathematica 9! –  Martin J.H. Sep 23 '14 at 11:57

To explore my question a bit I tried the Mathematica 8 AutomaticUnits add-on from http://blog.wolfram.com/2010/12/09/automatic-physical-units-in-mathematica/ You must modify built-in PhysicalConstants.m (benign) as per comments in that blog to play properly with AutomaticUnits. Once done, you can write clearly in Mathematica 8

<<PhysicalConstants
<<AutomaticUnits
B[ll_, T_] := (2 PlanckConstant (SpeedOfLight^2) (ll^-5) )/(
Exp[(PlanckConstant SpeedOfLight)/(ll BoltzmannConstant T)] - 1)
Plot[B[ll Meter, 1000 Kelvin], {ll, 10^-7, 10^-5}, PlotRange -> All,
AxesLabel -> {"Meter", "W/\!$$\*SuperscriptBox[\(m$$, $$3$$]\)"}]


Which produces

in 12 seconds on my 2.4 GHz Core-Duo running Mathematica 8.0.4 under Fedora 17 64-bit, half the time of Mathematica 9.0 units. However, you can't convert units in axes labels with this package, they must be converted manually, i.e. AxesLabel->Automatic gives $J/s/m^3$.

Nonetheless, I find the syntax of this older package to be cleaner for newcomers such as my students than the cumbersome Quantity[...] 9.0 syntax of the new units. And one can use Plot instead of ListLinePlot to benefit from automatic function sampling without need to tabulate a plotting list. Perhaps that's what accelerates?

Luckily AutomaticUnits still works in Mathematica 9 if you globally edit AutomaticUnits.m after installation to replace all occurrences of CompatibleUnitQ to DimensionCompatibleUnitQ as described in the Wolfram blog entry.

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Anything over a few milliseconds for such a plot is just wrong. But the comparison to the earlier package is probably useful. Using that as a yardstick, version 9 is only three times slower... But in reality, that's not a yardstick that inspires a lot of confidence. Just one detail: how did you do the timing? Using AbsoluteTiming? –  Jens Dec 21 '12 at 1:06
Timing says MMA 8 / AutomaticUnits runs in 12 seconds vs 27 for MMA 9 units on my machine so 2.3x speedup not 3x. –  geraldcecil Dec 21 '12 at 13:03
Please use *italics* to style and not $LaTeX$ as the latter requires significant rendering overhead, and moreover is a misapplication of the feature. –  Mr.Wizard Dec 21 '12 at 23:55

If we pre-evaluate the expression:

x1 B[Quantity[ll, "Micrometers"], Quantity[1000, "Kelvins"]]


then the run time can be reduced by about factor 10. We can do this by hoisting the expression out of the loop and pre-evaluating using With:

p =
Module[{ll}
, With[{v = x1 B[Quantity[ll, "Micrometers"], Quantity[1000, "Kelvins"]]}
, Table[{Quantity[ll, "Micrometers"], UnitConvert[v, "Watts"/("Meters")^3]}
, {ll, 0.1, 15, 0.2}
]
]
]; //Timing

(* {2.324415, Null} *)


What's Going On?

I tried this example under Windows 7, 64-bit.

I used TraceScan to count the number of evaluation steps:

Module[{n = 0}
, TraceScan[
n++ &
, p = Table[{Quantity[ll, "Micrometers"], UnitConvert[
x1 B[Quantity[ll, "Micrometers"], Quantity[1000, "Kelvins"]],
"Watts"/("Meters")^3]}, {ll, 0.1, 15, 0.2}];
]
; n
]

(* 1913468 *)


1,913,468 evaluation steps?! A unitless analog to the expression required only 4,136 steps:

Module[{n = 0}
, TraceScan[
n++ &
, p = Table[{1, x1 B[ll, 1]}, {ll, 0.1, 15, 0.2}];
]
; n
]

(* 4136 *)


TracePrint applied to the expression produces a phenomenally large output (incidentally generating a few INTERNAL SELF-TEST ERRORs along the way). Even a conversion from a single loop iteration produces lots of output:

(* WARNING: this expression produces SELF-TEST errors *)
TracePrint @
UnitConvert[
x1 B[Quantity[0.1, "Micrometers"], Quantity[1000, "Kelvins"]]
, "Watts"/("Meters")^3
]


A cursory examination of the TracePrint output suggests that all unit operations are being performed symbolically from first principles each time. In particular, I did not see any sign of "the usual" unit calculation optimizations (like representing quantities as scaled vectors using a standard unit basis). More importantly, the implementation appears to operate upon large lists of all defined units instead of operating only upon the referenced units. For example, a large Dispatch table containing all defined units is built repeatedly.

It would seem that there is plenty of room for optimization :)

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"If you optimize on V1, you're spoiling the next contract" (one of my first managers, eons ago) –  belisarius Dec 17 '12 at 4:26
The "transparency for MMA beginners" will probably mean the punctuation will end up where you don't like it. +1 –  Rojo Dec 17 '12 at 5:16
@Rojo ... but beginners have no punctuation prejudice to unlearn :D Seriously though, I don't think my answer is truly suitable for use by beginners. The Module / With / symbolic evaluation combination is pretty subtle and a lot to ask of someone unfamiliar with Mathematica. I believe that this kind of problem argues for a "definition-time evaluation" facility in Mathematica: an attribute on a symbol that triggers evaluation within the body of a SetDelayed expression. In this case, it could be used to predigest a unit specification into a more efficient representation. –  WReach Dec 17 '12 at 15:57
Considerable improvement running my code at top of this thread in v10.0 ... 9.3 seconds on the same laptop hardware, down from 27 seconds in v9 and 12 seconds (for a functionally similar code, see my comment below) in v8. –  geraldcecil Jul 14 '14 at 22:44

Just some analysis to try to find where the slow down. On my PC, it took 25 seconds to build the table. ps. I never used Units before.

x = UnitConvert@Quantity["PlanckConstant" "SpeedOfLight"/"BoltzmannConstant"]
x1 = UnitConvert@Quantity[2, "PlanckConstant" ("SpeedOfLight")^2]
B[L_, T_] := (L^(-5))/(Exp[x/(L T)] - 1)
c = Quantity[1000, "Kelvins"]

Table[{Quantity[ll, "Micrometers"],
UnitConvert[x1 B[Quantity[ll, "Micrometers"], c],"Watts"/("Meters")^3]},
{ll, 0.1, 15, 0.2}
]; // Timing

(*   {25.693365, Null}  *)


## CPU Analysis

Raising to -5 powers is fast

 Table[Quantity[ll, "Micrometers"]^(-5) , {ll, 0.1, 15,0.2}]; // Timing
(*   {0.764405, Null}  *)


The Exp use is also fast

   Table[Exp[Quantity[ll, "Micrometers"]] , {ll, 0.1, 15, 0.2}]; // Timing
(*  {0.015600, Null}  *)


Products of Quantities is little slow, but it depends on which Quantities:

 c = Quantity[1000, "Kelvins"]
Table[Quantity[ll, "Micrometers"] c , {ll, 0.1, 15,0.2}]; // Timing
(*  {2.886019, Null}  (1) *)


Lets go back and add the division now, to try to build the B function as it was. Dividing quantities now:

  x = UnitConvert@Quantity["PlanckConstant" "SpeedOfLight"/"BoltzmannConstant"]
Table[x/Quantity[ll, "Micrometers"], {ll, 0.1, 15, 0.2}]; // Timing
(*  {7.347647, Null}   (2) *)


Lets add the c back, now will do products of Quantities, notice CPU doubles *)

  Table[x/(Quantity[ll, "Micrometers"] c), {ll, 0.1, 15, 0.2}]; // Timing
(*  {14.040090, Null}   (3) *)


Add the Exp back. CPU does not change much as expected

  Table[Exp[x/(Quantity[ll, "Micrometers"] c)], {ll, 0.1, 15, 0.2}]; // Timing
(*  {14.008890, Null}  *)


Add the second division of Quantity you had. Notice no change in CPU since Units are doing division by a number now (no units in result of Exp[...], just a number)

   Table[ Quantity[ll, "Micrometers"]^(-5)/Exp[x/(Quantity[ll, "Micrometers"] c)],
{ll, 0.1, 15,0.2}]; // Timing
(* {14.882495, Null}     *)


Now add x1 back. This is product of Quantity again, Notice the CPU doubles now

   x1 = UnitConvert@Quantity[2, "PlanckConstant" ("SpeedOfLight")^2]
Table[ x1 (Quantity[ll,"Micrometers"]^(-5)/Exp[x/(Quantity[ll,"Micrometers"]c)]),
{ll, 0.1, 15,0.2}]; // Timing
(*  {24.679358, Null}   (4)  *)


here we go.

## Summary

1. Product of "Kelvins" with "Micrometers" about 3 second. step (1)
2. division of meter kelvin by "Micrometers" is about 4 seconds. step (2)
3. division of "Micrometers" by micro meter kelvin about 7 seconds step (3)
4. product of kg meter to the fourth per second cube with micrometer to the fifth 14 seconds. step (4).

Tried to Compile these, but can't on Units.

## Conclusion

product and division between units seems to be slow (compared to just numbers!), it also seems to depend on which units are involved.

More thorough analysis is needed to find why that is and optimize these operations.

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My conclusion: just set $\hbar = c = 1$. –  Jens Dec 17 '12 at 3:37
@Jens you forgot to include $\pi = e = i = 1$ just for convenience. :) –  rcollyer Dec 17 '12 at 4:46
@rcollyer That comment would work really well with this question... –  Jens Dec 17 '12 at 5:12
@rcollyer And 2=1 also helps sometimes. –  b.gatessucks Dec 17 '12 at 6:31
@Jens you're right. It seems I forgot to include a few things $\mathbb{R} = 1$ should do it. –  rcollyer Dec 17 '12 at 6:32