FROM:  Dr. Thomas R. Nicely
       Professor of Mathematics
       Lynchburg College
       1501 Lakeside Drive
       Lynchburg, Virginia 24501-3199

       Phone:     804-522-8374
       Fax:       804-522-8499

TO:    Whom it may concern

RE:    Bug in the Pentium FPU

DATE:  30 October 1994

It appears that there is a bug in the floating point unit
(numeric coprocessor) of many, and perhaps all, Pentium processors.

In short, the Pentium FPU is returning erroneous values for
certain division operations. For example,
is calculated incorrectly (all digits beyond the eighth
significant digit are in error). This can be verified in
compiled code, an ordinary spreadsheet such as Quattro Pro
or Excel, or even the Windows calculator (use the scientific
mode), by computing
which should equal 1 exactly (within some extremely small
rounding error; in general, coprocessor results should contain
19 significant decimal digits).  However, the Pentiums
tested return
for this calculation.  A similar erroneous value is obtained
for x*(1/x) for most values of x in the interval
     00824633702418 <= x <= 824633702449,
and throughout any interval obtained by multiplying or
dividing the above interval by an integer power of 2 (there
are yet other intervals which also produce division errors).

The bug can also be observed by calculating 1/(1/x) for the
above values of x.  The Pentium FPU will fail to return the
original x (in fact, it will often return a value exactly
3072 = 6*0x200 larger).

The bug has been observed on all Pentiums I have tested or
had tested to date, including a Dell P90, a Gateway P90, a
Micron P60, an Insight P60, and a Packard-Bell P60.  It has
not been observed on any 486 or earlier system, even those
with a PCI bus.  If the FPU is locked out (not always
possible), the error disappears; but then the Pentium becomes
a "586SX", and floating point must run in emulation, slowing
down computations by a factor of roughly ten.

I encountered erroneous results which were related to this
bug as long ago as June, 1994, but it was not until 19 October
1994 that I felt I had eliminated all other likely sources of
error (software logic, compiler, chipset, etc.).  I contacted
Intel Tech Support regarding this bug on Monday 24 October
(call reference number 51270).  The contact person later
reported that the bug was observed on a 66-MHz system at
Intel, but had no further information or explanation, other
than the fact that no such bug  had been previously reported
or observed.

Further information can be obtained by contacting me directly,
and by downloading files from the [anonymous.nicely.pentium_bug]
directory of the machine via anonymous ftp
on Internet (password ANONYMOUS, user ID = Internet ID).  These
files include a documentation file, a DOS executable image
demonstrating the bug, and the source code for the
demonstration.  The zip file uses PKZIP version 2.04g.

I would be interested in hearing of test results from other
Pentiums, and also from 486-DX4s and (if anybody has one yet)
the AMD, Cyrix, and NexGen clones of the Pentium.

You may use this information freely as long as you give me
attribution by name and employer.

Return to Pentium case history

Return to How to Grow Your Business on the Internet home page

Copyright 1995 Vince Emery Productions. All rights reserved.