Central Processing Unit Function Fixed-Point and Floating-Point Numbers

Most CPUs handle two different kinds of numbers: fixed-point and floating-point numbers. Fixed-point numbers have a specific number of digits on either side of the decimal point. This restriction limits the range of values that are possible for these numbers, but it also allows for the fastest arithmetic. Floating-point numbers are numbers that are expressed in scientific notation, in which a number is represented as a decimal number multiplied by a power of ten. Scientific notation is a compact way of expressing very large or very small numbers and allows a wide range of digits before and after the decimal point. This is important for representing graphics and for scientific work, but floating-point arithmetic is more complex and can take longer to complete. Performing an operation on a floating-point number may require many CPU clock periods. A CPU’s floating-point computation rate is therefore less than its clock rate. Some computers use a special floating-point processor, called a coprocessor, that works in parallel to the CPU to speed up calculations using floating-point numbers. This coprocessor has become standard on many personal computer CPUs, such as Intel’s Pentium chip.