Pentium FDIV bug

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66 MHz Intel Pentium (sSpec=SX837) with the FDIV bug

The Pentium FDIV bug was a bug in the Intel P5 Pentium floating point unit (FPU). Because of the bug, the processor would return incorrect results for many calculations used in math and science. Intel blamed the problem on a few missing entries in the lookup table used by the company.[1]

The error was discovered by professor Thomas R. Nicely at Lynchburg College, Virginia, USA.[2]

The error was rarely encountered by users (Byte magazine estimated that 1 in 9 billion floating point divides with random parameters would produce inaccurate results).[3] However, both the flaw and Intel's initial handling of the matter were heavily criticized. Intel ultimately recalled the defective processors.

Chronology[edit]

Professor Thomas Nicely, a professor of mathematics at Lynchburg College, had written code to enumerate primes, twin primes, prime triplets, and prime quadruplets. Nicely noticed some inconsistencies in the calculations on June 13, 1994, shortly after adding a Pentium system to his group of computers, but was unable to eliminate other factors (such as programming errors, motherboard chipsets, etc.) until October 19, 1994. On October 24, 1994, he reported the issue to Intel. According to Nicely, his contact person at Intel later admitted that Intel had been aware of the problem since May 1994, when the flaw was discovered during testing of the FPU for its new P6 core, first used in the Pentium Pro.

On October 30, 1994, Nicely sent an email describing the error he had discovered in the Pentium floating point unit to various contacts, requesting reports of testing for the flaw on 486-DX4s, Pentiums and Pentium clones.[2]

This flaw in the Pentium FPU was quickly verified by other people around the Internet, and became known as the Pentium FDIV bug (FDIV is the x86 assembly language mnemonic for floating-point division). One example was found where the division result returned by the Pentium was off by about 61 parts per million.[2]

The story first appeared in the press on November 7, 1994, in an article in Electronic Engineering Times, "Intel fixes a Pentium FPU glitch" by Alexander Wolfe.[4]

The story was subsequently picked up by CNN in a segment aired on November 21, 1994.[2] This brought it into widespread public prominence.

Publicly, Intel acknowledged the floating point flaw, but claimed that it was not serious and would not affect most users. Intel offered to replace processors to users who could prove that they were affected. However, although most independent estimates found the bug to be of little importance and would have negligible effect on most users, it caused a great public outcry. Companies like IBM (whose IBM 5x86C microprocessor competed at that time with the Intel Pentium line) joined the condemnation.

On December 20, 1994, Intel offered to replace all flawed Pentium processors on the basis of request, in response to mounting public pressure.[5] Although it turned out that only a small fraction of Pentium owners bothered to get their chips replaced, the financial impact on the company was significant. On January 17, 1995, Intel announced a pre-tax charge of $475 million against earnings, ostensibly the total cost associated with replacement of the flawed processors.[2] Some of the defective chips were later turned into key rings by Intel.[6]

A 1995 article in Science describes the value of number theory problems in discovering computer bugs and gives the mathematical background and history of Brun's constant, the problem Nicely was working on when he discovered the bug.[7]

Affected models[edit]

This problem occurred only on some models of the original Pentium processor.[8] Any Pentium family processor with a clock speed of at least 120 MHz is new enough not to have this bug.[8]

On affected models, the Intel Processor Frequency ID Utility checks for the presence of this bug.

The ten affected processors are listed below. The 39 S-spec of those processors are not listed in the Intel processor specification finder web page.

Pentium P5 800 nm 5V
Family Model Stepping Core stepping Clock rate FSB speed S-spec
5 1 3 B1 60 MHz 60 MHz Q0352, Q0412, SX753
5 1 3 B1 66 MHz 66 MHz Q0353, Q0413, SX754
5 1 5 C1 60 MHz 60 MHz Q0466, SX835, SZ949
5 1 5 C1 66 MHz 66 MHz Q0467, SX837, SZ950
Pentium P54C 600 nm 3.3V
Family Model Stepping Core stepping Clock rate FSB speed S-spec
5 2 1 B1 75 MHz 50 MHz Q0601
5 2 1 B1 90 MHz 60 MHz Q0542, Q0613, Q0543, SX879, SX885, SX909, SX874
5 2 1 B1 100 MHz 66 MHz Q0563, Q0587, Q0614, SX886, SX910
5 2 2 B3 75 MHz 50 MHz Q0606, SX951
5 2 2 B3 90 MHz 60 MHz Q0628, Q0611, Q0612, SX923, SX922, SX921, SX942, SX943, SX944, SZ951
5 2 2 B3 100 MHz 66 MHz Q0677, SX960

The presence of the bug can be checked manually by performing the following calculation in any application that uses native floating point numbers, including the Windows Calculator or Microsoft Excel in Windows 95/98.

The correct value is (where 4195835 = 0x4005FB and 3145727 = 0x2FFFFF and the '5' in 0x4005 hits the fault in the FPU control logic)

\textstyle \frac{4195835}{3145727} = 1.333820449136241002

However, the value returned by the flawed Pentium is incorrect at or beyond four digits:[9]

\textstyle \frac{ 4195835}{3145727} = 1.333{\color{Red}{739068902037589}}

Another way of detecting the bug is using the pentnt utility included with Windows NT 3.51, Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, or Windows XP.[10]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "FDIV Replacement Program: Description of the Flaw". Intel. 2004-07-09. Solution ID CS-013007. Retrieved 2006-12-19. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Professor Thomas Nicely. "Pentium FDIV flaw FAQ". 
  3. ^ Tom R. Halfhill (March 1995). "An error in a lookup table created the infamous bug in Intel's latest processor" (– Scholar search). BYTE (March 1995). Retrieved 2006-12-19. [dead link]
  4. ^ Alexander Wolfe. "Intel fixes a Pentium FPU glitch". 
  5. ^ "Intel adopts upon-request replacement policy on Pentium processors with floating point flaw; Will take Q4 charge against earnings". Business Wire. 1994-12-20. Retrieved 2006-12-24. 
  6. ^ "How many engineers does it take to change a lightbulb?". Boiledbeans. 20 April 2009. Retrieved 10 November 2009. 
  7. ^ Cipra, Barry (1995-01-13). "How number theory got the best of the Pentium chip". Science 267 (5195): 175. doi:10.1126/science.267.5195.175. PMID 17791336. 
  8. ^ a b "FDIV Replacement Program: Frequently asked questions". Intel. 2009-03-20. Solution ID CS-012748. Retrieved 2009-11-10. 
  9. ^ "Pentium FDIV bug - a Picture". Kansas University Institute for Policy and Social Research. 1994-11-30. Retrieved 2010-11-03. 
  10. ^ "Pentnt". 

External links[edit]