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Name: Stacy H
Status: Student
Age: 20
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: Around 1999

Is a math coprocessor something you can install if you don't have one on your computer?

Sometimes. It's a separate processor chip that is hardwired to do certain math functions the main CPU doesn't, such as floating point multiplications and divisions. If you don't have one, these math operations must be performed in software: for example, a multiplication must be performed via a certain set of additions, moves, stores, etc. That is a bit slower. Whether it matters or not depends on how many FP multiples/divides your software does.

To add a coprocessor you would need to verify that the motherboard, the circuit board on which the CPU sits, has an empty socket waiting for one. If it doesn't, you'd need to get another motherboard, with associated memory management and bus management chips. That would be about half the price of the CPU itself, roughly. Then you need to get the chip. The availability of either is an open question.

But I'm under the impression that this kind of architecture is obsolete. I think modern chips (i.e. >= i586) have a floating point unit (FPU) sitting on the same piece of silicon and in the same chip case as the CPU itself, so you have one automatically.

The right thing to do in this day of cheap hardware if you find yourself slowing down because of your CPUs lack of floating point moxie is probably just to buy a new computer case, power supply, motherboard and CPU (for a reasonable PII that might run you $400 to $500) and then plug in your old drives, floppy, CD-ROM, memory, and I/O cards (sound, video, etc.) to make a new computer, or at least a computer with a new brain.


Yes. I've done it myself. Your local computer store will know if your computer can take a co-processor. They can also help you with instructions on how to install it. It takes about five minutes if you're a pro; about thirty minutes if you know nothing, like me.

Richard Barrans Jr., Ph.D.
Chemical Separations Group
Chemistry Division CHM/200
Argonne National Laboratory
9700 South Cass Avenue
Argonne, IL 60439

If I remember correctly, math co-processors can be installed on Macs (I have never heard of one of these on a PC). The old '030s and '040s are the ones that they can be installed on. I think all PowerPC units have them built into the processor. MacMall and all of the other catalogs that specialize in the Mac(The only real computer) will sell these.

Nick Hitchcock

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