Browse Definitions:
Definition

arithmetic-logic unit (ALU)

Contributor(s): David Brown and Theuns Kruger

An arithmetic-logic unit (ALU) is the part of a computer processor (CPU) that carries out arithmetic and logic operations on the operands in computer instruction words. In some processors, the ALU is divided into two units, an arithmetic unit (AU) and a logic unit (LU). Some processors contain more than one AU - for example, one for fixed-point operations and another for floating-point operations. (In personal computers floating point operations are sometimes done by a floating point unit on a separate chip called a numeric coprocessor.)

Typically, the ALU has direct input and output access to the processor controller, main memory (random access memory or RAM in a personal computer), and input/output devices. Inputs and outputs flow along an electronic path that is called a bus. The input consists of an instruction word (sometimes called a machine instruction word) that contains an operation code (sometimes called an "op code"), one or more operands, and sometimes a format code. The operation code tells the ALU what operation to perform and the operands are used in the operation. (For example, two operands might be added together or compared logically.) The format may be combined with the op code and tells, for example, whether this is a fixed-point or a floating-point instruction. The output consists of a result that is placed in a storage register and settings that indicate whether the operation was performed successfully. (If it isn't, some sort of status will be stored in a permanent place that is sometimes called the machine status word.)

In general, the ALU includes storage places for input operands, operands that are being added, the accumulated result (stored in an accumulator), and shifted results. The flow of bits and the operations performed on them in the subunits of the ALU is controlled by gated circuits. The gates in these circuits are controlled by a sequence logic unit that uses a particular algorithm or sequence for each operation code. In the arithmetic unit, multiplication and division are done by a series of adding or subtracting and shifting operations. There are several ways to represent negative numbers. In the logic unit, one of 16 possible logic operations can be performed - such as comparing two operands and identifying where bits don't match.

The design of the ALU is obviously a critical part of the processor and new approaches to speeding up instruction handling are continually being developed.

This was last updated in September 2005

Start the conversation

Send me notifications when other members comment.

By submitting you agree to receive email from TechTarget and its partners. If you reside outside of the United States, you consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States. Privacy

Please create a username to comment.

-ADS BY GOOGLE

File Extensions and File Formats

Powered by:

SearchCompliance

  • PCAOB (Public Company Accounting Oversight Board)

    The Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) is a Congressionally-established nonprofit that assesses audits of public ...

  • cyborg anthropologist

    A cyborg anthropologist is an individual who studies the interaction between humans and technology, observing how technology can ...

  • RegTech

    RegTech, or regulatory technology, is a term used to describe technology that is used to help streamline the process of ...

SearchSecurity

  • Advanced Encryption Standard (AES)

    The Advanced Encryption Standard, or AES, is a symmetric block cipher used by the U.S. government to protect classified ...

  • identity theft

    Identity theft, also known as identity fraud, is a crime in which an imposter obtains key pieces of personally identifiable ...

  • spear phishing

    Spear phishing is an email-spoofing attack that targets a specific organization or individual, seeking unauthorized access to ...

SearchHealthIT

SearchDisasterRecovery

  • call tree

    A call tree -- sometimes referred to as a phone tree -- is a telecommunications chain for notifying specific individuals of an ...

  • mass notification system (MNS)

    A mass notification system is a platform that sends one-way messages to inform employees and the public of an emergency.

  • disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS)

    One approach to a strong disaster recovery plan is DRaaS, where companies offload data replication and restoration ...

SearchStorage

  • CIFS (Common Internet File System)

    CIFS (Common Internet File System) is a protocol that gained popularity around the year 2000, as vendors worked to establish an ...

  • GlusterFS (Gluster File System)

    GlusterFS (Gluster File System) is an open source distributed file system that can scale out in building-block fashion to store ...

  • virtual memory

    Virtual memory is a memory management capability of an OS that allows a computer to compensate for physical memory shortages by ...

SearchSolidStateStorage

  • Tier 0

    Tier 0 (tier zero) is a level of data storage that is faster, and perhaps more expensive, than any other level in the storage ...

  • PCIe SSD (PCIe solid-state drive)

    A PCIe SSD (PCIe solid-state drive) is a high-speed expansion card that attaches a computer to its peripherals.

  • SSD caching

    SSD caching, also known as flash caching, is the temporary storage of data on NAND flash memory chips in a solid-state drive so ...

SearchCloudStorage

  • RESTful API

    A RESTful application program interface breaks down a transaction to create a series of small modules, each of which addresses an...

  • cloud storage infrastructure

    Cloud storage infrastructure is the hardware and software framework that supports the computing requirements of a private or ...

  • Zadara VPSA and ZIOS

    Zadara Storage provides block, file or object storage with varying levels of compute and capacity through its ZIOS and VPSA ...

Close