Last updated

In computing, minifloats are floating-point values represented with very few bits. Predictably, they are not well suited for general-purpose numerical calculations. They are used for special purposes, most often in computer graphics, where iterations are small and precision has aesthetic effects.[ citation needed ] Machine learning also uses similar formats like bfloat16. Additionally, they are frequently encountered as a pedagogical tool in computer-science courses to demonstrate the properties and structures of floating-point arithmetic and IEEE 754 numbers.


Minifloats with 16 bits are half-precision numbers (opposed to single and double precision). There are also minifloats with 8 bits or even fewer.

Minifloats can be designed following the principles of the IEEE 754 standard. In this case they must obey the (not explicitly written) rules for the frontier between subnormal and normal numbers and must have special patterns for infinity and NaN. Normalized numbers are stored with a biased exponent. The new revision of the standard, IEEE 754-2008, has 16-bit binary minifloats.

The Radeon R300 and R420 GPUs used an "fp24" floating-point format with 7 bits of exponent and 16 bits (+1 implicit) of mantissa. [1] "Full Precision" in Direct3D 9.0 is a proprietary 24-bit floating-point format. Microsoft's D3D9 (Shader Model 2.0) graphics API initially supported both FP24 (as in ATI's R300 chip) and FP32 (as in Nvidia's NV30 chip) as "Full Precision", as well as FP16 as "Partial Precision" for vertex and pixel shader calculations performed by the graphics hardware.


A minifloat is usually described using a tuple of four numbers, (S, E, M, B):

A minifloat format denoted by (S, E, M, B) is, therefore, S + E + M bits long.

In computer graphics minifloats are sometimes used to represent only integral values. If at the same time subnormal values should exist, the least subnormal number has to be 1. The bias value would be B = E - M - 1 in this case, assuming two special exponent values are used per IEEE.

The (S, E, M, B) notation can be converted to a (B, P, L, U) format as (2, M + 1, B + 1, 2S - B) (with IEEE use of exponents).


Layout of an example 8-bit minifloat (1.4.3.−2)

In this example, a minifloat in 1 byte (8 bit) with 1 sign bit, 4 exponent bits and 3 significand bits (in short, a 1.4.3.−2 minifloat) is used to represent integral values. All IEEE 754 principles should be valid. The only free value is the exponent bias, which we define as -2 for integers. The unknown exponent is called for the moment x.

Numbers in a different base are marked as ...base, for example, 1012 = 5. The bit patterns have spaces to visualize their parts.

Representation of zero

0 0000 000 = 0

Subnormal numbers

The significand is extended with "0.":

0 0000 001 = 0.0012 × 2x = 0.125 × 2x = 1 (least subnormal number) ... 0 0000 111 = 0.1112 × 2x = 0.875 × 2x = 7 (greatest subnormal number)

Normalized numbers

The significand is extended with "1.":

0 0001 000 = 1.0002 × 2x = 1 × 2x = 8 (least normalized number) 0 0001 001 = 1.0012 × 2x = 1.125 × 2x = 9 ... 0 0010 000 = 1.0002 × 2x+1 = 1 × 2x+1 = 16 0 0010 001 = 1.0012 × 2x+1 = 1.125 × 2x+1 = 18 ... 0 1110 000 = 1.0002 × 2x+13 =  1.000 × 2x+13 =  65536 0 1110 001 = 1.0012 × 2x+13 =  1.125 × 2x+13 =  73728 ... 0 1110 110 = 1.1102 × 2x+13 =  1.750 × 2x+13 = 114688 0 1110 111 = 1.1112 × 2x+13 =  1.875 × 2x+13 = 122880 (greatest normalized number)


0 1111 000 = +infinity 1 1111 000 = −infinity

If the exponent field were not treated specially, the value would be

0 1111 000 = 1.0002 × 2x+14 =  217 = 131072

Not a number

x 1111 yyy = NaN (if yyy ≠ 000)

Without the IEEE 754 special handling of the largest exponent, the greatest possible value would be

0 1111 111 = 1.1112 × 2x+14 =  1.875 × 217 = 245760

Value of the bias

If the least subnormal value (second line above) should be 1[ citation needed ], the value of x has to be x = 3. Therefore, the bias has to be −2[ citation needed ]; that is, every stored exponent has to be decreased by −2 or has to be increased by 2, to get the numerical exponent.

All values as decimals

This is a chart of all possible values when treating the float similarly to an IEEE float.

... 000... 001... 010... 011... 100... 101... 110... 111
0 0000 ...00.1250.250.3750.50.6250.750.875
0 0001 ...11.1251.251.3751.51.6251.751.875
0 0010 ...
0 0011 ...44.555.566.577.5
0 0100 ...89101112131415
0 0101 ...1618202224262830
0 0110 ...3236404448525660
0 0111 ...6472808896104112120
0 1000 ...128144160176192208224240
0 1001 ...256288320352384416448480
0 1010 ...512576640704768832896960
0 1011 ...10241152128014081536166417921920
0 1100 ...20482304256028163072332835843840
0 1101 ...40964608512056326144665671687680
0 1110 ...81929216102401126412288133121433615360
0 1111 ...InfNaNNaNNaNNaNNaNNaNNaN
1 0000 ...-0-0.125-0.25-0.375-0.5-0.625-0.75-0.875
1 0001 ...-1-1.125-1.25-1.375-1.5-1.625-1.75-1.875
1 0010 ...-2-2.25-2.5-2.75-3-3.25-3.5-3.75
1 0011 ...-4-4.5-5-5.5-6-6.5-7-7.5
1 0100 ...−8−9−10−11−12−13−14−15
1 0101 ...−16−18−20−22−24−26−28−30
1 0110 ...−32−36−40−44−48−52−56−60
1 0111 ...−64−72−80−88−96−104−112−120
1 1000 ...−128−144−160−176−192−208−224−240
1 1001 ...−256−288−320−352−384−416−448−480
1 1010 ...−512−576−640−704−768−832−896−960
1 1011 ...−1024−1152−1280−1408−1536−1664−1792−1920
1 1100 ...−2048−2304−2560−2816−3072−3328−3584−3840
1 1101 ...−4096−4608−5120−5632−6144−6656−7168−7680
1 1110 ...−8192−9216−10240−11264−12288−13312−14336−15360
1 1111 ...−InfNaNNaNNaNNaNNaNNaNNaN

All values as integers

Due to the severe lack of precision with 8-bit floats, it is suggested that you only use them scaled to integer values.

... 000... 001... 010... 011... 100... 101... 110... 111
0 0000 ...01234567
0 0001 ...89101112131415
0 0010 ...1618202224262830
0 0011 ...3236404448525660
0 0100 ...6472808896104112120
0 0101 ...128144160176192208224240
0 0110 ...256288320352384416448480
0 0111 ...512576640704768832896960
0 1000 ...10241152128014081536166417921920
0 1001 ...20482304256028163072332835843840
0 1010 ...40964608512056326144665671687680
0 1011 ...81929216102401126412288133121433615360
0 1100 ...1638418432204802252824576266242867230720
0 1101 ...3276836864409604505649152532485734461440
0 1110 ...6553673728819209011298304106496114688122880
0 1111 ...InfNaNNaNNaNNaNNaNNaNNaN
1 0000 ...−0−1−2−3−4−5−6−7
1 0001 ...−8−9−10−11−12−13−14−15
1 0010 ...−16−18−20−22−24−26−28−30
1 0011 ...−32−36−40−44−48−52−56−60
1 0100 ...−64−72−80−88−96−104−112−120
1 0101 ...−128−144−160−176−192−208−224−240
1 0110 ...−256−288−320−352−384−416−448−480
1 0111 ...−512−576−640−704−768−832−896−960
1 1000 ...−1024−1152−1280−1408−1536−1664−1792−1920
1 1001 ...−2048−2304−2560−2816−3072−3328−3584−3840
1 1010 ...−4096−4608−5120−5632−6144−6656−7168−7680
1 1011 ...−8192−9216−10240−11264−12288−13312−14336−15360
1 1100 ...−16384−18432−20480−22528−24576−26624−28672−30720
1 1101 ...−32768−36864−40960−45056−49152−53248−57344−61440
1 1110 ...−65536−73728−81920−90112−98304−106496−114688−122880
1 1111 ...−InfNaNNaNNaNNaNNaNNaNNaN

However, in practice, floats are not shown exactly.[ citation needed ] Instead, they are rounded; for example, if a float had about 3 significant digits, and the number 8192 was represented, it would be rounded to 8190 to avoid false precision, otherwise a number like 1000000 converted to such a float and back would be confusingly shown as, for example, 1000448.[ citation needed ]

Properties of this example

Graphical representation of integral (1.4.3.-2) minifloats MinifloatValues 1 4 3 -2 72.png
Graphical representation of integral (1.4.3.−2) minifloats

Integral minifloats in 1 byte have a greater range of ±122 880 than two's-complement integer with a range −128 to +127. The greater range is compensated by a poor precision, because there are only 4 mantissa bits, equivalent to slightly more than one decimal place. They also have greater range than half-precision minifloats with range ±65 504, also compensated by lack of fractions and poor precision.

There are only 242 different values (if +0 and −0 are regarded as different), because 14 of the bit patterns represent NaNs.

The values between 0 and 16 have the same bit pattern as minifloat or two's-complement integer. The first pattern with a different value is 00010001, which is 18 as a minifloat and 17 as a two's-complement integer.

This coincidence does not occur at all with negative values, because this minifloat is a signed-magnitude format.

The (vertical) real line on the right shows clearly the varying density of the floating-point values – a property which is common to any floating-point system. This varying density results in a curve similar to the exponential function.

Although the curve may appear smooth, this is not the case. The graph actually consists of distinct points, and these points lie on line segments with discrete slopes. The value of the exponent bits determines the absolute precision of the mantissa bits, and it is this precision that determines the slope of each linear segment.



Addition of ( MinifloatAddition 1 3 2 3 72.png
Addition of (

The graphic demonstrates the addition of even smaller ( with 6 bits. This floating-point system follows the rules of IEEE 754 exactly. NaN as operand produces always NaN results. Inf  Inf and (−Inf) + Inf results in NaN too (green area). Inf can be augmented and decremented by finite values without change. Sums with finite operands can give an infinite result (i.e. 14.0 + 3.0 = +Inf as a result is the cyan area, −Inf is the magenta area). The range of the finite operands is filled with the curves x + y = c, where c is always one of the representable float values (blue and red for positive and negative results respectively).

Subtraction, multiplication and division

The other arithmetic operations can be illustrated similarly:

In embedded devices

Minifloats are also commonly used in embedded devices, especially on microcontrollers where floating-point will need to be emulated in software anyways. To speed up the computation, the mantissa typically occupies exactly half of the bits, so the register boundary automatically addresses the parts without shifting.

See also

Related Research Articles

Floating-point arithmetic Computer format for representing real numbers

In computing, floating-point arithmetic (FP) is arithmetic using formulaic representation of real numbers as an approximation to support a trade-off between range and precision. For this reason, floating-point computation is often used in systems with very small and very large real numbers that require fast processing times. In general, a floating-point number is represented approximately with a fixed number of significant digits and scaled using an exponent in some fixed base; the base for the scaling is normally two, ten, or sixteen. A number that can be represented exactly is of the following form:

IEEE 754-1985 was an industry standard for representing floating-point numbers in computers, officially adopted in 1985 and superseded in 2008 by IEEE 754-2008, and then again in 2019 by minor revision IEEE 754-2019. During its 23 years, it was the most widely used format for floating-point computation. It was implemented in software, in the form of floating-point libraries, and in hardware, in the instructions of many CPUs and FPUs. The first integrated circuit to implement the draft of what was to become IEEE 754-1985 was the Intel 8087.

Double-precision floating-point format is a computer number format, usually occupying 64 bits in computer memory; it represents a wide dynamic range of numeric values by using a floating radix point.

In computer science, denormal numbers or denormalized numbers fill the underflow gap around zero in floating-point arithmetic. Any non-zero number with magnitude smaller than the smallest normal number is subnormal.

The IEEE Standard for Floating-Point Arithmetic is a technical standard for floating-point arithmetic established in 1985 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). The standard addressed many problems found in the diverse floating-point implementations that made them difficult to use reliably and portably. Many hardware floating-point units use the IEEE 754 standard.

The significand is part of a number in scientific notation or a floating-point number, consisting of its significant digits. Depending on the interpretation of the exponent, the significand may represent an integer or a fraction.

In IEEE 754 floating-point numbers, the exponent is biased in the engineering sense of the word – the value stored is offset from the actual value by the exponent bias, also called a biased exponent. Biasing is done because exponents have to be signed values in order to be able to represent both tiny and huge values, but two's complement, the usual representation for signed values, would make comparison harder.

Extended precision refers to floating-point number formats that provide greater precision than the basic floating-point formats. Extended precision formats support a basic format by minimizing roundoff and overflow errors in intermediate values of expressions on the base format. In contrast to extended precision, arbitrary-precision arithmetic refers to implementations of much larger numeric types using special software.

Decimal floating-point (DFP) arithmetic refers to both a representation and operations on decimal floating-point numbers. Working directly with decimal (base-10) fractions can avoid the rounding errors that otherwise typically occur when converting between decimal fractions and binary (base-2) fractions.

The IEEE 754-2008 standard includes decimal floating-point number formats in which the significand and the exponent can be encoded in two ways, referred to as binary encoding and decimal encoding.

IEEE 754-2008 was published in August 2008 and is a significant revision to, and replaces, the IEEE 754-1985 floating-point standard, while in 2019 it was updated with a minor revision IEEE 754-2019. The 2008 revision extended the previous standard where it was necessary, added decimal arithmetic and formats, tightened up certain areas of the original standard which were left undefined, and merged in IEEE 854.

In computing, half precision is a binary floating-point computer number format that occupies 16 bits in computer memory.

In computing, quadruple precision is a binary floating point–based computer number format that occupies 16 bytes with precision at least twice the 53-bit double precision.

Single-precision floating-point format is a computer number format, usually occupying 32 bits in computer memory; it represents a wide dynamic range of numeric values by using a floating radix point.

In computing, decimal32 is a decimal floating-point computer numbering format that occupies 4 bytes (32 bits) in computer memory. It is intended for applications where it is necessary to emulate decimal rounding exactly, such as financial and tax computations. Like the binary16 format, it is intended for memory saving storage.

In computing, decimal64 is a decimal floating-point computer numbering format that occupies 8 bytes in computer memory. It is intended for applications where it is necessary to emulate decimal rounding exactly, such as financial and tax computations.

In computing, decimal128 is a decimal floating-point computer numbering format that occupies 16 bytes (128 bits) in computer memory. It is intended for applications where it is necessary to emulate decimal rounding exactly, such as financial and tax computations.

In computing, Microsoft Binary Format (MBF) is a format for floating-point numbers which was used in Microsoft's BASIC language products, including MBASIC, GW-BASIC and QuickBASIC prior to version 4.00.

In computing, octuple precision is a binary floating-point-based computer number format that occupies 32 bytes in computer memory. This 256-bit octuple precision is for applications requiring results in higher than quadruple precision. This format is rarely used and very few environments support it.

The bfloat16 floating-point format is a computer number format occupying 16 bits in computer memory; it represents a wide dynamic range of numeric values by using a floating radix point. This format is a truncated (16-bit) version of the 32-bit IEEE 754 single-precision floating-point format (binary32) with the intent of accelerating machine learning and near-sensor computing. It preserves the approximate dynamic range of 32-bit floating-point numbers by retaining 8 exponent bits, but supports only an 8-bit precision rather than the 24-bit significand of the binary32 format. More so than single-precision 32-bit floating-point numbers, bfloat16 numbers are unsuitable for integer calculations, but this is not their intended use. Bfloat16 is used to reduce the storage requirements and increase the calculation speed of machine learning algorithms.


  1. Buck, Ian (13 March 2005), "Chapter 32. Taking the Plunge into GPU Computing", in Pharr, Matt (ed.), GPU Gems, ISBN   0-321-33559-7 , retrieved 5 April 2018.

Further reading