Consistency of Floating-Point Results using the Intel® Compiler

Consistency of Floating-Point Results using the Intel® Compiler
Why doesn’t my application always give the same answer?

Dr. Martyn J. Corden
David Kreitzer

Software Solutions Group
Intel Corporation


Binary floating-point [FP] representations of most real numbers are inexact, and there is an inherent uncertainty in the result of most calculations involving floating-point numbers. Programmers of floating-point applications typically have the following objectives:
• Accuracy
o Produce results that are “close” to the result of the exact calculation
- Usually measured in fractional error, or sometimes “units in the last place” (ulp).
• Reproducibility
o Produce consistent results:
- From one run to the next;
- From one set of build options to another;
- From one compiler to another
- From one processor or operating system to another
• Performance
o Produce an application that runs as fast as possible

These objectives usually conflict! However, good programming practices and judicious use of compiler options allow you to control the tradeoffs.

For example, it is sometimes useful to have a degree of reproducibility that goes beyond the inherent accuracy of a computation. Some software quality assurance tests may require close, or even bit-for-bit, agreement between results before and after software changes, even though the mathematical uncertainty in the result of the computation may be considerably larger. The right compiler options can deliver consistent, closely reproducible results while preserving good (though not optimal) performance.


Bottom Line

Compiler options let you control the tradeoffs between accuracy, reproducibility and performance. Use

/fp:precise /fp:source (Windows*) or
-fp-model precise -fp-model source (Linux* or OS X*)

to improve the consistency and reproducibility of floating-point results while limiting the impact on performance.
If reproducibility between different processor types of the same architecture is important, use also

/Qimf-arch-consistency:true (Windows) or
-fimf-arch-consistency=true (Linux or OS X)

For best reproducibility between processors that support FMA instructions and processors that do not, use also /Qfma- (Windows)       or -no-fma (Linux or OS X). In the version 17 compiler, best reproducibility may be obtained with the single switch /fp:consistent (Windows) or -fp-model consistent (Linux or OS X), which sets all of the above options.

For the complete article, updated for version 17 of the Intel® Compiler,  please open the attached PDF file.

 See here for a comparison to Intel® MIC Architecture.

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