Data Representation

( 1 user )

Digital computers store and process information in binary form as digital logic has only two values "1" and "0" or in other words "True or False" or also said as "ON or OFF". This system is called radix 2. We human generally deal with radix 10 i.e. decimal. As a matter of convenience there are many other representations like Octal (Radix 8), Hexadecimal (Radix 16), Binary coded decimal (BCD), Decimal etc.

Every computer's CPU has a width measured in terms of bits such as 8 bit CPU, 16 bit CPU, 32 bit CPU etc. Similarly, each memory location can store a fixed number of bits and is called memory width. Given the size of the CPU and Memory, it is for the programmer to handle his data representation. Most of the readers may be knowing that 4 bits form a Nibble, 8 bits form a byte. The word length is defined by the Instruction Set Architecture of the CPU. The word length may be equal to the width of the CPU.

The memory simply stores information as a binary pattern of 1's and 0's. It is to be interpreted as what the content of a memory location means. If the CPU is in the Fetch cycle, it interprets the fetched memory content to be instruction and decodes based on Instruction format. In the Execute cycle, the information from memory is considered as data. As a common man using a computer, we think computers handle English or other alphabets, special characters or numbers. A programmer considers memory content to be data types of the programming language he uses. Now recall figure 1.2 and 1.3 of chapter 1 to reinforce your thought that conversion happens from computer user interface to internal representation and storage.

Data Representation in Computers

Information handled by a computer is classified as instruction and data. A broad overview of the internal representation of the information is illustrated in figure 3.1. No matter whether it is data in a numeric or non-numeric form or integer, everything is internally represented in Binary. It is up to the programmer to handle the interpretation of the binary pattern and this interpretation is called Data Representation. These data representation schemes are all standardized by international organizations.

Choice of Data representation to be used in a computer is decided by

  • The number types to be represented (integer, real, signed, unsigned, etc.)
  • Range of values likely to be represented (maximum and minimum to be represented)
  • The Precision of the numbers i.e. maximum accuracy of representation (floating point single precision, double precision etc)
  • If non-numeric i.e. character, character representation standard to be chosen. ASCII, EBCDIC, UTF are examples of character representation standards.
  • The hardware support in terms of word width, instruction.
Typical Internal data representation types
Figure.3.1 Typical Internal data representation types

Before we go into the details, let us take an example of interpretation. Say a byte in Memory has value "0011 0001". Although there exists a possibility of so many interpretations as in figure 3.2, the program has only one interpretation as decided by the programmer and declared in the program.

Data Interpretation
Figure.3.2 Data Interpretation

Fixed point Number Representation

Fixed point numbers are also known as whole numbers or Integers. The number of bits used in representing the integer also implies the maximum number that can be represented in the system hardware. However for the efficiency of storage and operations, one may choose to represent the integer with one Byte, two Bytes, Four bytes or more. This space allocation is translated from the definition used by the programmer while defining a variable as integer short or long and the Instruction Set Architecture.

In addition to the bit length definition for integers, we also have a choice to represent them as below:

  • Unsigned Integer: A positive number including zero can be represented in this format. All the allotted bits are utilised in defining the number. So if one is using 8 bits to represent the unsigned integer, the range of values that can be represented is 28 i.e. "0" to "255". If 16 bits are used for representing then the range is 216 i.e. "0 to 65535".
  • Signed Integer: In this format negative numbers, zero, and positive numbers can be represented. A sign bit indicates the magnitude direction as positive or negative. There are three possible representations for signed integer and these are Sign Magnitude format, 1's Compliment format and 2's Complement format.

Signed Integer – Sign Magnitude format: Most Significant Bit (MSB) is reserved for indicating the direction of the magnitude (value). A "0" on MSB means a positive number and a "1" on MSB means a negative number. If n bits are used for representation, n-1 bits indicate the absolute value of the number. Examples for n=8:

Examples for n=8:

0010 1111 = + 47 Decimal (Positive number)

1010 1111 = - 47 Decimal (Negative Number)

0111 1110 = +126 (Positive number)

1111 1110 = -126 (Negative Number)

0000 0000 = + 0 (Postive Number)

1000 0000 = - 0 (Negative Number)

Although this method is easy to understand, Sign Magnitude representation has several shortcomings like

  • Zero can be represented in two ways causing redundancy and confusion.
  • The total range for magnitude representation is limited to 2n-1, although n bits were accounted.
  • The separate sign bit makes the addition and subtraction more complicated. Also, comparing two numbers is not straightforward.

Signed Integer – 1’s Complement format: In this format too, MSB is reserved as the sign bit. But the difference is in representing the Magnitude part of the value for negative numbers (magnitude) is inversed and hence called 1’s Complement form. The positive numbers are represented as it is in binary. Let us see some examples to better our understanding.

Examples for n=8:

0010 1111 = + 47 Decimal (Positive number)

1101 0000 = - 47 Decimal (Negative Number)

0111 1110 = +126 (Positive number)

1000 0001 = -126 (Negative Number)

0000 0000 = + 0 (Postive Number)

1111 1111 = - 0 (Negative Number)

Converting a given binary number to its 2's complement form

Step 1. -x = x' + 1 where x' is the one's complement of x.

Step 2 Extend the data width of the number, fill up with sign extension i.e. MSB bit is used to fill the bits.

Example: -47 decimal over 8bit representation

Binary equivalent of + 47 is      0010 1111
Binary equivalent of - 47 is      1010 1111 (Sign Magnitude Form)
1's complement equivalent is      1101 0000
2’s complement equivalent is      1101 0001

As you can see zero is not getting represented with redundancy. There is only one way of representing zero. The other problem of the complexity of the arithmetic operation is also eliminated in 2’s complement representation. Subtraction is done as Addition.

More exercises on number conversion are left to the self-interest of readers.

Floating Point Number system

The maximum number at best represented as a whole number is 2n. In the Scientific world, we do come across numbers like Mass of an Electron is 9.10939 x 10-31 Kg. Velocity of light is 2.99792458 x 108 m/s. Imagine to write the number in a piece of paper without exponent and converting into binary for computer representation. Sure you are tired!!. It makes no sense to write a number in non- readable form or non- processible form. Hence we write such large or small numbers using exponent and mantissa. This is said to be Floating Point representation or real number representation. he real number system could have infinite values between 0 and 1.

Representation in computer

Unlike the two's complement representation for integer numbers, Floating Point number uses Sign and Magnitude representation for both mantissa and exponent. In the number 9.10939 x 1031, in decimal form, +31 is Exponent, 9.10939 is known as Fraction. Mantissa, Significand and fraction are synonymously used terms. In the computer, the representation is binary and the binary point is not fixed. For example, a number, say, 23.345 can be written as 2.3345 x 101 or 0.23345 x 102 or 2334.5 x 10-2. The representation 2.3345 x 101 is said to be in normalised form.

Floating-point numbers usually use multiple words in memory as we need to allot a sign bit, few bits for exponent and many bits for mantissa. There are standards for such allocation which we will see sooner.

IEEE 754 Floating Point Representation

We have two standards known as Single Precision and Double Precision from IEEE. These standards enable portability among different computers. Figure 3.3 picturizes Single precision while figure 3.4 picturizes double precision. Single Precision uses 32bit format while double precision is 64 bits word length. As the name suggests double precision can represent fractions with larger accuracy. In both the cases, MSB is sign bit for the mantissa part, followed by Exponent and Mantissa. The exponent part has its sign bit.

IEEE 754 Single Precision Floating Point representation Standard
Figure.3.3 IEEE 754 Single Precision Floating Point representation Standard

It is to be noted that in Single Precision, we can represent an exponent in the range -127 to +127. It is possible as a result of arithmetic operations the resulting exponent may not fit in. This situation is called overflow in the case of positive exponent and underflow in the case of negative exponent. The Double Precision format has 11 bits for exponent meaning a number as large as -1023 to 1023 can be represented. The programmer has to make a choice between Single Precision and Double Precision declaration using his knowledge about the data being handled.

IEEE 754 Double Precision Floating Point representation Standard
Figure 3.4 IEEE 754 Double Precision Floating Point representation Standard

The Floating Point operations on the regular CPU is very very slow. Generally, a special purpose CPU known as Co-processor is used. This Co-processor works in tandem with the main CPU. The programmer should be using the float declaration only if his data is in real number form. Float declaration is not to be used generously.

Decimal Numbers Representation

Decimal numbers (radix 10) are represented and processed in the system with the support of additional hardware. We deal with numbers in decimal format in everyday life. Some machines implement decimal arithmetic too, like floating-point arithmetic hardware. In such a case, the CPU uses decimal numbers in BCD (binary coded decimal) form and does BCD arithmetic operation. BCD operates on radix 10. This hardware operates without conversion to pure binary. It uses a nibble to represent a number in packed BCD form. BCD operations require not only special hardware but also decimal instruction set.

Exceptions and Error Detection

All of us know that when we do arithmetic operations, we get answers which have more digits than the operands (Ex: 8 x 2= 16). This happens in computer arithmetic operations too. When the result size exceeds the allotted size of the variable or the register, it becomes an error and exception. The exception conditions associated with numbers and number operations are Overflow, Underflow, Truncation, Rounding and Multiple Precision. These are detected by the associated hardware in arithmetic Unit. These exceptions apply to both Fixed Point and Floating Point operations. Each of these exceptional conditions has a flag bit assigned in the Processor Status Word (PSW). We may discuss more in detail in the later chapters.

Character Representation

Another data type is non-numeric and is largely character sets. We use a human-understandable character set to communicate with computer i.e. for both input and output. Standard character sets like EBCDIC and ASCII are chosen to represent alphabets, numbers and special characters. Nowadays Unicode standard is also in use for non-English language like Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, etc. These codes are accessible and available on the internet. Interested readers may access and learn more.

To Do

* Note : These actions will be locked once done and hence can not be reverted.

1. Track your progress [Earn 200 points]

2. Provide your ratings to this chapter [Earn 100 points]

Fundamentals of Architectural Design
Instruction Set Architecture : Instructions and Formats