Electronic – How do computers calculate sin values?


How does a computer calculate a sin value? Logically, when I think about it the only apparent way is to put many sin values into memory, and when a sin value needs to be "calculated" it would just pull data from a specific memory address.(ex. sin(x) would pull data from the memory address containing the value of sin(x) )That seems like the only possible way to do it. Or is there a function which can be used to calculate the sin of a value? I'm really trying to ask how a computer calculates sin on a base level. Is there a way to approximate sin values using a different function composed of more "basic" operations, and the ALU would be able to do multiple "basic" operations to approximate the sin value, or is it just pulling values from memory?

Best Answer

Typically high resolution sin(x) functions would be implemented with a CORDIC (COrdiate Rotation DIgital Computer) algorithm, which can be accomplished with a small number of iterations using only shifts and add/subtract and a small lookup table. The original paper The CORDIC Computing Technique by Jack Volder is from 1959. It also works nicely when implemented with hardware in an FPGA (and a similar algorithm would be implemented in a hardware FPU for those micros that have an FPU).

For lower resolution, for example to create synthesized sine wave for an inverter or motor VFD (Variable Frequency Drive), a lookup table (LUT) with or without interpolation works well. It's only necessary to store the values for one quadrant of the sine wave because of symmetry.

As @Temlib points out, the algorithms used inside modern FPUs use range reduction followed by an evaluation using something like the Remez algorithm to limit the maximum absolute error. More can be found in this Intel paper Formal verification of floating point trigonometric functions.

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