Milestone-Proposal talk:Intel 8087 Math Coprocessor

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Advocates and reviewers will post their comments below. In addition, any IEEE member can sign in with their ETHW login (different from IEEE Single Sign On) and comment on the milestone proposal's accuracy or completeness as a form of public review.

-- Administrator4 (talk) 12:25, 3 August 2023 (UTC)

Advocates’ Checklist

  1. Is proposal for an achievement rather than for a person?
  2. Was proposed achievement a significant advance rather than an incremental improvement to an existing technology?
  3. Were there prior or contemporary achievements of a similar nature?
  4. Has the achievement truly led to a functioning, useful, or marketable technology?
  5. Is proposal adequately supported by significant references (minimum of five) such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or citations to pages in scholarly books? At least one of the references from a peer-reviewed scholarly book or journal article. The full text of the material, not just the references, shall be present. If the supporting texts are copyright-encumbered and cannot be posted on the ETHW for intellectual property reasons, the proposers shall email a copy to the History Center so that it can be forwarded to the advocate. If the advocate does not consider the supporting references sufficient, the advocate may ask the proposer(s) for additional ones.
  6. Are the scholarly references sufficiently recent?
  7. Is proposed citation readable and understandable by the general public?
  8. Does the proposed plaque site fulfill the requirements? Is the address complete? Are the GPS coordinates correct and in decimal format?
  9. Is the proposal quality comparable to that of IEEE publications?
  10. Scientific and technical units correct? (e.g. km, mm, hertz, etc.) Are acronyms correct and properly upperercased or lowercased?
  11. Date formats correct as specified in Section 6 of Milestones Program Guidelines?,_Plaque_Locations

Reviewers’ Checklist

  1. Is suggested wording of the Plaque Citation accurate?
  2. Is evidence presented in the proposal of sufficient substance and accuracy to support the Plaque Citation?
  3. Does proposed milestone represent a significant technical achievement?

[These two reports are included in the body of the proposal.]


I am pleased to support this proposal for a plaque highlighting the 8087. In 1976 while finishing my thesis under Prof. W. Kahan at Berkeley, I began work at Tektronix on a new microcoded processor, and one of my first tasks was to meet with Dr. John Palmer of Intel. We discussed Intel's architecture for software floating point, which contained ideas that later were incorporated into 754 and 8087. Later I learned from Prof. Kahan that there was a bigger agenda at work, though I could not imagine, in the era of the 8080 and 6800 CPU's, and the AMD 2900 bit slices that I was to use through microcode in a new processor, how a complete floating-point coprocessor could be built in one chip. I became active in the 754 effort in 1978, and by then other vendors were trying to catch up to what they'd heard about the 8087.

By 1986, 8087's were a consumer product that you could buy at Fry's.

1. Is the suggested wording of the Plaque Citation accurate?

Yes, I agree with the wording and elaboration.

2. Is the evidence presented in the proposal of sufficient substance and accuracy to support the Citation?

The evidence captures the progressive disclosures that astonished the technical community and worried Intel's competitors - pushing the envelope on so many technological barriers.

3. Does the proposed milestone represent a significant technical achievement?

As the references indicate, there were several breakthroughs that captured the attention of technologists - 67-significant-bit arithmetic, elementary transcendental function cores in hardware, and a double-density ROM technology to hold the extensive microcode.

As it became apparent that the 8087 was soon to be a real commercial product, that provided additional impetus to agree on and complete the 754 standard, as well as impetus for other vendors to bring their floating-point arithmetic projects to fruition, and to bring them into compatibility with the proposed standard.


I am honored to provide an Expert's Report for the IEEE Milestone plaque honoring the Intel 8087 Math Coprocessor. The 8087 figured prominently in my book, Numerical Computing with IEEE Floating Point Arithmetic, published by SIAM in 2001. The book is included in the references for this proposal.

In Chapter 8, I wrote:

In 1980, Intel announced the 8087 and 8088 chips, which were used in the first IBM PCs. The 8088 was a modification of the 8086. The 8087 was the floating point coprocessor, providing a floating point unit (FPU), on a separate chip from the 8088. The 8087 was revolutionary in a number of respects. It was unprecedented that so much functionality could be provided by such a small chip. Many of the features of the IEEE [754] standard were first implemented on the 8087. The extended [floating point] format recommended by the standard was based on the 8087 design.

More than two decades later, it is crystal clear that the 8087 had an enormous impact on the development of later floating point processors and on computing in general. I am currently writing a second edition of the book (to be published in 2024) which emphasizes this point.

Here are answers to the specific questions.

1) Is the suggested wording of the Plaque Citation accurate?

Yes, the wording is highly accurate.

2) Is the evidence presented in the proposal of sufficient substance and accuracy to support the Citation?

Yes, the evidence of the originality and impact of the 8087 is substantial and completely convincing.

3) Does the proposed milestone represent a significant technical achievement?

Yes, the achievement was remarkable. Many in the computer industry doubted that the design of the 8087 could be implemented with the chip technology of the time. Other computer companies had to scramble to catch up with Intel, still dominant in the industry today. As of August 2022, according to the Top 500 list, 384 of the 500 fastest supercomputers in the world are based on Intel x86/x87 microprocessors and 101 are based on AMD x86 microprocessors, which themselves are based on the original Intel design. (See

Michael Overton
Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences, New York University
Fellow of SIAM
Fellow of IMA (U.K.)

Submission and review log -- Administrator4 (talk) 16:07, 22 August 2023 (UTC)

22 August 2023 -- proposal submitted. 6 September 2023 -- History Committee approval. 19 November 2023 -- Board of Directors approval