In computing, an arithmetic and logic unit (ALU) is a digital circuit that performs arithmetic and logical operations. The ALU is a fundamental building block of the central processing unit of a computer, and even the simplest microprocessors contain one for purposes such as maintaining timers. The processors found inside modern CPUs and graphics processing units (GPUs) accommodate very powerful and very complex ALUs; a single component may contain a number of ALUs.
Mathematician John von Neumann proposed the ALU concept in 1945, when he wrote a report on the foundations for a new computer called the EDVAC. Research into ALUs remains an important part of computer science, falling under Arithmetic and logic structures in the ACM Computing Classification System.
An ALU must process numbers using the same format as the rest of the digital circuit. The format of modern processors is almost always the two's complement binary number representation. Early computers used a wide variety of number systems, including ones' complement, two's complement sign-magnitude format, and even true decimal systems, with various representation of the digits. ALUs for each one of these that makes it easier for the ALUs to calculate additions and subtractions.
The ones' complement and two's complement number systems allow for subtraction to be accomplished by adding the negative of a number in a very simple way which negates the need for specialized circuits to do subtraction; however, calculating the negative in two's complement requires adding a one to the low order bit and propagating the carry. An alternative way to do two's complement subtraction of A−B is to present a one to the carry input of the adder and use ¬B rather than B as the second input.