So what does this mean that the computational time is proportional to some power of n in Gaussian Elimination method?

In a previous post, we talked about why LU Decomposition is computationally more efficient than Gaussian Elimination in some cases. The argument was based on how much computational time does each of the methods take. For example, we said that for back substitution in both methods, the computational time is approximately proportional to n^2/2.

How did we find that for back substitution the computational time is approximately proportional to n^2/2?

The amount of time it takes to conduct back substitution depends on the number of floating point operations (FLOPs) needed. Depending on how many FLOPs the computer can execute in a second called FLOPS (note the upper case S to distinguish between FLOPs and FLOPS), that will the determine the actual computational time. (A typical Pentium 4 PC conducts to the order of 10^{9} FLOPS; a state-of-art supercomputer conducts to the order of 10^{15} FLOPS; in 1983 the PC with a 8087 chip may have conducted to the order of 10^{5} FLOPS).

To keep things simple, let’s only count the multiplication/division FLOPs in back substitution as time used by multiplication and division is higher than addition and subtraction (Multiplication may take twice and division as much as thrice the time it takes for addition and subtraction).

In back substitution, we start with the last equation. The last equation involves one division, second last equation involves one multiplication and one division, the third last equation involves two multiplications and one division, and so on. So the number of multiplication/divisions FLOPs is 1 for last equation, 2 for second last equation, 3 for third last equation, that is, for all equations, 1+2....+n=n^2/2+n/2 . For large n, this number is approximately n^2/2.

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Author: Autar Kaw

Autar Kaw ( is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of South Florida. He has been at USF since 1987, the same year in which he received his Ph. D. in Engineering Mechanics from Clemson University. He is a recipient of the 2012 U.S. Professor of the Year Award. With major funding from NSF, he is the principal and managing contributor in developing the multiple award-winning online open courseware for an undergraduate course in Numerical Methods. The OpenCourseWare ( annually receives 1,000,000+ page views, 1,000,000+ views of the YouTube audiovisual lectures, and 150,000+ page views at the NumericalMethodsGuy blog. His current research interests include engineering education research methods, adaptive learning, open courseware, massive open online courses, flipped classrooms, and learning strategies. He has written four textbooks and 80 refereed technical papers, and his opinion editorials have appeared in the St. Petersburg Times and Tampa Tribune.

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