Advantages of Box-Muller over inverse CDF method for simulating Normal distribution?

In order to simulate a normal distribution from a set of uniform variables, there are several techniques:

  1. The Box-Muller algorithm, in which one samples two independent uniform variates on (0,1) and transforms them into two independent standard normal distributions via:

  2. the CDF method, where one can equate the normal cdf (F(Z)) to a Uniform variate:
    and derive

My question is: which is computationally more efficient? I would think
its the latter method – but most of the papers I read use Box-Muller –

Additional information:

The inverse of the normal CDF is know and given by:




From a purely probabilistic perspective, both approaches are correct and hence equivalent. From an algorithmic perspective, the comparison must consider both the precision and the computing cost.

Box-Muller relies on a uniform generator and costs about the same as this uniform generator. As mentioned in my comment, you can get away without sine or cosine calls, if not without the logarithm:

  • generate U1,U2iidU(1,1) until S=U21+U221
  • take Z=2log(S)/S and define X1=ZU1, X2=ZU2

The generic inversion algorithm requires the call to the inverse normal cdf, for instance qnorm(runif(N)) in R, which may be more costly than the above and more importantly may fail in the tails in terms of precision, unless the quantile function is well-coded.

To follow on comments made by whuber, the comparison of rnorm(N)and qnorm(runif(N))is at the advantage of the inverse cdf, both in execution time:

> system.time(qnorm(runif(10^8)))
sutilisateur     système      écoulé
 10.137           0.120      10.251 
> system.time(rnorm(10^8))
utilisateur     système      écoulé
 13.417           0.060      13.472` `

using the more accurate R benchmark

        test replications elapsed relative user.self sys.self
3 box-muller          100   0.103    1.839     0.103        0
2    inverse          100   0.056    1.000     0.056        0
1    R rnorm          100   0.064    1.143     0.064        0

and in terms of fit in the tail:
enter image description here

Following a comment of Radford Neal on my blog, I want to point out that the default rnorm in R makes use of the inversion method, hence that the above comparison is reflecting on the interface and not on the simulation method itself! To quote the R documentation on RNG:

‘normal.kind’ can be ‘"Kinderman-Ramage"’, ‘"Buggy
 Kinderman-Ramage"’ (not for ‘set.seed’), ‘"Ahrens-Dieter"’,
 ‘"Box-Muller"’, ‘"Inversion"’ (the default), or ‘"user-supplied"’.
 (For inversion, see the reference in ‘qnorm’.)  The
 Kinderman-Ramage generator used in versions prior to 1.7.1 (now
 called ‘"Buggy"’) had several approximation errors and should only
 be used for reproduction of old results.  The ‘"Box-Muller"’
 generator is stateful as pairs of normals are generated and
 returned sequentially.  The state is reset whenever it is selected
 (even if it is the current normal generator) and when ‘kind’ is

Source : Link , Question Author : user2350366 , Answer Author : Xi’an

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