This page reviews Melissa O'Neill's PCG generators. It is structured as follows: first, we identify the generators with major statistical flaw. Once those are out of the picture, we examine some claims made by Melissa O'Neill on the remaining PCG generators, and provide simple counterexamples for each claim. In the end, we show simple generators based on congruential arithmetic that are faster and have better statistical properties of the only remaining 64-bit PCG generators.

The conclusion is that there is no reason to use PCG generators: for those without statistical flaws, there is always a better choice.

Statistical flaws

Generator with “ext” in the name

Generator with a large state space are useful because they generate many distinct and uncorrelated sequences. In theory, all nonoverlapping subsequences should look random, so if you take R and R' initialized in a different state and interleave their output (first output from R, then first output from R', then second output from R, etc.) the resulting sequence should still look random.

But nothing is really random. So what you do is correlation testing: you take R. Then you take an exact copy of R, R', and you flip exactly one bit of the state. Then you interleave as above, and examine the output (usually using some test suite, you can choose the one you prefer).

In theory the interleaved output should immediately look random, but that's very difficult to obtain, because it takes time for the flipped bit to influence all the state. So you have to throw away some output from R, R' before they decorrelate. For example, xoroshiro128+ decorrelates after a couple of dozens iterations. The Mersenne Twister (19937 bits of state) after millions of iterations. CMWC4096, the “Mother-of-all” PRNG by Marsaglia, needs more than 10,000,000 iterations. That is, you have to discard 10,000,000 values from R and R' before you see a random interleaved stream.

LCG generators can only be as large as the largest multiplications you can perform. Melissa O'Neill devised a new type of generators (the ones with “ext” in their name) which, mysteriously, overcome this limit.

So let us try to see how much does it take for an “ext” PCG generator to decorrelate. I wrote a C++ program that does a correlation test for you: it creates two “ext” PCG generators, flips a bit of the “ext” state, and emits the output interleaved. It takes a parameter that specifies the number of iterations to perform before emitting the interleaved stream, so we can measure whether, for example, uncorrelation is faster than with the Mersenne Twister.

This is the result with 1 million discarded outputs:

        rng=RNG_stdin64, seed=0x5e3432a3
        length= 256 megabytes (2^28 bytes), time= 2.2 seconds
          Test Name                         Raw       Processed     Evaluation
          BCFN(2+0,13-2,T)                  R=+5218351 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          BCFN(2+1,13-2,T)                  R=+3553737 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          BCFN(2+2,13-3,T)                  R= +4207  p =  3e-1991    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          BCFN(2+3,13-3,T)                  R=+966.0  p =  4.9e-457   FAIL !!!!!!!
          BCFN(2+4,13-3,T)                  R=+203.5  p =  4.2e-96    FAIL !!!!!
          BCFN(2+5,13-4,T)                  R= +30.7  p =  2.2e-13    FAIL
          DC6-9x1Bytes-1                    R=+313150 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          Gap-16:A                          R=+2924020 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          Gap-16:B                          R=+11092511 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          FPF-14+6/16:(0,14-0)              R=+121.6  p =  3.6e-112   FAIL !!!!!
          FPF-14+6/16:(1,14-0)              R=+125.2  p =  1.8e-115   FAIL !!!!!
          FPF-14+6/16:(2,14-0)              R=+109.4  p =  7.2e-101   FAIL !!!!!
          FPF-14+6/16:(3,14-0)              R= +99.7  p =  7.5e-92    FAIL !!!!!
          FPF-14+6/16:(4,14-1)              R= +72.7  p =  3.4e-64    FAIL !!!!
          FPF-14+6/16:(5,14-2)              R= +55.4  p =  2.9e-48    FAIL !!!
          FPF-14+6/16:(6,14-2)              R= +48.4  p =  4.2e-42    FAIL !!!
          FPF-14+6/16:(7,14-3)              R= +37.3  p =  1.7e-32    FAIL !!!
          FPF-14+6/16:(8,14-4)              R= +22.5  p =  2.5e-18    FAIL !
          FPF-14+6/16:(9,14-5)              R= +22.2  p =  3.0e-18    FAIL !
          FPF-14+6/16:(10,14-5)             R= +18.2  p =  6.2e-15    FAIL
          FPF-14+6/16:(13,14-8)             R=  +8.6  p =  3.0e-6   unusual
          FPF-14+6/16:(15,14-9)             R=  +8.7  p =  8.9e-6   unusual
          FPF-14+6/16:all                   R=+255.7  p =  1.7e-239   FAIL !!!!!!
          FPF-14+6/16:all2                  R=+14532  p =  4e-5671    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          BRank(12):128(4)                  R= +2501  p~=  3e-1331    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          BRank(12):256(4)                  R= +5257  p~=  1e-2796    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          BRank(12):384(1)                  R= +3963  p~=  4e-1194    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          BRank(12):512(2)                  R= +7614  p~=  4e-2293    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          BRank(12):768(1)                  R= +8096  p~=  2e-2438    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          BRank(12):1K(2)                   R=+15408  p~=  3e-4639    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          BRank(12):1536(1)                 R=+16298  p~=  2e-4907    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          BRank(12):2K(1)                   R=+21895  p~=  3e-6592    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]BCFN(2+0,13-3,T)        R=+16181  p =  2e-7658    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]BCFN(2+1,13-3,T)        R= +3654  p =  3e-1729    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]BCFN(2+2,13-4,T)        R=+903.0  p =  1.8e-394   FAIL !!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]BCFN(2+3,13-4,T)        R=+118.4  p =  1.1e-51    FAIL !!!!
          [Low16/64]BCFN(2+5,13-5,T)        R= +13.7  p =  1.5e-5   mildly suspicious
          [Low16/64]DC6-9x1Bytes-1          R=+965794 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]Gap-16:A                R=+838770 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]Gap-16:B                R=+3576303 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(0,14-0)    R=+122.4  p =  7.1e-113   FAIL !!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(1,14-0)    R=+127.5  p =  1.3e-117   FAIL !!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(2,14-1)    R= +85.7  p =  1.0e-75    FAIL !!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(3,14-2)    R= +59.7  p =  5.4e-52    FAIL !!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(4,14-2)    R= +4010  p =  4e-3507    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(5,14-3)    R= +2834  p =  4e-2484    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(6,14-4)    R= +2010  p =  2e-1642    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(7,14-5)    R= +1428  p =  1e-1183    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(8,14-5)    R= +1714  p =  2e-1421    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(9,14-6)    R= +1216  p =  2.1e-930   FAIL !!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(10,14-7)   R=+849.5  p =  6.3e-676   FAIL !!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(11,14-8)   R=+584.7  p =  8.6e-421   FAIL !!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(12,14-8)   R=+540.8  p =  3.4e-389   FAIL !!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(13,14-9)   R=+384.8  p =  1.4e-242   FAIL !!!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(14,14-10)  R=+269.5  p =  6.3e-144   FAIL !!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(15,14-11)  R=+214.6  p =  2.2e-94    FAIL !!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:all         R= +2608  p =  1e-2447    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:all2        R=+7572279 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:cross       R= +75.0  p =  2.8e-66    FAIL !!!!
          [Low16/64]BRank(12):128(4)        R= +2501  p~=  3e-1331    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]BRank(12):256(2)        R= +3717  p~=  5e-1120    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]BRank(12):384(1)        R= +3963  p~=  4e-1194    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]BRank(12):512(2)        R= +7599  p~=  1e-2288    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]BRank(12):768(1)        R= +8096  p~=  2e-2438    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]BRank(12):1K(1)         R=+10873  p~=  3e-3274    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]BCFN(2+0,13-5,T)         R= +4244  p =  1e-1661    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]BCFN(2+1,13-5,T)         R=+597.8  p =  3.4e-234   FAIL !!!!!!
          [Low4/64]BCFN(2+2,13-5,T)         R= +13.7  p =  1.5e-5   suspicious
          [Low4/64]BCFN(2+3,13-5,T)         R= +61.2  p =  3.7e-24    FAIL !!
          [Low4/64]BCFN(2+4,13-6,T)         R= +41.7  p =  1.0e-14    FAIL
          [Low4/64]BCFN(2+5,13-6,T)         R= +14.0  p =  3.0e-5   unusual
          [Low4/64]DC6-9x1Bytes-1           R=+115116 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]Gap-16:A                 R=+247785 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]Gap-16:B                 R=+1522079 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:(0,14-1)     R=+363333 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:(1,14-2)     R=+256697 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:(2,14-2)     R=+148798 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:(3,14-3)     R=+105460 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:(8,14-7)     R=+111527 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:(9,14-8)     R=+78894  p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:(10,14-8)    R=+39682  p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:(11,14-9)    R=+28140  p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:all          R=+502730 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:all2         R=+68561676162 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:cross        R=+525391 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]BRank(12):128(4)         R= +2501  p~=  3e-1331    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]BRank(12):256(2)         R= +3717  p~=  5e-1120    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]BRank(12):384(1)         R= +4028  p~=  1e-1213    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]BRank(12):512(2)         R= +7599  p~=  1e-2288    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]BRank(12):768(1)         R= +8096  p~=  2e-2438    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low1/64]BCFN(2+0,13-6,T)         R= +76.9  p =  8.8e-27    FAIL !!
          [Low1/64]BCFN(2+1,13-6,T)         R=+375.0  p =  7.6e-129   FAIL !!!!!
          [Low1/64]BCFN(2+2,13-6,T)         R=+167.7  p =  7.4e-58    FAIL !!!!
          [Low1/64]BCFN(2+3,13-6,T)         R= +42.5  p =  5.5e-15    FAIL !
          [Low1/64]BCFN(2+4,13-7,T)         R= +16.2  p =  1.6e-5   mildly suspicious
          [Low1/64]DC6-9x1Bytes-1           R=+36425  p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low1/64]Gap-16:A                 R=+88655  p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low1/64]Gap-16:B                 R=+526412 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low1/64]FPF-14+6/16:(0,14-2)     R=+123481 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low1/64]FPF-14+6/16:(2,14-4)     R=+100738 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low1/64]FPF-14+6/16:(4,14-5)     R=+71077  p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low1/64]FPF-14+6/16:(6,14-7)     R=+55336  p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low1/64]FPF-14+6/16:(8,14-8)     R=+27843  p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low1/64]FPF-14+6/16:(10,14-10)   R=+16804  p =  2e-8940    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low1/64]FPF-14+6/16:(11,14-11)   R= +2225  p =  2.0e-970   FAIL !!!!!!!
          [Low1/64]FPF-14+6/16:(12,14-11)   R=+14981  p =  2e-6530    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low1/64]FPF-14+6/16:all          R=+215351 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low1/64]FPF-14+6/16:all2         R=+10216812555 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low1/64]FPF-14+6/16:cross        R=+521082 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low1/64]BRank(12):128(2)         R= +1769  p~=  1.8e-533   FAIL !!!!!!!
          [Low1/64]BRank(12):256(2)         R= +3717  p~=  5e-1120    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low1/64]BRank(12):384(1)         R= +4006  p~=  5e-1207    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low1/64]BRank(12):512(1)         R= +5362  p~=  2e-1615    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          ...and 37 test result(s) without anomalies

This does not look good. And with 1 billion discarded outputs the result is the same (try yourself). What's happening?

The problem is that “ext” PCG generators never decorrelate. Ever (“never” here means “not before the thermodynamic death of the universe”). There is no state mix. Nobody has ever thought of designing a PRNG in such a flawed way.

The trick used by Melissa O'Neill to make people believe she could have high-quality, large-state generators using LCGs consists, in practice, in xoring the output of a small (at most 128 bits of state) PCG generator with a large array. The array in theory changes, and waiting enough (much beyond the thermodynamical death of the universe) you will see it pass all states, but in practice the array never changes. This is why we cannot decorrelate: the output of R and R' is essentially the same, no matter how much you look for uncorrelated sequences.

Said otherwise, the whole sequence of the generator is made by an enormous number of strongly correlated, very short sequences. And this makes the correlation tests fail.

You can see this easily by uncommenting the printf() calls in the code and commenting the fwrite() calls. After a billion iterations, we obtain


Almost all outputs are duplicate: the two generators are not decorrelating. If you look carefully, you'll find two values that are not duplicate. This is all the decorrelation we get after a billion iterations, and it will not improve (not significantly before the thermodynamical death of the universe).

Of course, the same test on the very small number of bits of the base generator should work without problems (but read below): nonetheless, the test fails for the large majority of bits of state; and the larger the state space, the worst the percentage of failing bits. No modern generator will fail this test on a majority of bits; in fact, good generators do not fail it on any bit. You just might have to discard a small amount of output values.

Wrap-up: do not use PCG generators with “ext” in the name.

Generators with multiple sequences

Melissa O'Neill claims that a strong point of PCG generators is the possibility of generating multiple independent streams by changing the additive constant of the underlying LCG generator. This fact is stated without any proof, and indeed it is entirely false. You can definitely generate multiple streams, but they might end up being extremely correlated. This is known at least since Knuth's description of LCGs in TAoCP (like, half a century?) because it is possible to derive easily the sequence for a constant given the sequence for another constant. That is, the sequences are strongly correlated, and the minimal scrambling performed by PCG generator is absolutely insufficient to hide this correlation.

To check that this actually happens, I put together a small C program which creates two PCG generators with seemingly random initial states

and seemingly random increments

Following Melissa O'Neill claims, if we interleave the output of these two generators we should see a random stream. But if you pipe the output of the program into PractRand this is what you will see:

        rng=RNG_stdin64, seed=0x66b6c6c9
        length= 256 megabytes (2^28 bytes), time= 2.9 seconds
          Test Name                         Raw       Processed     Evaluation
          BCFN(2+0,13-2,T)                  R=+401986 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          BCFN(2+1,13-2,T)                  R=+188.0  p =  1.1e-95    FAIL !!!!!
          DC6-9x1Bytes-1                    R= +7342  p =  1e-3850    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]BCFN(2+0,13-3,T)        R= +3288  p =  6e-1556    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]BCFN(2+1,13-3,T)        R=+841.7  p =  3.6e-398   FAIL !!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]BCFN(2+2,13-4,T)        R=+266.1  p =  3.2e-116   FAIL !!!!!
          [Low16/64]BCFN(2+3,13-4,T)        R= +61.8  p =  6.3e-27    FAIL !!
          [Low16/64]BCFN(2+4,13-5,T)        R= +14.4  p =  8.1e-6   mildly suspicious
          [Low16/64]DC6-9x1Bytes-1          R=+30611  p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(4,14-2)    R=+162.5  p =  6.8e-142   FAIL !!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(5,14-3)    R= +69.8  p =  6.7e-61    FAIL !!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(6,14-4)    R=+112.0  p =  1.9e-91    FAIL !!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(7,14-5)    R= +43.2  p =  1.1e-35    FAIL !!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(8,14-5)    R=+106.9  p =  1.7e-88    FAIL !!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(9,14-6)    R=+118.2  p =  1.6e-90    FAIL !!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(10,14-7)   R= +78.3  p =  3.9e-62    FAIL !!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(11,14-8)   R= +82.3  p =  3.0e-59    FAIL !!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(12,14-8)   R= +81.6  p =  9.5e-59    FAIL !!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(13,14-9)   R= +57.3  p =  2.3e-36    FAIL !!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(14,14-10)  R= +50.0  p =  3.6e-27    FAIL !!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:(15,14-11)  R= +21.8  p =  2.4e-10  very suspicious
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:all         R=+106.3  p =  3.1e-99    FAIL !!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:all2        R=+17519  p =  3e-6345    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low16/64]FPF-14+6/16:cross       R= +18.0  p =  3.9e-16    FAIL !
          [Low4/64]BCFN(2+0,13-5,T)         R=+130.0  p =  4.5e-51    FAIL !!!!
          [Low4/64]BCFN(2+1,13-5,T)         R= +40.9  p =  3.4e-16    FAIL !
          [Low4/64]BCFN(2+2,13-5,T)         R=  +9.6  p =  6.3e-4   unusual
          [Low4/64]DC6-9x1Bytes-1           R= +3254  p =  2e-1883    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]Gap-16:A                 R=+249.7  p =  2.0e-196   FAIL !!!!!!
          [Low4/64]Gap-16:B                 R= +1533  p =  1e-1385    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:(0,14-1)     R= +3544  p =  1e-3140    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:(1,14-2)     R= +2511  p =  1e-2195    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:(2,14-2)     R= +1372  p =  1e-1199    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:(3,14-3)     R= +1058  p =  5.1e-927   FAIL !!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:(4,14-4)     R=+618.7  p =  1.8e-505   FAIL !!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:(5,14-5)     R=+241.6  p =  3.4e-200   FAIL !!!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:(6,14-5)     R=+179.2  p =  2.1e-148   FAIL !!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:(7,14-6)     R=+159.9  p =  1.9e-122   FAIL !!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:(8,14-7)     R=+159.7  p =  6.0e-127   FAIL !!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:(9,14-8)     R=+122.3  p =  5.0e-88    FAIL !!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:(10,14-8)    R= +47.9  p =  1.6e-34    FAIL !!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:(11,14-9)    R= +34.8  p =  3.5e-22    FAIL !!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:(12,14-10)   R= +26.3  p =  1.5e-14    FAIL
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:all          R= +4730  p =  6e-4439    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:all2         R=+5302901 p = 0           FAIL !!!!!!!!
          [Low4/64]FPF-14+6/16:cross        R= +5962  p =  8e-4680    FAIL !!!!!!!!
          ...and 113 test result(s) without anomalies

In fact, a very large number of different initialization parameters will lead to the same failures. This happens because modulo an additive constant there are just two sequences that can be produced by an LCG of the type used by PCG, no matter which constant you are using. The idea that different constants generate truly different sequences is entirely false.

This is known at least since Durst's 1989 paper: if you have an LCG of the form xn = a xn – 1 + c, and you take any r, then the generator yn = a yn – 1 + c + (a – 1)r satisfies xn = ynr for all n. It is easy to see by induction starting from x0 = y0r, as yn = a yn – 1 + c = a (xn – 1r) + c + (a – 1)r = a xn – 1 + cr = xnr.

Because of the type of constant used by PCG, called of high potency (it's a good property in general), for every pair of constants c and d such that cd is divisible by four you can find such an r. This divides the constants in two equivalence classes, and the sequences in each class are basically the same—they differ just by an additive constant. This minimal difference makes the sequences massively correlated, and this correlation passes without difficulty the minimum scrambling of PCG generators; hence the disaster above.

If you want to see this correlation directly, you can try a program that given a state and two “independent stream” initializers, will start two PCG 128-bit generators using the provided initializers: the first generator will start from the provided state, the second generator from the associated state in the correspondence above. The difference between the states of the two generators will always be the same constant, and the program just prints it as the state of both generators advances:

        ./pcg128diff 0x2360ed051fc65da4 0x4385df649fccf645 0x5851f42d4c957f2d 0x14057b7ef767814f 0xbf58476d1ce4e5b9 0x94d049bb133111eb

Two generators following the same states modulo an additive constant cannot generate “independent streams“. If you modify the program to write the output of the two generators interleaved and pipe the result into PractRand, you will see a cascade of statistical failures as shown above.

Wrap-up: Do not use PCG generators with multiple sequences.

Subsequences within the same generator

It is instructive to look inside a single-sequence 128-bit PCG generator and consider the many possible sequences it can emit starting from different initial states, similarly to what we did with “ext” generators. We already mentioned that the sequence emitted by an LCG when using a certain additive constant can be obtained from the sequence for another additive constant, but in fact much more is true: the output for any additive constant and any initial state can be computed easily knowing the output from state 0 using the additive constant 1.

For prime moduli, nothing particularly bad happens. But if the modulus is not prime, there are consequences, and the worst consequences are for a modulus which is the power of a prime, as in the PCG case (which is why LCGs with moduli of the form 2n, as the ones used in PCG generators, are considered of low quality). Essentially, changing the high bits of the state has no impact on the low bits—forever. And, as in the previous case, this structural defect is passed on to PCG generators.

I put together a small C program which creates two 128-bit PCG generators. You provide the initial state of the first generator, and the highest 64 bits of the state of the second generator; the lowest 64 bits will be identical to the first one. Then the program emits the output of the two PCG generators, interleaved. Let us try with random arguments 0x596d84dfefec2fc7, 0x6b79f81ab9f3e37b and 0x8d7deae980a64ab0 (i.e., the first PCG generator will start from state 0x596d84dfefec2fc76b79f81ab9f3e37b and the second generator from state 0x8d7deae980a64ab06b79f81ab9f3e37b) and pipe into PractRand:

rng=RNG_stdin64, seed=unknown
length= 16 gigabytes (2^34 bytes), time= 411 seconds
  Test Name                         Raw       Processed     Evaluation
  BCFN(0+0,13-0,T)                  R= +22.5  p =  1.3e-11   VERY SUSPICIOUS
  BCFN(0+1,13-0,T)                  R=+374.9  p =  5.5e-200   FAIL !!!!!!
  BCFN(0+2,13-0,T)                  R=+296.4  p =  5.2e-158   FAIL !!!!!
  DC6-5x4Bytes-1                    R= +85.3  p =  1.2e-51    FAIL !!!!
  ...and 1637 test result(s) without anomalies

In spite of half the bits of the initial state being different, and in spite of having waited billion outputs for the two sequences emitted by the PCG generator to decorrelate, decorrelation does not happen: for every sequence emitted by a PCG generator, there is a very large number of non-overlapping correlated sequences starting from different initial states.

If we change just the highest 32 bits insted of the highest 64 bits the results are so catastrophic to be embarrasing (I removed hundreds of lines):

rng=RNG_stdin64, seed=unknown
length= 64 megabytes (2^26 bytes), time= 2.3 seconds
  Test Name                         Raw       Processed     Evaluation
  BCFN(0+0,13-3,T)                  R= +6430  p =  2e-3043    FAIL !!!!!!!!
  BCFN(0+1,13-3,T)                  R=+15707  p =  3e-7434    FAIL !!!!!!!!
  BCFN(0+2,13-3,T)                  R=+10498  p =  1e-4968    FAIL !!!!!!!!
  mod3n(0):(0,9-0)                  R= +33.9  p =  1.3e-18    FAIL !
  DC6-9x1Bytes-1                    R=+477.5  p =  6.1e-304   FAIL !!!!!!
  DC6-6x2Bytes-1                    R= +1872  p =  2e-1233    FAIL !!!!!!!!
  DC6-5x4Bytes-1                    R= +1618  p =  1e-1085    FAIL !!!!!!!!
  Gap-16:A                          R=+483.3  p =  2.7e-422   FAIL !!!!!!!
  Gap-16:B                          R= +1032  p =  1.9e-918   FAIL !!!!!!!
  [Low1/8]BCFN(0+0,13-5,T)          R=+352.1  p =  5.3e-138   FAIL !!!!!
  [Low1/8]BCFN(0+1,13-5,T)          R= +18.4  p =  2.2e-7   suspicious
  [Low1/8]DC6-9x1Bytes-1            R= +40.6  p =  2.3e-21    FAIL !!
  [Low1/8]DC6-6x2Bytes-1            R= +81.9  p =  9.3e-50    FAIL !!!!
  [Low1/8]DC6-5x4Bytes-1            R= +38.3  p =  3.3e-21    FAIL !!
  [Low1/8]FPF-14+6/64:(0,14-3)      R= +19.8  p =  3.7e-17    FAIL
  [Low1/8]FPF-14+6/64:(1,14-4)      R= +12.7  p =  2.7e-10  very suspicious
  [Low1/8]FPF-14+6/64:(2,14-5)      R=  +9.4  p =  1.1e-7   mildly suspicious
  [Low1/8]FPF-14+6/64:(3,14-5)      R= +17.1  p =  4.5e-14    FAIL
  [Low1/8]FPF-14+6/64:(6,14-8)      R= +14.0  p =  3.8e-10  very suspicious
  [Low1/8]FPF-14+6/64:(7,14-8)      R= +12.1  p =  9.2e-9   suspicious
  [Low8/64]FPF-14+6/4:(9,14-7)      R= +12.8  p =  4.8e-10  very suspicious
  [Low8/64]FPF-14+6/4:all           R=+485.3  p =  5.9e-455   FAIL !!!!!!!
  [Low8/64]FPF-14+6/4:cross         R=+289.0  p =  8.7e-228   FAIL !!!!!!
  [Low8/64]Gap-16:A                 R= +20.5  p =  5.5e-17    FAIL !
  [Low8/64]Gap-16:B                 R=+140.6  p =  4.6e-114   FAIL !!!!!
  ...and 661 test result(s) without anomalies

So, what's happening here? By choosing the worst case (changing just the highest bit), uncommenting the printf() calls in the code and commenting the fwrite() calls we obtain:


The repeated bit patterns in each pair of consecutive outputs are evident even to the naked eye: it is not surprising that so many tests fail. Any change in the initial state leaving intact a sufficiently large number of low bits will reproduce the problem: the repeated patterns will never go away.

Instead, generators using a linear engine such as xoroshiro128++ will decorrelate after a few outputs even if a single bit of state had been flipped. This is what happens with two such generators initialized with exactly the same seed of the two PCG generators:


Larger-state linear generators might require more time, but they will eventually decorrelate. In fact, any sensible pseudorandom generator (not necessarily linear) will mix up quickly a state change (even a single-bit change) and provide an uncorrelated subsequence.

Wrap-up: PCG generators contain a large number of pairs of non-overlapping correlated subsequences.

False claims

We are now discussing just single-sequence generators with w-bit output and w or 2w bits of state. The other options have the severe statistical flaws we discussed.

It is challenging to predict a PCG generator

This claim has appeared originally on Melissa O'Neill website and on her manuscript. There is no evidence for this claim. To me, it has been always evident that PCG generators are very easy to predict. Finally, in 2020 a group a INRIA took up the challenge and showed how to predict a PCG generator using standard cryptoanalytic techniques.

The paper takes a particularly strong variant and solves the problem for a generic increment constant. A couple of years ago I had shown similar results for another variant, assuming a fixed constant: this program accepts as input the 64-bit state of a PCG generator, generates three outputs, and recover the original state from the output, making it possible to predict all future outputs of the generator. Just compile with -O3 and run.

Writing the function that performs the prediction, recover(), took maybe half an hour of effort. It's a couple of loops, a couple of if's and a few logical operations. Less than 10 lines of code.

        > ./predpcg 0x333e2c3815b27604
        Provided generator state: 333e2c3815b27604
        First three outputs: cd9f107b, 8b817ffc, 7c12d316
        Recovered generator state (from output): 333e2c3815b27604

Analogously this program accepts as input the 128-bit state of a PCG (same variant and assumptions) generator, generates a few outputs, and recovers the original state from the output, making it possible again to predict all future outputs of the generator. To compile it, you will need Victor Shoup's amazing NTL library. The program uses the same logic of the 64-bit case (and of the INRIA paper)—guessing exhaustively a few bits, deriving a lot of other bits, and solving a simple modular equation. However, in the 64-bit case the equation can be solved by trying all possible solutions, whereas in this case we use a standard technique based on lattice reduction: as a result, discovering the initial state takes usually less time than in the 64-bit case (in fact, the computation time can be brought down to well below a second if you are willing to examine more outputs).

By the same token, it is easy to set the state of a PCG generator so that it outputs a string of your choice. This program, for example, forces a PCG generator with 128 bits of state to output the string > John D. Cook <. If you pass its output through hexdump -C, you'll see

00000000  98 06 19 c7 65 5b ce 68  f2 41 47 84 50 cf ba fa  |....e[.h.AG.P...|
00000010  a9 eb 2d 00 67 a3 34 af  5a e7 70 31 4b ae a3 38  |..-.g.4.Z.p1K..8|
00000020  03 98 b2 b5 39 0d 05 e3  98 db 33 9f b7 d4 9d b7  |....9.....3.....|
00000030  2c 29 12 34 52 66 ce b7  01 ca 96 3f f3 eb cf 7a  |,).4Rf.....?...z|
00000040  d9 76 81 e9 36 e7 06 2b  c6 94 0c 66 d0 96 d6 82  |.v..6..+...f....|
00000050  5f b1 c6 18 50 24 19 64  db 0a de 7b 27 28 ab 81  |_...P$.d...{'(..|
00000060  0f 31 0b 5c 37 bd 10 ec  1e 04 da ae 18 ce 9d 4d  |.1.\7..........M|
00000070  ff 5c fd 43 fd e6 24 70  23 94 8f 8b 41 0a 89 eb  |.\.C..$p#...A...|
00000080  3e 20 4a 6f 68 6e 20 44  2e 20 43 6f 6f 6b 20 3c  |> John D. Cook <|
00000090  03 f6 4e 49 4a 39 fa 15  e1 3c 9f e7 bc 78 a9 c0  |..NIJ9...<...x..|
000000a0  ea ea e2 46 65 65 63 b5  81 1b 76 01 c9 28 8b 6d  |...Feec...v..(.m|
000000b0  ec a2 0c a4 6b e1 33 d0  55 6f 8a db 49 73 a7 38  |....k.3.Uo..Is.8|
000000c0  6d 33 8c 5b 9a 88 39 ff  70 90 ff 8f 5d 0a a6 75  |m3.[..9.p...]..u|
000000d0  dd d6 2f 5c 44 bc a2 af  71 17 8a d2 f0 a0 cf da  |../\D...q.......|
000000e0  f2 3b c5 7b 51 dc 75 50  0f 50 79 8a 5b 9b 7b c4  |.;.{Q.uP.Py.[.{.|

Wrap-up: PCG generators are easy to predict.

PCG generators are fast

They're not. 128-bit operations are slow. On my hardware a 128-bit PCG generators take 2.75ns to emit an integer, against 0.95ns for xoroshiro128++. The PCG generator is almost three times slower. And they both pass all statistical tests.

You might want to measure the speed on your hardware: just download the harness and the benchmark, compile the latter with gcc -O3 -fno-move-loop-invariants -fno-unroll-loops and execute with at least a billion repetitions (the number of repetitions is the only parameter to the harness). You can also download the benchmark for xoroshiro128++ and compare. But the idea that manipulating 128-bit numbers can be faster than performing a few 64-bit shifts, rotations, xors and sums is ridiculous. The PCG generators with the same number of state and input bits are slightly faster (1.46ns), but still slower than a xoroshiro128++ generator.

The new design of PCG generators used in NumPy, PCG64DXSM, avoids almost all full 128-bit operations and thus needs just 1.44ns to emit an integer, which is a significant improvement, albeit the timings are still far from the sub-ns area of scrambled linear generators or 64-bit MWC generators of similar size.

Said that, I will repeat again: you have to measure the speed of your PRNG inside your application. These figures are just an indication. Even better, you might want to check the results of the Intel® Architecture Code Analyzer, which reports 3.50 cycles for xoroshiro128++, a whopping 9.53 cycles for a 128-bit PCG generator, and 5.53 cycles for PCG64DXSM.

Wrap-up: while PCG generators are not terribly slow, they are very far from the sub-ns performance of fast scrambled linear generators.


Wrap-up: There is technically no sensible reason to use a PCG generator: those without flaws are not competitive.

Nonetheless, you might wish to use at all costs, for some reason, a PRNG based on congruential arithmetic with 64 bits of output, 128 bits or more of state, and using 128-bit multiplications.

In that case, you have a much better option: Marsaglia's Multiply-With-Carry generators and their generalizations. For example, MWC128 is a generator with 128 bits of state that is much faster than a PCG generator, and the design can be extended, say, to 256 bits of state.

The generators above pass all statistical tests, but have a few theoretical defects, which are partially fixed by a generalized version defined by Goresky and Klapper: GMWC128 and GMWC256. GMWC generators, however, are about twice slower than MWC generators.

The generators with 128 bits of state have period ≈2127 (more precisely, there are two orbits of size ≈2127, and after very few steps you will fall into one). Analogously, the generators with 256 bits of state have period ≈2255.

Subsequences of these generators will be uncorrelated except in very special cases—when the initial states of the associated linear congruential generator differ by a small multiplicative constant; but these cases can be easily avoided, for example, by seeding the carry c with a fixed constant.