Here is a beautiful result from numerical analysis. Given any nonsingular $n\times n$ system of linear equations $Ax=b$, an optimal Krylov subspace method like GMRES must necessarily terminate with the exact solution $x=A^{-1}b$ in no more than $n$ iterations (assuming exact arithmetic).

The Cayley-Hamilton theorem provides a simple, elegant proof of this statement. To begin, recall that at the $k$-th iteration, minimum residual methods like GMRES solve the least-squares problem
$$\underset{x_k\in\mathbb{R}^n}{\text{minimize }} \|Ax_k-b\|$$
by picking a solution from the $k$-th Krylov subspace
$$\text{subject to } x_k \in \mathrm{span}\{b,Ab,A^2b,\ldots,A^{k-1}b\}.$$
If the objective $ \|Ax_k-b\|$ goes to zero, then we have found the exact solution at the $k$-th iteration (we have assumed that $A$ is full-rank).

Next, observe that $x_k=(c_0 + c_1 A + \cdots + c_{k-1}A^{k-1})b=p(A)b$, where $p(\cdot)$ is a polynomial of order $k-1$. Similarly, $\|Ax_k-b\|=\|q(A)b\|$, where $q(\cdot)$ is a polynomial of order $k$ satisfying $q(0)=-1$. So the least-squares problem from above for each fixed $k$ can be equivalently posed as a polynomial optimization problem with the same optimal objective

$$\text{minimize } \|q_k(A)b\|
\text{ subject to } q_k(0)=-1,\; q_k(\cdot) \text{ is an order-} k \text{ polynomial.}$$
Again, if the objective $\|q_k(A)b\|$ goes to zero, then GMRES has found the exact solution at the $k$-th iteration.

Finally, we ask: what is a bound on $k$ that guarantees that the objective goes to zero? Well, with $k=n$, and the optimal polynomial $q_n(\cdot)$ for our polynomial optimization problem is just the characteristic polynomial of $A$. According to Cayley-Hamilton, $q_n(A)=0$, so $\|q_n(A)b\|=0$. Hence we conclude that GMRES always terminate with the exact solution at the $n$-th iteration.

This same argument can be repeated (with very minor modifications) for other optimal Krylov methods like conjugate gradients, conjugate residual / MINRES, etc. In each case, the Cayley-Hamilton forms the crux of the argument.

used, if one wants, to prove C-H. $\endgroup$ – paul garrett Feb 25 '16 at 19:12