A Fun and Fascinating Journey Through the Evolution of Processors

A Fun and Fascinating Journey Through the Evolution of Processors

Processors are like the brain of your computer, and let me tell you, they are absolutely mind-blowing. They have a super cool history that goes all the way back to 1971, when the first-ever microprocessor, called the Intel 4004, hit the market. And hey, trust me, things have come a long way since then!

So, let’s take a journey through time and explore the incredible history of processors. Our adventure begins with the Intel 8086, the processor that IBM picked for their first PC. And from there, it’s a wild ride of innovation and technological marvels.

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in 2001, but hey, we’re not stuck in the past, folks! We’ve given it a spruce-up and included all the latest advancements in the field up until December 2016.

The Advent of Intel 8086

A Fun and Fascinating Journey Through the Evolution of Processors

CPUs have gone through a lot of changes since Intel introduced the first one. IBM picked Intel’s 8088 processor for the first PC, which made Intel the leader in the CPU market. Intel remains the leader in microprocessor development, even as other competitors develop their own technologies. AMD is constantly challenging Intel’s dominance in the market.

The first four generations of Intel processors were part of the “8” series – the 8088, 8086, and 80186, up to the 80486 or simply the 486. These older chips are now considered relics, but many of us geeks still hold onto them because they still work, even if they’re not very useful anymore.

  • Intel 8086 (1978)
    This chip was skipped over for the original PC but was used in a few later computers. It was a true 16-bit processor and had 29,000 transistors and 20 address lines, allowing it to communicate with up to 1 MB of RAM. The designers at that time never imagined that anyone would need more than 1 MB of RAM. The chip was available in versions running at 5, 6, 8, and 10 MHz.
  • Intel 8088 (1979)
    The 8088 is practically the same as the 8086, except for how it handles address lines. It was the chip chosen for the first IBM PC and could also work with the 8087 math coprocessor.
  • NEC V20 and V30 (1981)
    These were clones of the 8088 and 8086, supposed to be about 30% faster than the Intel versions.
  • Intel 80186 (1980)
    The 186 was a popular chip, available in different versions depending on the buyer’s needs. It was never used in personal computers, but it had an integrated system controller, interrupt controller, DMA controller, and timing circuitry.
  • Intel 80286 (1982)
    This 16-bit processor was a big improvement. It had 134,000 transistors and could address up to 16 MB of RAM. It introduced the concept of multitasking with protected mode, although DOS didn’t take advantage of this. It could run at speeds between 8 and 12.5 MHz, with later versions reaching 20 MHz. While these chips are now obsolete, they were revolutionary at the time.
  • Intel 386 (1985 – 1990)
    The 386 was a 32-bit processor, a significant leap in technology from Intel. It had 275,000 transistors and came in different versions with speeds ranging from 16 to 33 MHz. The 386 allowed for a full 4 GB of RAM and 64 TB of virtual memory. It was the first chip to use instruction pipelining, which increased speed by predicting and caching the next instructions. The 386 started the trend of user-friendly chips and was pin-for-pin compatible with the previous 186 chips.

Intel 486 (1989 – 1994)

The 486DX was released in 1989 and was a 32-bit processor with 1.2 million transistors. It had the same memory capacity as the 386 but offered twice the speed at 33 MHz. The 486 was the first processor to integrate the floating point unit and had an 8 KB cache for increased speed. It was also designed to be upgradeable, with different flavors of the chip available for the same CPU socket. The 486SX version had the math coprocessor disabled, making it slower but more cost-effective and suitable for laptops.

In 1992, Intel released the 486DX2/50 and 486DX2/66, which used OverDrive technology to effectively double the clock speed. They also released the 486SL, which was optimized for mobile use. Over time, Intel released various flavors of the 486, and by 1994, they were developing the DX4 Overdrive processors that operated internally at 100 MHz.

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