A Brief History of CPUs: 31 Awesome Years of x86

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rizwan.zoom

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rizwan.zoom

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galco holsters

wow, this is amazing to study about a brief history of CPUs, thanks for sharing...galco holsters

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misterduffy

Although my first PC was based on an AMD 386SX-25, I couldn't do anything with that. It was when I upgraded to a (AMD again) 486DX4-100 that things really got interesting. Managed to overclock it to 120Mhz (a 25% increase - not bad) and it made so much difference. Also had a negative OC experience - my mate's new PC kept on crashing and we worked out it was overheating due to being overclocked by the unscupulous retailer. We took it straight down there and they upgraded the chip in a real hurry!

I was surprised at how many of these chips I've owned over the years. I still own the DX4 and it hold a special place in my heart. I played all my Duke3D and Doom2 deathmatches on that thing. 

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IThinkImGonnaBeSick

 Hey, thanks for the historical timeline, nicely done.

  Yes, and talkin'  about memories'  ;)

 I realize that without our x86 crappy architecture there wouldn't obvusouly be what we see PC-wise today,... along with this Magazine. 

But, as we all knew, the "x86" architecture was and still is a DOG !!!, from Assem.line instr. right on up. It was crap. It definitely isn't "AWESOME" -unless you mean awesome as in shitty ?!

 Go a little farther back now, (late 70's through early/mid 80's). The Apple, Atari. Amiga, aka Motorola 68xxx uP's. Now those were light-years ahead of Intels 'x86 junk.  Not to mention the RISC/DSP's (The original ones also being from TI, Motorola,..., and yes, AMD's RISC's).  I think AT&T invented the very first RISC/DSP in 1978.

  Anyway, now those were AWESOME architectures (atleast for their time), built for programmers from Assembler right on up !

 But just like anything toooooo GOOD! for consumers', (just like lets see, GM scrapping their Electric vehicle 15+ years ago, and now GM is scrapped ;) well ? They were too good and more expensive than what the likes of IBM,..., thought the consumer(you and me) would pay for.

 And that my friends,  in a NUTSHELL, is how and why we got stuck for the last 31 years with this x86 architecture.

 Sorry, and I ain't NO amd fanboy, but thank GOD for AMD's obvious past competitive innovations pushing Intel's envelopes, and visa-verca.  Otherwise, we would still all be running an (OC'd) 1.9 GHz P3 today, except that it would cost over $1900/chip.

:)

Cheers.

 

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jtaylor333

I guess i'm getting old.

 Not only do I remember the 4040 (the 4-bit predecssor to the 8080, but the Z-80, 6502, SC/MP and several other chips predating the 8080.

 I had computer systems with a little as 128 bits of memory and no non-volatile storage.

 Clock speeds were 1 MHz.

 Life was slow .......

 I enjoy my i7!

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linux_dork

My first computer was a 286 laptop I bought at a rummage sale when I was a kid in the mid 90's (like 94-ish).  Despite being horribly behind the times, with all my friends having 486's and Pentium 75's, this computer got me into programming (started with Q-Basic!) and my obsession carries me through to my proffession today.

I sold that computer at a yard-sale in my teens, after we got a Pentium 200MMX.  I regret selling it every single day.

 

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Forty_Caliber

...specifically of the 386-486 era.

THe first computer I had access to was a 8088 system my father used to work from home (programmer for Gov't contractors).  I fondly remember playing Burger-Time, Alley Cat, the Zork series, and a slew of other bootable 5.25 floppy games.  Later we got an 8086 which kept us going (and King's Quest!) until about 1987 when he built a 386 system.  The 8086 went in my room: 2 5.25 floppy drives, 640KB RAM, 2MB Hard Disk, CGA graphics... a real trooper too.

That system was when I disovered COLOR GRAPHICS and 8-bit AUDIO!.  My father started a hobby with MIDI keyboard compositions.   This system was relicated to a "games" computer when he finally upgraded to a 486 system (486SX-33, I think) and then he acquired a 386SX-20 system which he promptly upgraded with a 387 co-proc so I could dabble in my 3D home design hobby.  I was 11 or 12 at the time.  The 8086 went by the wayside.  Somewhere in there I had a 286 system I had built for a bit that my friend found in his storage from his mother's work.  I had it a short while, but it allowed me to see Windows 2 for the first time.

When he upgraded to a 486DX2-66, the 486SX system became the new games computer.  We then embarked along another fond memory of turning the 386DX system into a file/print server to share all of the games we had acquired and to share the Laserjet 4M (which he still has.)  We installed Novell NetWare to run the network.  That was about 1992.  It was downhill from there because I then discovered...

DOOM shareware.  I can't count the endless hours we spent afterschool playing Doom over out nifty little IPX network... though my 387 system couldn't keep up.   1993 was a good year.

Then one day my friend and I happened across a gem of a find: someone had left a computer on the curb for pickup.  We snagged it and took it home.  Having no knowledge of troubleshooting, we had no idea what was wrong, other than it wouldn't turn on.  When my dad came home, he discovered the CPU was trashed.  When he dropped our 486SX in it, it ran like a charm.  Understanding the boon that a new CPU-less sytem was, he dropped some cash on a new 486DX-33 CPU for the games computer, and I had my very own 486 VLB system with a whopping 8MB of RAM.  It was an SX system, but WTF did I care, I could play Doom at appropriate speeds now.  More lost hours of my youth... but by now we had a pirated copy of the full Doom version and the Doom2 shareware.  1994-1995 were better years.  My brother got the 387 system.

While I've had many systems since then, those will always be ragarded as my favorites.  To this day I am still looking for a full VLB 486 board to test my extensive collection of 486 processors, a VLB video card, and an SB 16 or Pro cardso I can try to recapture those mispent days of my youth.  (Don't talk to me about DOSbox... IT'S NOT THE SAME!)

Currently, I have a Pentium III system, Pentium 4C 2.4 system, an Athlon64 3000+ system, and an Athlon64 3500+ system all in "mothballs" with some various other video and audio hardware.  I use my old Athlon64 X2 4200+ system at work and I have an C2D E6600 system at home.  I also have my Dell M1330 laptop, a Dell Latitude 400 laptop (with docking station... remember those?) A Thinkpad 365(?) and a Toshiba Satellite Pro PII laptop.  Then there's my CPU collection ranging from the Commodore64 CPU through Pentium 4 CPUs, with the bulk being 486 CPUs with a couple of DX4 and Overdrive CPUs.  (I have a lot of shit... a habit picked up from my youth... Thank dad.)

Remember when 386s were soldered directly onto the board, sometimes?

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Zetsuei

On page 3 under the Intel Pentium II and Pentium II Xeon it says (in the second paragraph):

"...and could address 64GB of memory"

Did you mean 64MB? Or am I just having a brain fart..

Otherwise this was a great article that I really enjoyed.

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AncientRebel

Yes, boys and girls, another guy with fond memories of 16Mhz clocks. I bow to my elder esteemed colegues who had earlier machines, but I am compelled to relate my own story here.

 My first was a genuine IBM PC I with dual floppies and 128K of RAM. Green screen and came with BASIC on a cassette. It cost over three thosand dollars. I learned to write programs in machine language to save precious RAM, and used the video card memory when I needed space to create dimensional arrays. I eventually bought a 10M hard drive for over a thousand dollars. What a deal.

I lived the way that program floppies had to be removed to write data to the data disc, then be replaced with the data disc, then ... on and on.

I skipped the 286 generation and bought a 386 machine, which pissed off my wife.

I've upgraded a few tines since then, and now I've order an i7 machine with 6gb memory and two terra byte hard drives.

We've come a long way, baby.

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Max PC Rox

in the section of "Due to its low power consumption, the Cyrix Cx486 was a popular part for laptops int he early 90s" it says 'int he'

 

i think it is supposed to read In The 

-Matt

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morfeus

I may be mistaken but I'm certain Intel's 8088 came before their 8086 (I don't know the reason for the wierd numbering, either).

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Forty_Caliber

the 8088 was an 8-bit processor: 808(8-bit)

the 8086 was a 16-bit processor: 808(6-teen bit) <-- I tried.

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webber77

Back in 1974 a company I worked for, Vidtronics (owned by Techincolor Corp), had a unique in house computer controlled audio editor.  This deviced used a 4004 Processor.

Later in 1975, I purchased and MITS Altair 8800 computer kit.  The S 100 buss, an 8080 Processor that could address 64K of RAM.  My first terminal was a Teletype ASR-33 and mass storage was a Tarbell S 100 card which wrote/read from a small Radio Shack alalog audio tape recorder.

Later I upgraded to a Soroc B&W terminal, a 20 Mb Winchester hard disk drive ( the size of a tower PC case). Removal storage is 2 Pertec 8 inch floppy drives which is a voice coil head drive.

I still have this complete system along with lots of software.  It is fun to fire it up once in a while and trip down memory lane.

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mmarrero

- 8088: It's slow, lots of microcode. An 8-bit 6809 was faster. Avoiding CGA text "snow" made things worse.
- 80186: Where is it? Unused in PC's. IBM was making a lot of money with cheaper 808x.
- 80286: Win 2 uses a clever hack to switch from/to protected mode, causing Microsoft to abandon OS/2.
- 80386: Compaq was first, IBM no longer the king. The SX is a hack w/16 bit bus, a 286 was faster!
- 80486: Correct, bad at 3D because of really slow FPU. VGA was tragically slow, even when using VLB.
- 80486SX: Initially, 486DX with disabled FPU. Coprocessor was a disabled CPU. 2 CPUs working as 1!
- Pentium: MMX 64-bit integer registers used FPU registers, which is stupid, MMX almost useless for 3D.
- Celeron: I believe the original 300 could be overclocked more than the 300A

The x86 architecture was pretty bad until the 386DX. Clones and competition made PCs affordable and powerful. x86 CPUs are pretty much unpopular everywhere else, for example, only old Irem, Gottlieb, and new Taito and Sega arcade games use them, and all tree major consoles (Wii, Xbox 360, PS3) use PowerPC variants.

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Zachary K.

i remeber my first computer, using it at the age of 6. i dont know much about it, but i am starting to look back into it, still need a old keyboard though due to a".K-B error!" when i use a new one with a adapter. cant tell much, has a clone 8088, huge "ST-238" harddrive and 649K of ram. has "ICS" on the front, and a turbo button. had lots of fun on that old computer. just wish i knew all about computers from birth.

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dag1992

Thanks so much for this article.  Although I've only had a fraction of these, all worked beautifully in my opinion.

Currently owned and still working

AMD K6 800Mhz (somehow still chugs along)

Intel Pentium 4 EE 3.2Ghz

AMD Turion X2 1.6Ghz

Intel Centrino 2.0Ghz

Soon to be:

Intel Core i7 EE 3.2Ghz (a worthy replacement of my P4 EE)

 

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lhatten

Great trip down memory lane.

My first “PC” was a Timex TS1000. It had a Z80A processor operating at 3.2 MHz, 1K RAM (yes! only 1024 bytes, but expandable to 48K), 32x24 text screen and 64x48 graphics resolution in black and white (if you don’t know what a Z80 processor, Google it). The OS was Basic, and programs that you wrote were stored on a cassette tape and be retrieved at 300 baud. There were a few programs that you could buy, but mostly you wrote your own. The keyboard was tiny and useless, so most handy people bought a surplus keyboard and soldered it in. Oh, by the way the cost was $99.00.

After the TS1000, I bought a Sinclair ZX-Spectrum. Similar processor, but a little faster & had 128 K of RAM and the keyboard wasn’t quite as useless. Still had to use a cassette recorder to save programs. One night after having spent hours writing an astronomy program I could not get the program to save.

I ended up throwing the PC & the cassette recorder in the trash and buying a IBM Clone (not compatible – Google it if you don’t know what a clone / compatible is) with a 8088, 2 floppies (no hard drive), and a green phosphor monitor at about 1/3 the cost of an equivalent IBM system.  I was thoroughly convinced that the company that sold me the computer would shortly be shut down by IBM. To my great surprise and joy, that never happened.

Although this article focused on processers, the great back story is the fact that IBM created the PC with open architecture hardware, and did not “protect” their BIOS. This has resulted in the PC industry we have now.  Imagine if IBM had gone after people that cloned their BIOS like Apple does. We would all be probably be using 386 class processors, & I doubt that computers would be nearly as ubiquitous as they are now.

I have seen many PCs and processors, some Intel, Some AMD, and currently have a Core 2 Quad Q6600, Vista Home Premium 32, & 150 Gig Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 SATA drive.

Lyle B. Hatten

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Spartacus

ah, yes, I still remember tweaking those old PII machines.

however, I noticed two errors:

1. You said the 3.73Ghz Pentium D 965 was intel's highest clocked CPU, but there is a 3.8Ghz Pentium 4

2. You say that the highest clocked Core 2 chip is 3.2 Ghz, but the E8600 clocks in at 3.33Ghz stock.

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Timmmer

The first computer that I purchased with my own hard earned money was a 386.  Thing is, unless my memory is corrupt, it was a 386 at 40MHZ.  A friend of mine and I used to benchmark our systems continuously.  He had a 486 at 33 MHZ, and we were constantly trying to see if my added speed made up for his higher processor at lower speeds.  I eventually forked out money for a Math Coprocessor and the margins narrowed even further.  Now according to the article, the 386s topped out at 33 MHZ.  So is my memory wrong, or did the 386s actually evolve slightly after the 486s were introduced?

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Pentium 0

The P4 clocked up to 3.8ghz like you said on page 5 but then you said the PD was the fastest intel CPU at 3.78ghz.

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AntiHero

Fantastic article, very informative. Taught me some stuff since i am the generation who became familiar wit Pentium 3's, but i didn't do anything with computers other than school work, until high school started for me in 2006, and i learned about computers on a Sempron 3400+ 2.0ghz cpu, clearly rated for 3.4, which i had it doing that at one point.

 I don't like Microsoft, I associate with it.

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billcipp

Wow, what a trip down memory lane!

My first computer was a Commodore Vic 20, an 8 bit home computer sporting a MOS 6502 CPU with a whopping 5KB of ram.  Next, the unforgettable Commodore 64, also an 8 bit computer, but loaded with 64KB of ram.  Whoa!

My first Intel chip was an 8088 in a IBM with a 20MB hard drive and a green screen monitor that I updated with (I believe) a TRS color monitor.  I used a program that worked with DOS called Menu Works and thought... 20MB hard drive... I'll never fill it up!

Next a 386 with a 150MB hard drive and thought... 150MB... I'll never fill it up!

I've been thinking "I'll never fill it up!" up to this day!

Have they made a 5TB hard drive yet?

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pcwizmtl

this article kicks ass!!

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kitfox69

To start, I must give kudos to the writer... great article that almost had me at tears remembering the parts that I used on my very first PC repair.

 I remember being 11 years old and seeing the P II dancers in their space suits and the little dolls and K6-2 logos all over that PC store in Lakeland FL. Memories...

 Even now I still have some of those parts I started with... a functional Pentium 233 MMX in a super socket 7 board with WIN95 and 4X 64MB sticks of EDO RAM, an AMD Athlon XP 1700+ with 512MB PC100 in a Gigabyte board running XP, an AMD Athlon XP 2100+ in an MSI board with 1GB PC133 on XP (board now dead... all else still funtional). My first builds as a teenager.

 Now, I still have all three of those machines as well as; an AMD socket 754 Athlon 64 2800+ 1GB Dual CH PC3200 on an MSI board with XP, an AMD 939 Athlon 3700+ OC to 2.5 Ghz (2.7 capable but not stable with a Zalman 9500) with 2GB PC3200 on XP/WIN 7 Beta and an Intel Celeron 1.8 Ghz with 512MB PC100 (Gateway Gaming Rig from 2001... still had a GF4 4200 when I found it!).

My main rig/Server is an AMD Athlon X2 4600+ with 4GB PC3200 Corsair on an ASUS M3A78-emh running XP/XP64/Server2K3/Server2K364/Vista Home Prem 64/XPMCE SP2/WHS/Win 7 Beat/UBUNTU (using VMware as well as booting each from POST :-P) and an Intel Atom Dell Netbook.

 Wow I need to sell of some of these...

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Cabal468

My 1st computer was a Texas Instruments 994/a, then I upgraded to a Commodore 64, then a Commodore 128...I didn't make it to the PC party until I bought an Acer 486sx.  :-D

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MvanA

So many computers have come and gone from our house!  Our first one was a Tandy 1000 (No Hard Drive), then we upgraded to a 286 (20MB Hard Drive) and could actually boot without inserting a floppy first.  We then bypassed 386's and our next upgrade was to a 100MHz 486.  And then along came my first overclock, a Pentium 90 overclocked to 120Mhz! Then for college I bought myself a Cyrix MII 233MHz computer, which I kept upgrading whenever I had enough money until the only original part was the floppy drive, so it was now an Athlon XP 3200+.  Next up was a new Intel Pentium D with 2 cores at 2.66GHz. And finally currently sporting the Core i7 940.  What a trip down computer memory lane!

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cappomutato

Wow, what a trip down memory lane.  Could have mentioned the early Pentium floating point error, but whatever.  Still great.

 

The Did You Know for Sempron seems to disagree with the section on Athlon XP regarding what the Athlon XP is rated against.

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GreenTurtle

My first computer was a Tandy 1000 with a 286 running MS-DOS. LOL!!!!

 How things have changed eh?

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zeringue

Intel did produce a 16bit chip yes it was good, but it was the 8088 that brought the x86 architecture to light with the IBM XT.  IBM wanted to use an 8bit chip to build the PC with so IBM could use existing parts/cards.  The 8088 ran at 4.77Mhz and was about the same chip as the 88086, but was limited to an 8bit external address.

 Compaq on the other hand went with 8086 chips to which ran faster than the 8088s.  Nothing like the old amber screens of Compaq vs the green of IBM.

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RedAnt751

 

MY 1st PC was a Pentium 200 (no MMX) fabricated at a local PC Shop here in Brooklyn NY.

I had no I dea how to work window 95,Good times,good times....

Going to church doesn't make you a Christian anymore than standing
in a garage makes you a car.

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devin3627

pentium 3 600mhz was my favorite because the 512kb l2 cache made the best difference... and i knew it was faster with my problems than my amd 1.4ghz socket A!!

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Keith E. Whisman

Remember the 1st AMD Thunderbird processors were Slot A CPU's. Remember the Slot? The CPU on a card.

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justinmc

MIPS! HELL YEA!

 

Or RISC, that works too.

 

Anything but x86, that set is nigh impossible to program for ;-)

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Keith E. Whisman

Hey Paul, great aricle bro. :)

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Keith E. Whisman

I remember some of my retarded friends telling me their 486DX2 66mhz was faster than my 486DX4 100mhz. I loved that processor because it was the first... The very first 100mhz CPU. Then a year or two after the DX4-100 came out the Pentium 60 was born. AMD had a DX4-100 as well but I can't remember if it was as fast as the Intel processor. AMD was a risc processor and the Intel chip was a cisc processor. If you don't know what risc and cisc processors are then look it up.

OK I'll tell you that cisc stans for Complicated Instruction Set Computer while RISC stands for, you got it, Reduced Instruction Set Computer. I always thought it was Chip but my computer science teacher pounded it into my head way back then in 1987. Two years later I was in the Army but that's another story.

I had an 8088 process and then I moved up to the 8086 based computer. I had alot of computers back then. I remember playing Wolfenstein on my 8086 computer with CGA graphics. You know the green colored screen.

I went up from the 8086 to the 80286 to the 80386SLC and then the 80386DX. I had an 80486DLC or was that SLC and then the SX and the DX then the DX2 and then the DX4. Then I bought a Pentium 120 non MMX and then from there I went to a Pentium 166MMX processor and then the Pentium II came along and I believe I had a 233MMX proc and then I got a Pentium III at 500mhz then I went with a P3-800mhz process and then the PentiumIV came out. I held out until the 1.4ghz processor came out. Then I replaced that one with the Venerable P4C Northwood 3.0ghz processor with HT enabled. I completely stayed clear of Presscott and built a Core Dual system at 2.3ghz and then I built my current rig with the Penryn Core 2 Dual 3ghz processor.

I also owned at one point or another a few Cyrix and AMD based systems back in the day. I had the 700mhz and the 1.2ghz AMD Thunderbird processors. I remember the old Cyrix 5X86 PR133 and PR166 Processors. I mainly built and sold Cyrix based systems to friends and coworkers. Some friend huh?

I remember plugging memory chips into motherboards and memory upgrade cards that you plugged memory chips into. I remember Simms and Rimms and Dimms and SODimms.

I remember ISA, VLB, VESA, PCI, PCI2, EISA, AGP, AGP2, AGP3, AGP4, AGP Pro, and now PCI Express and PCI Express 2.0.

I remember needing controller cards for your floppy and IDE devices such as hard drives and CDRoms and later DVD roms. The first DVD roms that came out required special controller cards because computers just were'nt powerful enough to fetch the data off the discs and display video on the monitor. The Video cards just weren't powerful enough and neither were the CPU's.

Heck does anyone remember VCD cards? 

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notailmouse2

Loved it! but you spelled Phenom wrong twice in a single paragraph (Pheoom, Phenon)

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norman

fixed! thanks for the catch. -- Norm

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