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PC Magazine -- December 17, 1996

Milestones of a Quarter-Century

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the commercial launch of the first true microprocessor, built by Intel engineers for an early electronic adding machine. Since then, we've seen steady and astronomical increases in microprocessor power and complexity. Here are some of the key moments in that 25-year history

1971 Intel 4004

Designed by Intel's Ted Hoff, Stan Mazor, and Federico Faggin, along with Busicom's Masatoshi Shima, the Intel 4004 was the world's first general-purpose microprocessor. It consisted of only 2,300 transistors in a 4-bit architecture, supported 45 instructions, and ran at under 1 MHz. Laughably underpowered by today's standards, this seminal chip literally changed the world.
2,300 transistors

1972 Intel 8008

The 8008, which had 3,500 transistors, was the first 8-bit microprocessor. Eight-bit data allowed the 8008 to manage alphanumeric data.
3,500 transistors

1974 Intel 8080

Intel introduced the 8080, a 2-MHz, 6,000-transistor microprocessor with 16-bit addressing that was eventually to become the heart of the MITS Altair, the first microcomputer. A small soft ware start-up, Micro Soft, was launched by Bill Gates and Paul Allen, who wrote a BASIC interpreter for the Altair system as the company's first project.
6,000 transistors

1974 Motorola 6800

The Motorola 6800, with 4,000 transistors, was designed by Chuck Peddle and Charlie Melear. It was mainly used in automotive controls and small-business machines.
4,000 transistors

1975 Zilog Z80

The Z80, designed by Faggin and Shima, was seen as an improved version of the 8080. An 8-bit, 8,500-transistor processor with 16-bit addressing that ran at 2.5 MHz, it hosted CP/M, the first standard microprocessor operating system. The Z80 was the choice of many pioneer system vendors including Osborne and Kaypro, and, in many ways, brought PCs into business.
8,500 transistors

1976 MOS Technologies 6502

MOS Technologies introduces the 6502, an 8-bit processor with very few registers and a 16-bit address bus, developed by Peddle and colleagues. It sold for around $25 in the mid-seventies, a price that appealed to Steve Wozniak for his Apple II design. The 6502 launched the notion of personal computing in the public imagination and was used in several other popular PCs, including the Commodore PET, the Commodore 64, and the early Atari machines. Essentially an enhanced Motorola 6800, it made graphics effects easier to program and faster to execute, setting the computer gaming phenomenon in motion.
Approximately 9,000 transistors

1978 Intel 8086

The 8086 was a 16-bit chip with 29,000 transistors. It introduced the x86 instruction set that's still present on x86-compatible chips today. Its segmented memory addressing was quite ingenious, but it ultimately proved to be a millstone that hung around the industry's neck for years.
29,000 transistors

1979 Intel 8088

Intel's 8088 was based on the earlier 8086. Like the earlier processor, the 8088 had a 16-bit internal architecture, but it communicated with other components through an 8-bit bus. IBM chose this cost-saving design for its first PC, the direct ancestor of today's dominant personal computing platform. This was the chip that would launch DOS, Lotus 1-2-3, and other groundbreaking software.
29,000 transistors

1979 Motorola 68000

Motorola's 68000, with a new 32-bit instruction set, was the platform for some of the early Unix systems. More important, Apple chose it to implement the Lisa and later the Macintosh, the system that featured the first commercially successful graphical user interface.
68,000 transistors

1982 Intel286

Intel introduces its 286, the first x86 processor to support general protection and virtual memory. Used in the IBM PC AT (whose 16-bit AT extension-bus design is still in use for slower peripherals), the 286 ran at speeds of 8 to 12 MHz and delivered up to six times the power of the 8086. The 286 could support up to 16MB of physical memory.
134,000 Transistors

1985 Intel386

The 386 was a pivotal chip that enabled the transition to the modern era of personal computing. This 32-bit design--with over a quarter of a million transistors and a 4GB address space --was the first mainstream Intel chip to support linear addressing. It was on this platform that graphical operating environments, such as MS Windows and OS/2, began to seem workable. And it was with this chip that we stopped thinking about IBM compatibility and started to focus on the processor and operating system as the true platform.
275,000 transistors

1986 MIPS R2000

MIPS ships its R2000, the first commercial RISC microprocessor.
185,000 transistors

1987 Sun SPARC

Sun introduces its first SPARC microprocessor. This chip and its offspring defined several generations of RISC-based workstations.
50,000 transistors

1989 Intel486

Intel ships its 486 processor, an enhanced 386 design. Its more than 1 million transistors included a built-in floating-point unit and 8K of internal RAM cache.
1.2 million transistors

1993 Intel Pentium

Intel ships its Pentium, incorporating a superscalar architecture whose dual-pipeline design could execute two instructions at once. With dual- integer units and a single FPU, and running at relatively high speeds, this chip (with its 3.1 million transistors) forms the basis for today's mass-market computer industry. It became the platform of choice for running Windows 95 and a host of PC applications, while at the same time bringingx86-based servers into direct competition with non-Intel machines.
3.1 million transistors

1993 IBM/Motorola PowerPC 601

IBM and Motorola's PowerPC 601 brought RISC technology to mass-market computers. It was one of the first microprocessors to implement out-of-order execution of instructions. This processor and its suc- cessors have been adopted by Apple for its Power Macintosh line.
2.8 million transistors

1995 Intel Pentium Pro

The Pentium Pro is the most powerful Intel processor in production today. It uses an aggressively superscalar design that can execute up to three instructions simultaneously. The core CPU, with 5.5 million transistors, is paired with a second chip containing a Level 2 cache. Mounted in a single package, these dies are connected by an ultra-high-speed bus. The Pentium Pro debuted at the high end of the Intel-based server market but has since found its way into high-end and even mainstream workstations.
5.5 million transistors

Copyright (c) 1997 Ziff-Davis Inc.