Happy birthday, x86! An industry standard turns 30

Happy birthday, x86! An industry standard turns 30

Intel's x86 microprocessor architecture has dominated large swaths of computing for three decades. Here's why.

1985: Intel exits the dynamic RAM business to focus on microprocessors, and it brings out the 80386 processor, a 32-bit chip with 275,000 transistors and the ability to run multiple programs at once.

1986: Compaq Computer leapfrogs IBM with the introduction of an 80386-based PC.

1987: VIA Technologies is founded to sell x86 core logic chip sets.

1989: The 80486 is launched, with 1.2 million transistors and a built-in math co-processor. Intel predicts the development of multicore processor chips some time after 2000.

Late 1980s: The complex instruction set computing (CISC) architecture of the x86 comes under fire from the rival reduced instruction set computing (RISC) architectures of the Sun Sparc, the IBM/Apple/Motorola PowerPC and the MIPS processors. Intel responds with its own RISC processor, the i860.

1990: Compaq introduces the industry's first PC servers, running the 80486.

1993: The 3.1 million transistor, 66-MHz Pentium processor with superscalar technology is introduced.

1994: AMD and Compaq form an alliance to power Compaq computers with Am486 microprocessors.

1995: The Pentium Pro, a RISC slayer, debuts with radical new features that allow instructions to be anticipated and executed out of order. That, plus an extremely fast on-chip cache and dual independent buses, enable big performance gains in some applications.

1997: Intel launches its 64-bit Epic processor technology. It also introduces the MMX Pentium for digital signal processor applications, including graphics, audio and voice processing.

1998: Intel introduces the low-end Celeron processor.

1999: VIA acquires Cyrix and Centaur Technology, makers of x86 processors and x87 co-processors.

2000: The Pentium 4 debuts with 42 million transistors.

2003: AMD introduces the x86-64, a 64-bit superset of the x86 instruction set.

2004: AMD demonstrates an x86 dual-core processor chip.

2005: Intel ships its first dual-core processor chip.

2005: Apple announces it will transition its Macintosh computers from PowerPCs made by Freescale (formerly Motorola) and IBM to Intel's x86 family of processors.

2005: AMD files antitrust litigation charging that Intel abuses "monopoly" to exclude and limit competition. (The case is still pending in 2008.)

2006: Dell announces it will offer AMD processor-based systems.

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