X86 architecture, an essential history of computing

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Knowing the x86 architecture is known based processors still brief history of computing. There are millions sold to processors throughout history that implement it, and it has been an architecture which led to the success of companies like Microsoft and Intel and the concept of the personal computer. x86 is a technological milestone that deserves worth being analyzed and studied in great depth.

Then the thoroughly know, desmigaremos its history, will place on the market and explain the technical characteristics of the most notable architecture CISC market. x86 is one of the most important creations in the world of hardware, and know it is imperative to understand the history of computing and its current state. So come in and read, everyone is invited

A little history

Intel 4004Intel 4004

In 1971 Intel introduced the first commercial processor market, the 4004 . It was a model with 4-bit bus and intended for use in calculators, very ancient but considered the cornerstone of all that is present in that decade. He followed the Intel 8008 and 8080 in 1972 and 1974, respectively, with instruction set designed by Datapoint Corporation and intended to be used in more advanced calculators of the time.

Following these models Intel started a huge project that sought to reinvent the world of processors. In 1975 began the designs iAPX 432 architecture ( Intel Advanced Processor Architecture ) 32-bit, with improved multitasking and memory management for the family of 8000 , with an architecture designed in OOP and the ability to manage multiple processes simultaneously. However, seeing that competition preparing their new products (Motorola 6800, MOS 6502 or Zilog Z80) and considering how ambitious the project 432 which would require them to spend several years without a new product, they decided to start a new job Although initially could be considered temporary, is what has kept him busy for all these decades.

Intel 8086Intel 8086, 1979

In May 1976 began developing a new processor that went on sale a couple of years later, in mid-1978.The Intel 8086 backward compatibility with software included in the previous 8008 and 8080, using transistors 3 microns (about 135 times larger than the current 22-nanometer) and a frequency of 4.77 MHz to Most important of all was the introduction of one new instruction set designed by Intel and called x86-16 . It was a small success for Intel, and while it was really powerful for the time its price was considered excessive. One of the most curious is that while 8086 was invented by Intel, other companies like OKI , Siemens, Fujitsu or AMD clones distributed in the market for this model fully compatible and even improved in some aspects of the original features.

A few months later, on July 1, 1979 was presented the Intel 8088 , a cheaper version of 8086 with virtually all of its features, and it took IBM to its main ally. The IBM PC 5150 , considered the first personal computer (‘PC’) massive sales history, used the 8088 to the detriment of other competing processors because of its high availability, ease of programming and low price. The IBM PC, which was about $ 3,000, was a best seller since its launch on August 12, 1981.

Intel was then positioned as its main product a new family of chips: the processors ‘x86’ , defined well by using the same set of instructions, but has evolved over the years, still uses many of the original features.

Intel 80286Intel 80286, 1982

The 8086 is considered the first x86 history , although the model catapulted to fame was the Intel 8088. He was succeeded by the 80186, 80286, 80386 and 80486, known as 186, 286, 386 and 486 that were submitted during the 80’s and early 90 teams in total under the concept that was created in the IBM PC, which was a complete success. After the Intel 80×86 moved to the well-known Pentium, Pentium with the first in 1993 followed by Pentium Pro, Pentium II, Pentium III and Pentium 4. Even current Ivy Bridge keep the brand ‘Pentium’ in one of its lower-end models.

Intel PentiumIntel Pentium, 1992

In turn, that iAPX 432 architecture so many expectations generated in its gestation was finally presented in 1981, but greatly disappointed users who felt that offered a much lower performance than expected. Intel abandoned a few months after filing the public.

From the first x86 back in the seventies, Intel has been responsible for moving the baton which is considered the main architecture CISC history , although not the only one: Motorola, DEC and especially IBM have submitted processors CISC throughout history. Its main characteristics are described later, but first we’ll stop talking about an important topic: the x86 license .

x86 and licenses

We mentioned in the previous article of this series ARM architectures and designs its sold this intellectual property to other companies, in charge of making these designs, modify them if necessary and then order the production of the final processor. Intel takes a dual role of designer and manufacturer of its processors, as also sells licenses to other manufacturers.

The clearest example of company that will license Intel x86 architecture is found in AMD , who for decades Intel agreed to a contract that allows you make chips with the same instruction set, so that they are fully compatible although they use different hardware software. Currently, only AMD and VIAhave x86 licenses provided by Intel, besides itself logically. Market shares speak for themselves:

Licensing percentages diagram x86Diagram percentages x86 license ( via Hardware.info )

Intel X86 and its main features

The company’s long experience has affected many and notable changes in many aspects, ranging from the improvement in the size of the data buses (16, 32 and now 64-bit) added multiple new instructions that have been adapted to the new uses of technology

For example the 8086 did not have floating point operations, which Intel pear created a math coprocessor to undertake the following: a small extension was called on x86 x87 and released under the name 8087, 80187, 80287, 80387, 80487 and the last 80 587, and the mid-90s. This was independent processors provided a certain extra performance in software, but rather assumed that the additional cost with respect to the original equipment was not considered very cheap. For a couple of decades all commercial x86 processors include instructions for floating point operations, which do not need an additional coprocessor except in certain very specific uses that require a high computing power, such systems as NVidia Tesla .

Intel 8086 block diagramSchematic diagram of the Intel 8086 ( via Wikipedia )

x86 has also been including new sets of instructions and older records to meet all kinds of tasks.MMX , adding the records used in the x87 architecture has been one of the best known and was included in a set of models based on the Pentium and launched in 1996, although there are many more: SSE (Streaming SIMD Extensions in versions SSE , SSE2, SSE3, SSSE3 and SSE4; introduced multiple data manipulation instructions for floating point, integer or memory locations), 3DNow! ( an evolution of MMX , also for graphics application) or AES (newest to encryption of data). In Wikipedia, see a brief summary of the commands available , although the most complete documentation is provided by Intel itself and consists of a few thousand pages.

If you take a look at the pair of links x86 will see that we will have hundreds of instructions , many complex instructions may be subdivided into several smaller. But the philosophy of CISC is precisely this: to provide a comprehensive set of instructions that may include multiple tasks simpler. The algorithm fried egg introductory our first entry was:

  • Step 1: Put the pan on the hob
  • Step 2: Pour oil
  • Step 3: Heat oil
  • Step 4: Wait until it is hot
  • Step 5: egg Cascar
  • Step 6: Pour carefully over the hot oil
  • Step 7: With the help of a palette, pour the oil over the egg
  • Step 8: Check the already cooked egg and, in that case, a plate out

Suppose that each of these ‘steps’ can run on an Intel 8088. However, playing the Intel proceed to launch the Pentium MMX with new instructions which are two new ones: [Pouring and heat the oil] and [Cascar egg and carefully pour the hot oil] , both more complex the above. If our algorithm were to use the result would be:

  • Step 1: Put the pan on the hob
  • Step 2: Pour the oil and heat
  • Step 4: Wait until it is hot
  • Step 5: Cascar egg and carefully pour the hot oil
  • Step 7: With the help of a palette, pour the oil over the egg
  • Step 8: Check the already cooked egg and, in that case, a plate out

A few years later we are designing Pentium 4 and decided to try a new instruction, [Pouring and heat the oil until it reaches its optimum temperature] , which could again modify the algorithm:

  • Step 1: Put the pan on the hob
  • Step 2: Pour the oil and heat until it reaches its optimum temperature
  • Step 5: Cascar egg and carefully pour the hot oil
  • Step 7: With the help of a palette, pour the oil over the egg
  • Step 8: Check the already cooked egg and, in that case, a plate out

We could continue to add new increasingly complex instructions to complete our task, minimizing the number of steps but still these increasingly complex. Even bringing philosophy to the extreme, if we see that our users / customers do many eggs fried in their developments might implement a single instruction:

  • Step 0: Make a fried egg

That would be the most complex of all.

Another fundamental aspect is performance x86 processors . Throughout history has proven to be a very powerful architecture , but this has its counterpart: are a set of processors that consume more energy than models ARM .

X86 architecture, conclusions

We end this chapter of our special architectures with some final conclusions on x86 , one of the most important in history.

X86 performance has grown substantially with each new generation of processors. Intel, as a great creator of the architecture has been adapted to new uses by users, not only adding new instructions but new chips. The latter has been introducing a graphics processing unit with the CPU , enabling cost savings and a set that while not overly powerful image processing, it is sufficient for many users.

Intel logo

The future of the x86 architecture to blend their traditional business desktops and laptops with this new category of devices ‘portable’, mainly phones and tablets. Intel has already introduced the technology in some devices with a remodeled Intel Atom low power , and throughout this year’s confirmed its use in many other gadgets of various brands.

On the other hand, the great rival of x86 is ARM , an architecture whose growth in recent years is still important to get introduced in small devices, efficient and generally more attractive pricing, seducing many users. No doubt that Intel will continue to evolve its main architecture to new uses of technology and we will continue talking about it for many years.

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