Sunday, June 20, 2021

Happy 40th Birthday 8086

June 8, 2021 was the 40th anniversary of the Intel 8086 microprocessor chip. Today it's usually called the x86 chip.

Here's an article on its history.

I worked in IT during those 40 years and have a few thoughts.

In the 1990s, there were several competing architectures in the enterprise realm. I especially recall DEC's Alpha and Sun's SPARC. The less said about IBM's PowerPC the better. It took me some Googling to even remember what HP's processor was. And nobody remembers Intel's Itanium. HP went all in on Itanium and look where that got them.

But these architectures locked an organization into a specific vendor. We went through a huge and expensive migration of our SAP systems from PowerPC to SPARC.

During that effort, my architect and I pushed the vendors to propose a mixed environment, i.e. proprietary processors for database servers and commodity processors (x86) for application servers.

None of the vendors would play. We ended up going with SPARC, but in the end, the battle was lost to Intel's x86 architecture.

Ironically, this success wasn't attributable to Intel but AMD.

One of the advantages that SPARC brought us was the ability to move to 64-bit architecture for our database servers. That made orders of magnitude improvements in our I/O response times.

At that time, Intel didn't support 64-bit on x86.

AMD came along and implemented a 64-bit architecture on top of Intel's x86 code. That is known as x64 and has conquered the world.

Intel played catch-up and eventually implemented x64 and, as they say, "The rest is history."

But the fat lady hasn't sung yet.

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