Monday, June 1, 2009

History of the Microprocessor

1971 - A Japanese company decides the calculator market is just like the transistor radio market. The only problem is that the Americans, who had obligingly invented the transistor, had not yet invented the microprocessor. The Japanese pay a small American company named Intel to create a four bit processor.

1974 - Every person in the world who wants a hand-held calculator already has one. Intel repositions the microprocessor as a device for hobbyists to build unreliable home computers.

1976 - Motorola and National Semiconductor decide to get in on the act with their own microprocessors, allowing many different varieties of unreliable home computers to be built by hobbyists.

1977 - A pair of hobbyists in a garage in Cupertino produce a computer that’s not quite as unreliable as most of the others. They call it an Apple. They sell a hundred of them. One of the buyers writes a program to make fiction look presentable. He calls it VisiCalc. He sells a gazillion copies and the guys in Cupertino sell a gazillion computers to run VisiCalc.

1980 - IBM decides their bean counters shouldn’t have to use non-IBM computers to make their fiction look presentable. The IBM PC is designed. The latest Intel chip, the 8086, is deemed too advanced for the IBM engineers to understand. They choose a simpler version called the 8088.

1981 - The IBM PC is introduced. Bean counters nationwide switch to it en masse. Apple has to sell computers to schools because businessmen stop buying them.

1982 – Intel announces the successor to the 8086, the 80186. Unfortunately, they forgot to include any new features in it, so computer manufacturers ignore it. Most of these chips end up in garage door openers.

1983 - Intel announces a new version of their chip called the 80286. They actually include some new features. Eventually IBM and everyone else making small computers except Apple use it in their computers.

1983 – Motorola invents the most advanced chip on the planet, with blazing speed and a flat memory architecture. Apple immediately adopts it for their forthcoming Macintosh series. The rest of the computer manufacturers decide to pretend it doesn’t exist.

1984 – IBM’s first computer based on the 80286 appears. It’s called the IBM PC-AT. Adoption of the 80286 architecture is hindered because the original AT includes a hard drive with approximately the same useful life span as leftover Chinese food.

1984 – The Macintosh is introduced as “the computer for the rest of us”. The rest of us keep buying IBM PCs.

1985-1993 - Repeat the 80286 story from 1983 over and over again with higher numbers for the chip.

1992 - Seventy-nine companies announce plans to produce RISC processors which they all predict will displace Intel processors.

1994-95 - Fifty-two of the companies actually produce their RISC processors, and they all compete with one another for the 2.5% of the market not owned by Intel. Most die within weeks. DEC’s RISC processor, the Alpha, actually manages a slow, lingering death that takes about three years. The last RISC survivor, the PowerPC chip, is chosen for the next generation of Macintosh computers, since Apple’s executives would rather chew broken glass than use an Intel chip.

1994 – Intel is feverishly working on their latest chip, the 80586. A court decision says numbers can’t be copyrighted, unless they are on stock cars. NASCAR refuses to allow a car with a five digit number, so Intel decides to change naming conventions for their chips. Their new convention calls for using random combinations of Roman sounding words, Roman numerals, and one or more suffixes such as Pro, Plus, and Premium. The first Roman sounding word chosen is the Pentium.

1997 – Intel introduces a new version of their Pentium processor called the Celeron, based on the Latin word for “speed”. The chip is deliberately crippled to slow it down. Inspired by seeing Intel get away with this reversal of meaning, the following year Bill Clinton decides to redefine the term “sexual relations”.

1999 – Having almost run out of combinations that satisfy their chip naming conventions, Intel’s newest chip is called the Pentium IV Pro Plus Premium With Cheese. Intel’s crack development staff starts to work on new naming conventions for their chips.

2000 – Intel introduces their first 64 bit chip. They decide that their 64 bit naming convention will be the “names of metals minus a missing first letter” arrangement. Accordingly, they name their first 64-bit chip the Itanium. Names held in reserve include the Agnesium, the Odium, and the Rohmium.

2001-2004 – Intel introduces so many Pentium versions that everyone loses track of what they mean, and stops paying attention to anything but the clock rating. Moving from Roman sounding words to words that sound like sub-atomic particles, Intel attaches the name “Centrino” to one class of Pentium chips.

2005 – At a press conference, Apple announces that the next generation of Macintosh computers will be based on an Intel processor. Reporters ignore the driblets of blood coming out of the corner of the Apple executive’s mouths.

2006 – Intel market research discovers that people no longer give a flip if a computer has “Intel Inside” as long as they can download porn on it. To replace “Intel Inside”, Intel sponsors a contest for the most meaningless hi-tech slogan anyone can think up. The winner is “Leap Ahead”. Confused customers think the slogan has something to do with daylight savings time.

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