Vintage Computers 8088, 286 , 386,486 ??

By: Maxwell Rubin

You may well have heard your uncle or father spouting odd numbers in their portrayals of their great computer expertise – 286, 386, and 8088 and on and on. Confused ? What do these numbers mean. After all I know are Pentium computers and perhaps a few other models such as Dell, IBM and Intel Duo Core. Processors. These model numbers refer to the lineage of Intel Central Processing Units (CPUs) that are found in modern

To begin with the 8088 is the oldest of the early PC central Processing Unit (CPU) variant models. which means a rectangular case with two rows of 20 pins. DIP stands for Dual In-Line Package. Older 80800 CPUs are called 8088-2. As they can only run at lower speeds (believe it not 5 MHz or slower compared to a now 4000 MHz computer). By the way the 8088 had the equivalent of approximately 27,000 transistors.

Competition from non IBM PC makers – “clone makers” who built computers out of the same components as “real” IBM PC. These hot rodders of their day souped up this first PC chip version to unheard of speeds It was not only computer speed that powered the sales growth for the clone makers. It must be remembered that pre IBM PC all of IBM’s computer hardware was made in house for IBM. The IBM PC – Personal Computer was remarkable in that most of the components were all third party – that is made by outside suppliers whose names Indeed the agreed to standards were often those developed already for products inn production. At the worst they were now IBM standardized. The die was set, when people such as Michael Dell realized that they could put together an IBM PC look-alike work alike and sell it for $ 3,000 rather than the approximate $ 10,000 for the authentic IBM PC they were off and running. Although it was often said of corporate buyers that “You can never go wrong buying IBM” for the then geeks and amateur computer users it was an entirely different business plan. They were referred to as “Turbo” PCs.

However it was not only cost that propelled the computer industry onwards. If it was not for the innovators – the clone maker’s engineers at such companies as Compaq Computer you might still be using that now primitive IBM PC running at 5 MHz. The Turbo PC/XT clones ran at the then unbelievable and unheard of speed of 6.6, 7.16 and even 8.0 MHz. Giant IBM the monolith computer industry leader was not only being made to look foolish with .the likes of Apple Computer in far away California but now that they had released their long heralded personal computer they were being upstaged on their own playing field.
Next in line along the route of vintage computer evolution was the 80286 chip. Designed by Intel in 1981 the 286 packed a wallop of more power that the 8088 did. The 80286 is the equivalent of about 130,000 transistors in the actual similar volume of the 8088’s 29,000 transistors. Not unexpectedly similar to the heat production problem of todays Pentium type computers extra cooling requirement is needed. We are left today in our modern computers with the benefits of the foresight of the electronic engineers of the day with the inventions of various types of heat sinks. Heat sinks one way or another are in effect radiators to dispel heat in a similar means and manner to you might have in your car.

Lastly came the 386 chipset which is the direct predecessor of our modern Pentiums.
The chip is properly called the 80386 by the still leading chip manufacture Intel. Introduced in 1985, the 80386 comes in a PGA package and is the equivalent of about 250,000 transistors. The 386 variants a wealth of programming features including the core vital ability to multitask DOS programs with the help of “hyerpervisor” programs like DesqView /386 or VRM/386. Its 32 bit data path speeds data access. Interestingly it took later hardware in the next 486 era chips to fully take broad scale advantage of these built in innovations.

Interestingly enough there was also a downsized less costly and powerful example sporting a similar moniker name of CPU called the 386SX. The 386SX was identical except to the real 386 version – the 386DX except for the vital fact that it had a 16 bit data path which it was said allowed it be more easily incorporated into earlier and less costly AT type 286 16 bit computer hardware. Imagine the confusion at the time in computer buyers who did not have access to ready information as we do today on the internet. Many people bought what they thought were an advanced 386 computer when in essence they had a much downsized version. Most likely they were more than impressed with their own research, computer buying and bargaining skills.

In the end though you get what you pay for. The fabled John Dvorak “Dvorak’s Law is that “No matter what they tell you your next computer will cost you…” At the time of the 8088 it was $ 10,000 then $ 5,000 $, $ 3,000, $ 1500 now $ 500- 800 perhaps.
In the end you get a tremendous amount for value for your money. Even though it may be said as well that you get what you pay for.

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Max Rubin Vintage Retro Computer Manuals

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