The Evolution Of The Pentium Processor

2682 words - 11 pages

The Pentium 4 processor, which has recently become available, is the latest in a long family of processors from Intel, that started with the 8088. Describe the development of this family. Compare the internal structures of the various members of the family and discuss the reasons for change.The Pentium 4 processor was announced in a blaze of publicity in late 2000 by Intel. It is the newest member of the most successful (in terms of unit sold) computer processors ever. It's history can be traced back to what is generally considered the first ever microprocessor - Intel's 4004 designed in 1969, and, of course, the development of transistor chips which led to it. When IBM and it's competitors used the 8088 in the first PCs, the success of the architecture which Intel now likes to call IA-32 (for Intel Architecture 32 bit, although it began as a 16 bit architecture) was assured. Recently there has been some question over the future of IA-32 whose insistence on backwards compatibility has created chips which are less efficient than rivals with more modern designs.The 8086 was the first processor in the x86 family launched in mid 1978. All future members are backwards compatible with it. It used 16-bit registers and a 16-bit data bus with 20-bit addressing and had a clock speed of 5MHz. Like it's (incompatible) predecessors from Intel, it was mostly used for calculators and specialised but simple systems such as controlling traffic lights. A year later the 8088 was launched. It was identical to the 8086 except for its restricted 8-bit external data bus (like the 8086, 16-bits were used internally). The smaller data bus allowed the chip itself to be cheaper but also the hardware attached to it could be simpler making it the chip of choice for IBM when they hastily put together the PC in response to the rapidly growing personal computing market.Because the 8086/8088 can only process 16 bits of data at one time a technique had to be developed to work with a 20-bit address line. A 16-bit segment register is set to point to a memory address and an offset from that address of zero to 64 kilobytes is set in another register. The actual memory address is created with a combination of these values, giving a total of 1 megabytes of addressable memory.The 286 was backwards compatible with the 8086 and quickly became the standard for PCs. It introduced a layer of memory abstraction called protected mode which used the segment register as pointing to descriptor tables. These descriptor tables allow for 24-bit pointers to memory, upping physical memory to a possible 16 megabytes. They also gave some limited virtual memory support, which allows a partition (some operating systems use a file) on a hard disk to act as an extention of memory giving a possible 1 gigabyte of memory, plus protection mechanisms to prevent programs in user space overwriting kernel space memory. These features gave the first hope that multi-tasking would be possible on PCs.By the mid 1980s...

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