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Thread: A new article about x86 processors

  1. #1

    Default A new article about x86 processors

    I dare to share a link to my translation from Russian of an article about x86 - https://litwr.livejournal.com/436.html
    It is a part of a series - https://litwr.livejournal.com/tag/processor (its original - https://habr.com/post/410591/)
    It will be interesting to get some comments and additions. I am especially interested why 80186 was used so rarely. Was there any reason for this? I am not a native English speaker so please excuse me my a bit not proper language. Indeed, I will be glad to get any corrections of grammar or stylistic. Thank you.

  2. #2
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    The original 80186 had many incompatibilities with IBM PC architecture. Because it integrated things like the Programmable Interrupt Controller (PIC), Intel made decisions that conflicted with PC BIOS compatibility such as fixing the hardware IRQ mappings to vectors that conflicted with IBM BIOS interrupt numbers. It was mainly used as an embedded processor.
    "Good engineers keep thick authoritative books on their shelf. Not for their own reference, but to throw at people who ask stupid questions; hoping a small fragment of knowledge will osmotically transfer with each cranial impact." - Me

  3. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by vol.litwr View Post
    I am especially interested why 80186 was used so rarely. Was there any reason for this?
    80186 (and 8018 contains integrated PIC/timer/DMA, but they aren't fully compatible with the chips used on the IBM PC mobo.
    Which means 80186/80188 computers can't be fully compatible with IBM PC.
    Anyway, these chips weren't really rare, they were pretty common in various controllers and similar devices, only rare as a PC CPU.

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    Intel was, at the time, competing with itself. The 8086/8088 was already an established product with a full line of (mostly 8-bit) peripheral support chips. If you'd done an 8085 design, the 8088 wasn't terribly different. (the 8257/37, 8259 and 8253/54 were designed for the 8080 world).

    At the time, Intel was also advertising its "Micro Mainframe" iAPX432 chipset as the next step-up in power. That project ended disastrously.
    At the same time Intel was working on the 80186, the 80286 project was in the works and Intel made sure that its customers were aware of it. Many chose to wait for the 80286 as it had significant features over the 8086. With the 80186, it was difficult to see where the chip fit into the overall picture--was it intended as a microcontroller or a microprocessor? When IBM went from the 8088 to the 80286, that pretty much locked out the 80186 from the PC picture, although it continued to be used quite widely in embedded designs.

  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by vol.litwr View Post
    I am especially interested why 80186 was used so rarely. Was there any reason for this?
    More factors at play: The 80186 was released more or less simultaneously with the 80286, so there was no prolonged period of time in which the 186 represented the pinnacle of Intel's technology. It had the exact same pin package as the 80286, so it had no packaging advantage. Maybe it was cheaper than the 80286 (the 80188 certainly would have been)...that could have been its only impetus for use in computers.

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    At the time the 80186 was released (1982), it wasn't clear if the IBM PC would make any sort of market impact, so at least in the beginning, PC compatibility wasn't a consideration for most manufacturers. Since the world was doomed to run MS-DOS for years, it wasn't even clear if the incompatibilities would matter (based on earlier experience with CP/M).

    Just trying to present a balanced picture from one who was there. We worked with pre-release steppings of the 186, so I remember the discussions pretty well.

  7. #7

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    For the millionth time the 80188/80186 can be incorporated into a fully IBM compatible design. No you can't utilize most of the onboard peripherals, so you can't have your cake and eat it. There were a limited number of units that incorporated them rather successfully.

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    And, the natural question would be "what's the point, then?" True, you get some speed over an 8MHz 8086 and a slightly expanded instruction set, but that's scarcely a significant reason to go with a design that will cost significantly more.

  9. #9

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    Didn't the V20/V30 offer all the instruction set/clock efficiencies of the '18x, without the compatibility problems? Research Machines made the RM-Nimbus for quite a while with it, and their own versions of MS-DOS and Windows with it.

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    Yes, it did--and boasted an 8080 instruction emulation feature as well. The V40/50 are even closer to a PC with their integrated peripherals; something that didn't come about in the 186 until the 186EB. When the 80186 debuted, it was sole-sourced, whereas the 8086/88 had several second sources (witness the number of 5150s that were shipped with someone else's 8088).

    There's also the danger that some bit of malicious or careless code will stumble upon your Control Block and play with it. I wonder how many 186 vendors just kept the control block at I/O port 0ff00h...

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