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Intel samples 32-bit micro

New Electronics archive: March 1981

Unfortunately for Intel's managing director Keith Chapple, after five years of research and up to $20million of investment, the company's 'much heralded' 32bit device was an underwhelming success.

When released in 1981, the iAPX 432 was Intel's first 32bit microprocessor design and was intended to be the company's main product line for the 1980s, but several design features conspired to make it slower at the hardware level than many contemporary devices.

While a relatively minor problem was that the two chip implementation of the GDP limited it to the speed of the motherboard's electrical wiring, a more serious issue was the lack of reasonable caches in the original implementation. The instruction set also used bit aligned variable length instructions which made instruction decoding more complex than in most other designs. In addition, it was designed to support fault tolerant systems, and in doing so added considerable overhead to the bus.

However, post project research suggested that the major problem was the Ada compiler developed for it, which used expensive 'general' instructions instead of high performance, simpler ones.

While Intel created the first commercial microprocessor chip in 1971, it was not until the success of the pc that this became their primary business. During the 1990s, it invested heavily in new microprocessor designs fostering the rapid growth of the computer industry. During this period Intel became the dominant supplier of microprocessors for pcs and is now notorious in the industry as the world's largest chip maker.

Laura Hopperton

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