Happy birthday, x86! An industry standard turns 30

Intel's x86 microprocessor architecture has dominated large swaths of computing for three decades. Here's why.

Timeline: A brief history of the x86 microprocessor

Here's a peek at the events and technologies that led to the development of Intel's x86 architecture, plus milestones in its 30-year reign.

1947: The transistor is invented at Bell Labs.

1965: Gordon Moore at Fairchild Semiconductor observes in an article for Electronics magazine that the number of transistors on a semiconductor chip doubles every year. For microprocessors, it will double about every two years for more than three decades.

1968: Moore, Robert Noyce and Andy Grove found Intel to pursue the business of "INTegrated ELectronics."

1969: Intel announces its first product, the world's first metal oxide semiconductor (MOS) static RAM, the 1101. It signals the end of magnetic core memory.

1971: Intel launches the world's first microprocessor, the 4-bit 4004, designed by Federico Faggin.

The 2,000-transistor chip is made for a Japanese calculator, but a farsighted Intel ad calls it "a microprogrammable computer on a chip."

1972: Intel announces the 8-bit 8008 processor. Teenagers Bill Gates and Paul Allen try to develop a programming language for the chip, but it is not powerful enough.

1974: Intel introduces the 8-bit 8080 processor, with 4,500 transistors and 10 times the performance of its predecessor.

1975: The 8080 chip finds its first PC application in the Altair 8800, launching the PC revolution. Gates and Allen succeed in developing the Altair Basic language, which will later become Microsoft Basic, for the 8080.

1976: The x86 architecture suffers a setback when Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak introduce the Apple II computer using the 8-bit Motorola 6502 processor. PC maker Commodore also uses the Intel competitor's chip.

1978: Intel introduces the 16-bit 8086 microprocessor. It will become an industry standard.

1979: Intel introduces a lower-cost version of the 8086, the 8088, with an 8-bit bus.

1980: Intel introduces the 8087 math co-processor.

1981: IBM picks the Intel 8088 to power its PC. An Intel executive would later call it "the biggest win ever for Intel."

1982: IBM signs Advanced Micro Devices as second source to Intel for 8086 and 8088 microprocessors.

1982: Intel introduces the 16-bit 80286 processor with 134,000 transistors.

1984: IBM develops its second-generation PC, the 80286-based PC-AT. The PC-AT running MS-DOS will become the de facto PC standard for almost 10 years.

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