The processor that started Intel's 32 bit line of x86 chips. Some say the 386 was the high point of Intel's CPU making career, and I sometimes agree. Everything that came after was simply piling more crud on top, making the chips faster but holding onto all the useless baggage from previous generation (like x86 Real Mode). Something totally new should have come after the 386, or maybe the 486. The Pentium was a joke, especially the P60. Friggin' 1/2" x 1/2" die...

You could say that the 80386 was the first "real" processor Intel ever made. It finally had all the things that 'big' computers of the time had; multitasking, protected memory, virtual memory... and the 32-bit guts didn't hurt either.

As an interesting side note, under my window sill at home, serving as one leg of a shelf, is an old NEC Powermate 3/25. A 386dx-25, dontcha' know. The interesting thing about it is that it possesses a mythical Intel 385 chip as well. Why? Because this baby has 16 SIMM slots, which can each (in theory) take an 8 meg 30-pin SIMM, for a total of 128 meg of RAM. Unheard of in the heady days of '90.

We hear specifications of microcomputers which classify them as n-bit computers, for example 16-bit computers. n used to be equal to the length of the accumulator1, since the accumulator was the recipient of incoming values (from the memory) and the results of arithmetic and logical operations, which in turn were mainly transferred back to memory. Due to this fact the accumulator was usually designed to have equal size to the size of the data bus. Thus an n-bit microcomputer implied a data bus and an accumulator of size n.

However, life is rarely so simple, and putting the blame on large multi-billion corporations is fun. Intel, after announcing the popular microprocessor 80386DX which was a true 32-bit processor with a 32-bit accumulator and a 32-bit data bus, decided this was too expensive a solution and released the 80386SX which had a cheap 32-bit accumulator, and cut the data bus down to 16-bits, in turn, forcing two CPU cycles to load data into the accumulator.

This scenario had once before been encountered, the 8088 and 8086 microprocessors were identical internally but had a different data bus width (8 / 16 respectively).

1 The coolest register of them all, back with the 8080 they only had only one register to perform mathematical functions on, called The Accumulator, da daa!!

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