A detailed history of the processor

Athlon 64, Athlon 64 X2 and Sempron (2003)

AMD’s Athlon 64 is the successor to the Athlon XP and is the second of AMD’s processors to to implement its own 64-bit architecture. The first processor to implement that 64-bit technology was the AMD Opteron, but that was targeted at commercial uses, such as servers and workstations. The Athlon 64, however, is the first 64-bit processor aimed at the consumer market. So, in a way, this is AMD’s first venture into 64-bit territory.

In the Athlon 64, AMD a second bus, the northbridge, to connect the CPU to the chipset and device attachment bus. AMD did this through a high-performance technology called HyperTransport (which boasted speeds of 800 MT/s to 1000 MT/s at the the time).

It’s worth noting that the Athlon 64 was only a single-core processor. However, AMD eventually launched an improved version of the Athlon 64, the Athlon 64 X2. This newer version launched in 2005 was the first dual-core desktop processor that was designed by AMD. In May of 2006, AMD released Athlon 64 X2 versions with AMD virtualization technology, commonly referred to as AMD-V.

Before that, AMD launched another processor called the Athlon 64 FX, which was intended towards hardware enthusiasts (like gamers). This is for a number of reasons, two of them being that its multipliers were always unlocked and that they always had the highest clock speeds of all the Athlons at launch. Eventually, AMD launched the Athlon 64 FX-60, which is when the Athlon 64 FX line went dual-core.

At the time of the Athlon 64’s launch, it was only available in Socket 754 and Socket 940. They introduced the Athlon 64 in Socket 754 largely because its onboard memory controller was incapable of running non-registered or unbuffered memory in dual-channel. Eventually, AMD launched the Athlon 64 on another socket — Socket 939. This was intended for the mainstream market with the dual-channel memory interface fix. This essentially replaces Socket 754, so Athlon 64s sold on Socket 754 were essentially moved to a budget line of processors.

AMD actually referred to its budget line of processors as Sempron, which was made out of a variety of different CPUs. The second generation of this line was loosely based on the Athlon 64 architecture, but earlier versions did not include the 64-bit technology, but also a reduced cache size. In the second half of 2005, AMD actually added the AMD64 support to the Sempron line in order to extend the market of 64-bit processors. This is because, at the time, 64-bit processors were a pretty niche market.

Pentium 4 Prescott, Celeron D and Pentium D (2005)

The Pentium 4 Prescott was introduced in 2004 to mixed feelings. The Pentium 4 Prescott was the first core to use the 90nm semiconductor manufacturing process. Many weren’t happy with it because the Prescott was essentially a restructuring of the Pentium 4’s microarchitecture. While that’d normally be a good thing, there weren’t too many positives. Some programs were enhanced by the doubled cache as well as the SSE3 instruction set. Unfortunately, there were other programs that suffered because of the longer instruction pipeline.

It’s also worth noting that the Pentum 4 Prescott was able to achieve some pretty high clock speeds, but not nearly as high as Intel was hoping. One version of the Prescott was actually able to obtain speeds of 3.8GHz. Eventually, Intel released a version of the Prescott supporting Intel’s 64-bit architecture, Intel 64. To start out, these were only sold as the F-series to OEMs, but Intel eventually renamed it to the 5×1 series, which was sold to consumers.

Intel introduced another version of the Prentium 4 Prescott, which was the Celeron D. A major difference with them is that they sported double the L1 and L2 cache than the previous Willamette and Northwood desktop Celerons. Not only that, but you got the SSE3 instruction set and they were manufactured on Socket 478. The Celeron D overall was a major performance improvement over many of the previous NetBurst-based Celerons. While there were major performance improvements across the board, it had a huge problem — excessive heat.

Eventually, Intel would go on to refresh the Celeron D, but this time with 64-bit architecture. Unfortunately, Intel never built these with Socket 478, but with the LGA 775 socket type.

Another one Intel made was the Pentium D. You can look at this processor as the dual-core variant of the Pentium 4 Prescott. You obviously get all the benefits that an extra core brings, but the other notable improvement with the Pentium D was that it could run multi-threaded applications. There were a few different generations of the Pentium D, all featuring small and minor improvements over the other, but the Pentium D series was eventually retired in 2008. The Pentium D had a lot of pitfalls, including high power consumption and that a single core of the Pentium D was built on two dies (more energy efficient CPUs and slower dual-core CPUs were on just a single die).

The true and overall better successor was the Intel Core 2 brand, which had a lot of success.

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  1. Your Notes are very clear and Excelent. If you can update to current, it is very good.

    Thank you

  2. Your notes have helped me a lot about something i’ve been looking for in the past week.your Your notes are excelent thanx

  3. Just to point out that you state the 80186 never made it into a personal computer, however i owned a 186 system around 1992 that was made my Research Machines.
    Just thought you would like to know.

    • There was also a Tandy / Radio Shack PC that used an 80186. Just one model that didn’t last for more than a year. Their usual black and silver case. I can’t swear that it was 100% compatible with the usual instruction sets that software depended on.

      • Hugh Wyn Griffith says:

        That Tandy 186 was the Tandy 2000 and its graphics were not 100% compatible with Windows much to the distress of users (I was one when I bought my first “almost-PC” in the UK back in the ’90’s). This caused a lot of ill feeling between users and Tandy. The Users Group launched a monthly called “Orphans” and hated Ed Juge (who died recently) the then CEO of Tandy for not providing any support.

        I was amused a few years ago when Googling on Tandy 2000 to pull up a full page advert for it from one of the well known magazines at that time in which Bill Gates lauded it saying how much his programmers depended on it for its performance! Might explain some of Windows problems if they were using a non-conforming PC !

    • u probably have the one that was made in 1990 then that was the 1 that did make it in2 the personal computer as is later stated in there

  4. The 5×86 was not AMD’s answer to the Pentium, the P5 was. The 5×86 was made to offer a greater performance boost to the millions of 486 PC’s out there, as it would work in (almost) any 486 motherboard with a socketed CPU or overdrive socket.

  5. Chris, It doesn’t say it was AMD’s answer. It was their “competitive response to Intel’s Pentium-class processor”
    on a 486 motherboard.

    Also, not mentioned is why Intel went from a number designation to a name title, the number, was actually the stock number. As I was told by a Intel Rep. at a Comdex show (Vegas) ’94-’95. As Intel tried to sue AMD for copy right infringement. Like a fragrance, you can’t CR. the recipe only the name. They lost on the grounds, you can’t copy right a stock number (80486)! So they, Intel started using name designation (Pentium). As well as AMD did the same.

  6. This is great, im supposed to be at work, but im reading this, just spent quite a while reading it. Its very interesting, Thank You

  7. Bill Buchanan says:

    Correction to information provided on the Intel 80186 (1980).
    This Processor was used in one desk top system but the system did not sell well. The company was Tandy and the model was Tandy 2000. There is a very good page at: http://www.old-computers.com/museum/computer.asp?c=1219 covering the processor.

  8. Mick Russom says:

    Acorn’s Master 512 PC had a 10MHz 80186 CPU which ran MS-DOS and GEM. I would say this qualifies it as a “PC” running a 80186 running MS-DOS.

  9. Sandy Jelusic says:

    I have at home an pc desktop powered by an 8088 at 3.5 mhz with turbo mode, black-yellow monitor, 20mb disk and only 5.25” floppy. As for dos I think it’s ibm-dos. Not really certain.

  10. Very knowledgeful. Please update with latest changes.

  11. Really your services are good we like it please keep it up.

  12. chelle-marie says:

    that is great i loved the little joke:

    “The following chips are considered the dinosaurs of the computer world. PC’s based on these processors are the kind that usually sit around in the garage or warehouse collecting dust. They are not of much use anymore, but us geeks don’t like throwing them out because they still work. You know who you are.”

    sounds just like my tech teacher becouse he is always complaining about how things have changed and shows us pictures from back when computers still used tapes and how he used to get paid to change the tapes every two hours for a hospitle

  13. Mary Alice Thauvette says:

    This article was posted 23-Mar-01. That was nine years ago. It is time to update the article. Or, at least change the title of the last section from :1999 – Present” to “1999 – March 2001”

  14. what is the significances of the number like 8086 in the processor

  15. thanks for the notess

  16. amandu benard says:

    i love the notes they are precise and straight to key needed aspects thank you very much

  17. roger crouch says:

    This article lacks credibility. The first chip of the series was the 8080, then the 8085 was made (the 5 indicating it only needed +5v and ground instead of +-5 and +12) https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-difference-between-8085-and-8086 So the only true thing that can be said about the 8086 was that it was 16bit 8080 processor with improved IC features and more command set.

    • Mike Spooner says:

      From certain perspectives, the “first chip of the series” was the 4004 (1971), or pehaps the 8008 (1972), the 4040 (1974), 8080 (1974), or…

      In fact, the 8080 external interface was distinctly different from the 8086, in idea, not just width – for example, 8080 pin 21 (DMA acknowledge).

      The 8086 was (almost) binary compatible with the 8080 for “regular programs” ie: not ones that twiddled ports nor relied on specific interrupt/trap behaviour.

      So where do you draw the line? Where does Bob draw it? WHere does Fiona draw it? All in different places, I suspect.

      The author obviously chose to draw their line at the 8086, probably because delving back beyond the original IBM PC machines might not be worthwhile given a presumed intended audience…

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