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Jun052008

x86! An industry standard turns 30

Thirty years ago, on June 8, 1978, Intel Corp. introduced its first 16-bit microprocessor, the 8086, with a splashy ad heralding “the dawn of a new era.” Overblown? Sure, but also prophetic. While the 8086 was slow to take off, its underlying architecture — later referred to as x86 — would become one of technology’s most impressive success stories.

“X86” refers to the set of machine language instructions that certain microprocessors from Intel and a few other companies execute. It essentially defines the vocabulary and usage rules for the chip. X86 processors — from the 8086 through the 80186, 80286, 80386, 80486 and various Pentium models, right down to today’s multicore chips and processors for mobile applications — have over time incorporated a growing x86 instruction set, but each has offered backward compatibility with earlier members of the family.

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