Where is the CPU morphing software running

Digital lifestyle

The first computers in the 1930s still worked on an electromechanical basis, a few years later - as with ENIAC - electron tubes were in vogue. The shift to transistors followed, then to integrated circuits, before the microprocessor finally emerged in the 1970s, which today is the heart of our digital devices.

CPU definition and components

Processors, also known as central processing units or common "central processing units", or CPUs for short, form a programmable arithmetic unit and use algorithms to control the processing of data on the basis of instruction sets. CPUs are not only used in classic computers, but also in computer-like devices - often as microcontrollers in embedded systems that can now be found in almost every imaginable area of ​​everyday life, from coffee machines to beverage machines and tumble dryers towards the smartphone.

The classic main components of a modern processor are:

  • Arithmetic unit (arithmetic-logical unit, ALU),

  • Control unit,

  • Register,

  • Intermediate storage (caches),

  • Data lines (buses)

  • as well as a memory manager.

Most modern CPUs - especially those that drive servers - are computing units with multiple cores, i.e. multi-core processors. In addition, CPUs can be supported by integrated co-processors - for example a dedicated graphics processing unit (GPU).

Processors - this is how CPUs work

How these components work in detail and how they work together as a whole - this is what the following video will show you:

CPU manufacturers - the 'who is who'

The main, or best-known, manufacturers of processors in 2020 are AMD and Intel. This is primarily because these two companies are the largest manufacturers of x86 CPUs, which are mainly used in notebooks and desktop PCs. Other important processor manufacturers include:

  • Apple

  • Fujitsu

  • Hitachi

  • IBM

  • Infineon

  • Oracle

  • Qualcomm

  • NXP

  • Nvidia

Apart from AMD and Intel, however, only a few manufacturers can still develop their own chips, for example IBM for its mainframes or Oracle with the Sparc CPUs taken over from Sun Microsystems. In the smartphone or industrial environment in particular, chip manufacturers such as Qualcomm or Infineon rely on CPU designs from the British provider ARM, which does not manufacture any processors itself. ARM chips are characterized by their compact design and good energy efficiency, which is a decisive factor, especially for mobile devices.

In the 1970s and 1980s in particular, many other companies shaped the CPU image significantly - for example:

  • Cyrix

  • Centaur Technology

  • Motorola

  • MOS Technology

  • National Semiconductor

  • NexGen

  • Rockwell International

  • Sun Microsystems

  • Texas Instruments

  • Unisys

  • VIA

  1. The evolution of the CPUs
    The rapid development of CPUs from the first 8086 from 1978 to the current Intel Core i7 was primarily fueled by the competition between AMD and Intel. The web service MaximumPC has documented the development.
  2. Intel 8086
    It all started with the 16-bit 8086 microprocessor. Intel brought it out in 1978. The manufacturer placed 29,000 transistors inside the chip with three-micrometer structures. The clock frequency was initially 4.77 megahertz. Later versions calculated with up to 10 megahertz. The 8086 was backwards compatible with the 8080 and 8085 processors and could address 1 MB of memory. That turned out to be the basis for the success of the chip.

    Did you know: Industrial spies of the former Soviet Union got the chip design. This enabled the Soviet engineers to recreate the 8086. The K1810BM86 manufactured in the Soviet Union is pin-compatible with the Intel chip.
  3. Intel 286
    The 8086 and the later 8088 dominated the late 1970s and the beginning of the following decade. In 1982 the time was ripe for the next leap in development. The 1.5 micron manufacturing structure enabled Intel to accommodate 134,000 transistors on the chip. The first version was clocked at 6 megahertz, later versions doubled the processor frequency. The 286 could process commands twice as fast as the 8086 per cycle. Over time, the 286 became synonymous with the IBM-compatible PC. In the total of six years in which the 286 was available on the market, 15 million PCs with 286 processors were shipped worldwide, according to Intel. With the market launch of the chip, the protected mode also celebrated its premiere. This feature controls memory access.

    Did you know: Bill Gates scolded the 286 as a mindless chip because it could not process several MS-DOS applications at the same time in a Windows environment.
  4. Intel 386
    With the 386, Intel came out at exactly the right time in 1986. The PC became more and more established in private households, and there PC games became a popular pastime. However, graphic games on a 286 were torture. The 386, which was later renamed the 386DX to differentiate it from the cheaper, later-released 386SX, was initially clocked at 16 megahertz. Intel was able to double the number of transistors to 275,000. The 386 was Intel's first 32-bit processor. It could address up to 4 GB (not MB) of memory and switch between protected, real and the new virtual mode. The latter allows real-mode applications (typically DOS applications) to be executed in a protected environment.

    Did you know: The 386 reinforced Intel's supremacy. If IBM had a second supplier for the previous processors, this was no longer possible with the 386. AMD didn't hit the market until 1991 with an alternative.
  5. Intel i486
    Before the decade was over, Intel sent the 486DX, the next x86 processor, into the running. It was the first CPU to include a math co-processor. The clock rate was 25 megahertz (later 50 megahertz). For the first time, a chip held more than a million transistors. Intel put 1.2 million switches on the chip. Like the 386, the 486 also addressed up to 4 GB of memory. Additional on-board cache, an improved instruction set and an expanded bus interface paved the way for the server landscape.

    Did you know: There were a number of versions of the i486, including the i486SX, i486SL and the very popular and widely used i486DX2.
  6. AMD Am386
    If AMD's Am286 is considered the first hit in x86 competition, then the Am386 was Intel's first bad catch. The chip did not come onto the market until 1991, when Intel was already selling the 486, but AMD again managed to clock the replica faster than the original, so that both current chips offered almost the same performance. AMD's 386 chips were also cheaper than Intel's 486s. In addition, AMD landed a highly regarded marketing coup with the "Windows Compatible" logo.

    This was preceded by years of litigation. Intel had withdrawn the license agreement with AMD on the grounds that it only extended to 286 and earlier processors. In court, AMD was finally granted the right to manufacture replicas up to the fifth generation of x86 processors. The sales success of the Am386 established AMD as a serious competitor to Intel.

    Did you know: The Am386 was ready for production before 1991. The legal dispute with Intel prevented extradition.
  7. Cyrix Cx486
    Cyrix had made a name for itself with the manufacture of math co-processors for the 286 and 386 systems. In 1992 the company released the first x86 CPUs. The 486SLC and 486DLC were both pin compatible with the 386SX and 386DX processors. The Cyrix chips thus offered themselves as an attractive upgrade option. The chips were manufactured by Texas Instruments. They didn't have a math co-processor. The level 1 cache was 1 KB and in later versions it was 8 KB. The chips were clocked at 100 megahertz.

    Did you know: The Cyrix chips were particularly energy-saving and were therefore often used in laptops and notebooks.
  8. Intel Pentium
    With the fifth generation, Intel took the x86 architecture to new heights. The naming was also unusual. The reason for this was profane: Numbers cannot be protected as brand names.

    With the Pentium design, Intel tried to remove the limitations of earlier processors. The most important features were the 64-bit data bus, two execution units, an improved floating point unit (FPU) and a higher clock rate. The first Pentium calculated at 60 megahertz, but it wasn't long before faster versions appeared. The manufacturing structure decreased from an initial 0.8 micrometer to 0.35 micrometer during the Pentium life cycle. Intel increased the number of integrated transistors from 3.1 million to 4.5 million. In 1996, Intel began selling Pentium MMX processors with an expanded instruction set, better branch prediction, and a larger cache. It was intended for multimedia and communication applications.

    Did you know: The name Pentium is an artificial word. It is made up of the Greek number "Penta" (five) and the Latin ending "-ium".
  9. AMD Am486
    The Am486 was the last chip from the time of the clone wars between Intel and AMD. It only appeared four years after Intel's 486 chip and a month before the Pentium. In order to be able to assert itself against the 486 from Intel, AMD sold its own, higher clocked processor cheaper than the counterpart from Intel. Some of the faster AMD CPUs almost reached the performance of Intel's Pentium.

    Did you know: AMD marketed some Am486 variants with 133 megahertz clock frequency as 5x86 processors. In fact, they were as powerful as Intel's Pentium.
  10. Intel Pentium Pro
    The small extension in the name does not do justice to the performance leap of the Pentium Pro compared to the first Pentium. The up to then most recent Intel development joined the x86 series, but came onto the market with a new architecture.

    It is noteworthy that the Pentium Pro was no longer a pure Cisc processor, but integrated the first RISC instruction sets. Intel increased the number of transistors to 5.5 million pieces per chip, and the manufacturer also gave the processor a level 2 cache with an initial 256 KB (later 1 MB). Intel had not integrated the level 2 cache in the CPU core, but clocked it with the processor frequency. The work rate was 150 to 200 megahertz. The Pentium Pro caused problems for Intel to manufacture, was too expensive and fell short of sales expectations. However, it was able to establish itself in the server and workstation segment.

    Did you know: In 1998, Intel brought a Pentium II overdrive clocked at 300 megahertz onto the market. It fitted into the Pentium Pro socket and was intended as an upgrade for Pentium Pro users.
  11. Cyrix Cx5x86
    As a newcomer to the x86 market, Cyrix tried to repeat the first success the manufacturer had achieved with the Cx486 with the Cx5x86. The new processor was developed from the perspective of the individual user and designed to be compatible with the 486 socket. Cyrix thus offered a simple upgrade path from the older chip to the more powerful processor.

    However, due to stability problems, Cyrix had to switch off some features of the Cx5X86, including the jump prediction. The manufacturer withdrew the chip from the market relatively early, but not because of its lack of success. Just six months after its appearance, Cyrix already released the 6x86 chip. The older model shouldn't jeopardize sales of the new processor.

    Did you know: The official information on the clock rate of the Cx5x86 was given by Cyrix quite generously. Only a few processors performed the promised 133 megahertz.
  12. AMD Am5x86
    AMD offered the Am5x86 as an upgrade path for 486 chips. In fact, it was a 486DX processor with a quadruple multiplier. This technical trick allowed a clock frequency of 133 megahertz, so that the Am5x86 was about as powerful as Intel's Pentium 75. What was remarkable about the chip was that AMD introduced the "Performance Rating" (PR) with it for the first time. With this (often criticized) rating, AMD tried to make a performance comparison with Intel's product family. The Am5x86 was therefore also marketed with the addition "P75".

    Did you know: AMD used the performance rating up to the Athlon 64 X2 family.
  13. AMD K5
    When developing the K5, AMD could no longer rely on license agreements with Intel and clone an x86 processor. The K5 therefore represents a turning point in the history of the x86 chips, because it was completely developed by AMD. There were delays, not unexpectedly. The publication was postponed by a year, the K5 was not released until 1996.

    From a technical point of view, it overtook Intel's Pentium: The K5 integrated 4.5 million transistors, five integer units, a better jump prediction and 16 KB cache. However, the K5 suffered from a poor clock speed, so that it could not really stand up to the Pentium. Sales fell short of expectations.

    Did you know: The "K" in the name was chosen based on the home planet "Krypton" by Superman.
  14. Cyrix 6x86 and MII
    The 6x86 from Cyrix was pin and voltage compatible with Intel's Pentium. But it was not a replica, so it was not completely congruent with the original. Cyrix sold earlier versions with 16 KB cache, they showed impressive performance data and left the higher clocked Pentium behind in some benchmarks. Encouraged by this, Cyrix introduced its own performance rating. However, the floating point unit was underperforming. Later versions were named MII. In these versions, Cyrix was able to solve the overheating problem and clock the chip higher, but at the price of bus compatibility.

    Did you know: There were different versions of the Cyrix 6x86: the original, the dual voltage version and the MMX version with an extended instruction set.
  15. AMD K6
    While AMD had some problems with the K5, the manufacturer was able to recommend itself to users with the K6. The developer Vinod Dham, who is considered the father of the Pentium, helped. He left Intel in 1996 and joined NexGen, which was later bought by AMD. In April 1997, the K6 came on the market as a competitor to the Pentium, because it was adapted to the socket 7 common at the time and contained Intel's MMX multimedia architecture. The K6 once again underscored AMD's position as Intel's most important competitor.

    Did you know: Initially, the K6 was advertised with a Pentium II Performance Rating (PR2), but the specification was soon dropped.
  16. Intel Pentium II and Pentium II Xeon
    In the following development steps, Intel moved the level 2 cache to a separate cache chip. This meant that the cache could only be clocked at half the CPU frequency. To disguise this, Intel doubled the L2 memory to 512 KB. This saved costs so that PCs could be manufactured cheaply and sold for less than $ 1,000.

    However, Intel had to design a new, quite large housing for the CPU and cache chip as well as a new socket for the motherboard (slot 1). The manufacturing structure was initially 0.35 micrometers, later only 0.25 micrometers. There was space for a total of 7.5 million transistors. The processor could address up to 64 GB. With the Pentium II, Intel also introduced the Xeon brand (1998). The level 2 cache of the Xeon chips was clocked at full CPU frequency and was 2 MB.

    Did you know: The code names of the Pentium were Klamath and Deschutes for the desktop models and Tonga and Dixon for the mobile models.
  17. Cyrix Media GX
    The financially troubled manufacturer Cyrix was taken over by National Semiconductor in 1997. This was accompanied by a change in the development strategy. National Semiconductor was more interested in business figures and less in technical competition. The result of this change was the Media GX. The processor was based on the Cyrix 5x86, graphics functions as well as memory and PCI controllers were also integrated.

    Did you know: The MediaGX was only used on motherboards that were specially manufactured for this type of processor.
  18. Centaur Technology WinChip
    After many takeovers and sales in the processor market, the name Centaur Technology has now been forgotten. The company was initially responsible for the development of x86 processors as a subsidiary of IDT and was later sold to VIA Technology. In 1997 Centaur Technology launched the WinChip product family for socket 7 boards. The focus was on low production costs. The chip was characterized by a small area and low heat generation. Although there was no L2 cache, the manufacturer donated 64 KB level 1 cache.The chip supported MMX and 3DNow. However, Intel's cheaper and faster Celeron destroyed all hope of success.

    Did you know: Centaur was sold to VIA in 1999. Elements of the WinChip were used in the Cyrix III family.
  19. Intel Celeron
    For a long time, Intel worked hard to gain a foothold in the server market. In addition, the company failed to place emphasis on the lower end of the performance spectrum. With the Celeron, Intel made up for that in 1998. The first Celeron versions based on the Pentium II had a difficult time on the market.

    The performance data were not great, because initially the Celeron was delivered without a level 2 cache. Intel later released a version with 128 KB L2 cache. This version was particularly popular among hobbyists because the chip could be overclocked very well and thus became an inexpensive and powerful processor. Over the years, the Celeron has developed into a standard processor for home and office PCs.

    Did you know: The "Mendocino Celeron" or "300A" was very popular among overclocking experts. It could be operated with up to 450 megahertz.
  20. AMD K6-2 and K6-2 +
    In order to continue selling the K6 successfully, AMD released a revised version in 1998. The K6-2 came with an extended MMX unit and a new SIMD instruction set or the multimedia extension "3DNow!" on the market. The latter gave AMD a technical lead, the technology allows faster processing of 3D applications. Intel later responded with the SSE instruction set. K6-2 offered itself as a cost-effective upgrade path for motherboards with "Super Socket 7". The K6-2 + with 128 KB L2 cache came out later.

    Did you know: SIMD stands for "Single Instruction, Multiple Data" and is an architecture for mainframes and supercomputers.
  21. AMD K6-3
    The K6-3 was the last member of AMD's K6 family and the last processor for socket 7 boards. He barely had time to assert himself in the market, because only a few days after its appearance, Intel presented the Pentium III. It was finally forgotten when AMD released the Athlon series. Like its predecessor, the K6-3 was able to access 256 KB L2 cache. AMD increased the number of transistors from 9.3 to 21.3 million.

    Did you know: The code name of the K6-3 was "Sharptooth."
  22. Intel Pentium III and Pentium III Xeon